Everyone in the NFL world is going crazy for Justin Fields’ preseason debut with the Chicago Bears this past Saturday, and rightfully so. Writers all over the net have posted stories on how Justin dazzled the Chicago audience.
Yet, a question I have for everyone that watched the glorified scrimmage against the Miami Dolphins, is how about that Bears’ defense?
Sean Desai made his own debut as the Bears’ new Defensive Coordinator on Saturday, and I previously wrote about how Coach Desai’s promotion will impact the Bears’ defense. It’s been hinted all off-season that; while Desai will bring back more two-high safety looks that we saw with Vic Fangio, Sean Desai is going to make his own flavor of that product. Saturday was our first glimpse on what we could expect for the 2021 regular season.
From the very first series of the game for Desai’s defense we can already mark one distinct difference. Below is a screenshot of the Bears in their base 3-4 alignment. The base “heavy” front hasn’t changed, but check out how the corners are lined up between Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor.
These two corners are sitting close to the line of scrimmage. Jaylon Johnson looks to be “mugging” (essentially lining up over the in-line tight end) as well. Meanwhile, the two safeties are back deep in a shell. This indicates the corners are jamming their receivers off the line. Yet, they’re also looking to be in zone, which could lead to the idea of the Bears running a “match quarters” concept in their secondary.
For an in-depth look into what exactly the matching pattern or “match” concept is, check out this article from Pats Pulpit. Essentially, the defenders will take assignments depending on what routes are identified. Match quarters would mean a matching patterns concept while playing cover four. So, the corners (Vildor and Johnson) would be responsible for verticals from the #1 and #2 receivers. Safeties would be responsible for any verticals from the #3 and #4 receivers.
Where quarters coverages have been seen under Vic Fangio, it was uncommon to see both corners pressing their targets. Instead, we would see a “one on/one off” alignment on most snaps.
Now, let’s look at two examples of the 2018 defense ran by Vic Fangio.
Vic Fangio loved having his corners being “one on/one off” as they rolled with more “cloud” concepts to maximize the different strengths between Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. It was rare to see both corners being close to the line of scrimmage for more physical coverage concepts.
Sean Desai, on the other hand, has introduced a more “in your face” style of coverage for his corners. This is not to say Sean Desai won’t mix up with his own take on “one on/one off” alignments.
Kindle Vildor is off the line of scrimmage at LB depth before the snap. Duke Shelley; however, is much closer to the line at Nickel. Jaylon Johnson looks ready to press his dance partner off their route. At the conclusion of the play, the Bears DBs all squared off with their assignments, and forced the incompletion as well as a 3-and-out.
This wasn’t a perfect afternoon for the Bears’ defense, though.
Here’s the scene prior to Tua Tagovailoa’s deep shot with Mike Gesicki.
Once again, the corners are lined up against the line on their respective man. Usually the Bears DBs lined up on the first down markers on 3rd down from 2019 to 2020 under Chuck Pagano. That doesn’t appear to be happening much under Sean Desai - it was common throughout the game to see the corners keeping close intervals with receivers on third down. He’s telling his corners to go sick the receivers.
Also, Alec Ogletree is mugging up on the line to bluff a blitz. Unfortunately, Tua called Ogletree’s bluff, and a favorable matchup with Gesicki was found downfield. The four-man pressure did not get to the QB in time as the play resulted in a 50-yard gain. This set the Dolphins up for prime real estate in the Bears’ red zone.
Fortunately, we then witnessed the latest example of the Bears’ resilience on defense. Backed up against their own endzone on 3rd-and-Goal, Sean Desai rolled the die and called a classic blitz up the A gap for Alec Ogletree.
A couple seconds later this is how the play developed.
Rookie NT Khyiris Tonga, who I was extremely impressed with, took out the trash with Angelo Blackson and (I think) Akiem Hicks handling their respective assignments. Alec Ogletree found his target and met up with Deon Bush in the backfield to combine for a huge TFL. The Dolphins settled for a FG to post the first three points on the scoreboard.
It wasn’t just this play where we saw Sean Desai’s unit attack the run aggressively. Throughout the game, Desai’s play-calling told the Dolphins that any run called will be met with brute force and designed pressure packages likely based on “read” concepts. Read concepts tell players to pull the trigger on adding additional bodies depending on what keys the LBs and Safeties see pre-snap.
Basically, Desai’s message was, “I dare you to run, and I will blow you TF up.” Every wave within the Bears’ front seven crashed the line within seconds of the ball being snapped. Most of the pressure came from inside as well.
The entire Bears defense played with a much more aggressive style in comparison to a year ago. With the DBs lined up close to their receivers, it’s allowing the Bears to maximize their chances of smothering the run. Plus, the Bears’ D-line got much beefier in the offseason, with big nasty linemen like Khyiris Tonga, Mike Pennel, and Angelo Blackson averaging around 320lbs per player. Add in the return of Eddie Goldman, and that is a stout group inside.
Once Justin Fields got the Bears in the lead Sean Desai released the dogs. Where I didn’t catch too many Safety blitzes — good luck seeing those in pre-season — the entire front seven got their chance to rush the QB. And I mean, literally, the entire front seven. It almost made me think back to the “kitchen sink” blitzes we saw in 1985.
Below is a set of screenshots for one of the several blitzes featured late in the game.
The entire D-line is lining up in a “tight” concept, which will isolate each tackle and guarantee the OLBs one-on-one opportunities. Also, this is on 2nd down, with Desai looking to deal a big blow before 3rd down. The corners are backing off with a 5-man pressure concept about to be used.
Charles Snowden has the tackle oversetting where LaCale London is going to maintain his rushing lane north. London’s rush forces the QB to step up inside the pocket instead of looking to break outside, and Snowden scrapes underneath to secure the sack. Both London and Snowden had help from the strong-side as they all maintained good discipline in their respective gaps.
In total, the Bears’ defense gave up 326 yards and 13 points to the Dolphins. However, they also came away with two contributions to the Turnover Bucket — 1 interception and 1 fumble recovered — along with (3) sacks, (8) QB hits, and (8) passes defended. Pressure was generated consistently through all four quarters as well.
Now is the time for our favorite saying, “it’s only preseason.” Yet, in one preseason game, we received a glimpse on what will be different in 2021. The results were encouraging and the effort was fruitful. It’s always a good sign when production is seen from all levels of the defensive depth chart.
I’m looking forward to seeing what is in store for this Bears’ defense as they plan to feature a longer look for their starters against the Buffalo Bills’ explosive offense.