Forget the disappointing ‘Thursday Night Football’. The Chicago Bears came into Lambeau Field a broken team and left as a battered one injury-wise. While Thursday night had just a 6-3 lead for the Green Bay Packers at halftime, there was no way Chicago would hang around in the long run with 189 yards of offense and a third string quarterback in Matt Barkley.
In retrospect, Green Bay should have dominated Chicago’s backups more than they did. Yet, among many defensive causes, there was one reason the Packers didn’t in an otherwise memory wiping contest for the Bears.
That would be this year’s first round pick, Leonard Floyd, who made his presence known to Aaron Rodgers and company. Against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Floyd flashed his athleticism as a pass rusher that earned him high draft status at No. 9 overall last April.
With three quarterback pressures, three tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a touchdown, Floyd began his ascendance to the force the Bears believe he can be.
The performance was all the more impressive considering Floyd was on a pitch count while he recovers from a recent calf strain. He played only 35 of the 79 available defensive snaps for Chicago, and had as big of an imprint on the game as possible within that short time frame.
Floyd had struggled in the early goings of the season due to his size limitations while he grows accustomed to the rigors of the NFL. The Bears were also using Floyd in coverage more than sending him after the quarterback. This was and, in actuality, still is a raw developing player. After all, he had missed the past few weeks due to that calf strain - and as always in rational fashion- there were those calling him a bust less than halfway into the season.
Who can predict whether Floyd does become a star down the line? There needs to be a larger sample size over a longer period of time either way.
It’s heartening when he breaks out in his limited opportunities like he did on Thursday. That’s potential and confidence all bunched up into one. A broken down Bears team needs it’s young talent to flourish in an ongoing lost 1-6 season. Floyd’s taking his first steps towards accomplishing that.
Let’s take a look at his two most important game breaking plays last night.
The first sack, had Floyd slip inside Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari’s right shoulder on first down.
Floyd initially started to work his way outside to set his pass rush, then quickly dipped his shoulder to the left of an unprepared Bakhtiari.
It’s that little stutter and burst of speed inside that let him go mostly unimpeded right into Rodgers’ lap.
If you’ll notice, Floyd used his hands - always a welcome sight from a pass rusher - to disengage from Bakhtiari’s flailing attempt to recover, but by then it was too late. He did this even while slipping and falling to the ground.
Ultimately, Floyd had too much of a step not to finish his great effort on Bakhtiari and closed on the sack for a nine-yard loss on Green Bay’s crucial final possession of the first half.
This sack was Floyd showcasing his elite speed while also using important tools like his hands that separates the good from the great.
Fast forward to third and long on the Packers’ first possession of the second half, and a monumental moment arrived for Floyd.
A sack-fumble touchdown. The golden trifecta for a defensive rookie. This was the only touchdown for the Bears on the night that briefly gave them a 10-6 lead, just when you thought Chicago would somehow magically pull off the upset. There’s a lot of stimuli here.
Here, Floyd’s partner in crime, Willie Young, offered him an assist on a perfectly executed twist stunt. The timing and switch of blockers could not have freed up Floyd anymore than it did, and he made the most of his opening.
On the initial rush, Floyd is lined up to the inside of Young on the right shoulder of Packers guard Don Barclay. This was all planned.
When the ball is snapped, Young immediately drives back the right tackle, Bryan Bulaga, with no intention of getting to Rodgers, unless he would somehow fall into his lap by coincidence.
Again, this was all to create that free lane right to Rodgers for Floyd.
Floyd never engages his man in Barclay. Instead he gives him a quick stutter, a slight push off of his shoulder, and then quickly bursts to swim around the space Young created.
With Bulaga having to account for Young - since that’s his man in pass protection - and Barclay overcompensating after he lost his man, there’s no one to impede Floyd on the way to Rodgers.
As fate would have it, with Bulaga noticing Floyd around the edge, he passed Young off to the already defeated Barclay, leaving him unblocked. The thing about Rodgers though, is that he can often make the first pass rusher miss.
Young lunged to bring down the star quarterback, but Rodgers deftly avoided contact. If there hadn’t been another man present to finish the job, Rodgers likely gets free and has his own shot at an impact play. Floyd was there to clean up.
Floyd actually overruns the play at this point since Young forces Rodgers to step up, but with Bulaga completely out of position, the rookie wouldn't miss his target.
Instead of just bringing Rodgers down for the sack, Floyd had the awareness to punch at the ball, and it comes free with Rodgers still standing up.
Now, it was a mad scramble into the end zone, a race Floyd would not lose.
In case there’s any reasonable doubt, Floyd finished the job in recovering his own strip sack fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The culmination of a terrific effort from the young player.
Regardless of the rest of this season’s results, with play like this from Chicago’s future foundational pieces, they’re in good shape to contend down the line. The next step for a guy like Floyd is building consistency and stringing performances like this together. Above all, keep it from being more than a flash in the pan. That consistency will come with more playing time and experience provided he can stay healthy.
For now, Floyd has something tremendous to build on, as the Bears and the rest of the league begin to take note of his rise.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.