The Bears ended their preseason on a high note on Saturday.
Finishing with a 2-1 record in the preseason, Chicago came away with a 27-24 win over the Titans on the road. In a game that saw few starters play any meaningful time — if any time at all — it was the efforts of some intriguing young talents that led them to victory.
There were times in which it seemed the Bears were the inferior team, but they capitalized on some key opportunities and picked up the win to finish the preseason with a winning record.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the Bears’ final preseason game of 2021.
Justin Fields and the Bears didn’t get much of a chance to shine in the first half, but in the chances he got, he showed flashes of franchise potential.
The Bears struggled to get off their defense the field, as their offense finished with just 8:30 in the time of possession column in the first half. Granted, part of that was due to a pick-six interception from Tre Roberson, but the offense was generally pretty inefficient.
Questionable play-calling and inefficient play up front saw the Bears fail to score a single point until there was less than a minute left in the first half. Of their 10 offensive plays in the first quarter, five of them were runs, and all but one of them resulted in gains of four yards or fewer. Their scoring drive was aided significantly by Tennessee penalties, as they moved from the Chicago 38 to the Tennessee 20 in just two plays after back-to-back penalties. Granted, Fields also seemed to struggle a little bit with pocket awareness early on, too.
The rookie looked sharper when given a looser leash to move the ball down the field. In their two-minute drill in the second quarter, he completed two of three passes unaffected by penalty, completing a pass on one of the two aforementioned penalties and hitting Jesper Horsted right in the hands on a deep ball that fell incomplete due to defensive pass interference. Fields’ touchdown pass went to Horsted, during which he climbed the pocket, rolled right and hit the tight end in a tight window along the sideline of the end zone. It was an incredible throw to end the half that got Bears fans buzzing. All told, Fields went 7-for-10 with 54 yards and a touchdown.
Speaking of Horsted, no offensive player boosted their stock as much as he did. The third-year Princeton alumnus led both teams with 5 receptions, 104 yards and a whopping 3 touchdowns. Three of his receptions went for more than 15 yards, including an impressive 54-yard touchdown catch from Foles. He looked physical at the catch point and pretty explosive off the snap. He has been fighting for a backup spot on the Bears’ roster this offseason, and an explosion like this in his final preseason game likely did quite a bit to help his roster status.
Among other pass-catchers, Rodney Adams caught three passes for 15 yards, while Jon’Vea Johnson caught three for 19 yards. Recent signing Isaiah Coulter had two catches for 17 yards, as well. Horsted stole the show, however, solidifying himself as a name to at least keep in the organization after roster cuts.
Nick Foles took over under center in the second half, going 10-for-13 for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He looked capable and made his fair share of impressive throws, including the 54-yard touchdown to Horsted which saw the former Super Bowl MVP stand tall in a collapsing pocket and deliver an accurate intermediate ball across the middle of the field under pressure. He played how one would expect a veteran of his tenure in second-half preseason action and was able to make some big plays to help give the Bears the win.
The Bears’ offensive line struggled a bit as a unit blocking for the run, as the team averaged just three yards per carry, and their running backs only gained 2.6 yards per carry. No runner picked up a bigger gain than seven yards. Even though the Titans didn’t tally any tackles for a loss, their interior offensive line was consistently able to penetrate the backfield and clog up running lanes. Chicago’s unit was better in pass protection than they were last week, though, allowing just one sack and three hits.
All told, the Bears were actually pretty underwhelming from an offensive perspective. Outside of a few splash plays, they struggled to move the chains consistently. They had six three-and-outs on 10 offensive drives. However, they did well enough to put up 20 points and etch out a win. Most importantly, Justin Fields showed promise and didn’t get hurt, and that alone is worth feeling comfortable with.
For a player who had just two tackles, Trevis Gipson arguably made a splash bigger than any other defender on the Bears’ roster.
The second-year edge rusher out of Tulsa tallied a pass deflection and a quarterback hit, and his pressure stood out when watching the game live. His quickness off the snap and seemingly more refined pass-rushing arsenal saw him beat offensive tackles with speed off the edge and penetrate the backfield pretty often. His hit on Logan Woodside resulted in a bad pass that was intercepted by Tre Roberson, who showcased very good situational awareness to track down the lame duck.
Among other pass-rushers, Charles Snowden picked up a sack and had two quarterback hits, thus continuing his strong preseason. Sam Kamara finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit in a game that built upon two solid preseason outings that have made him worthy of keeping within the organization, even if he was a long-shot to make the team. Daniel Archibong contributed five tackles up front and helped aid Snowden with his sack on Woodside, while Eddie Goldman wrecked havoc at the nose tackle position in limited playing time.
Save for the aforementioned Roberson pick-six and an interception by Danny Trevathan, the Bears were pretty inconsistent in coverage. They allowed nine passes to result in gains of over 10 yards, including three to Cameron Batson and a 50-yard gain by Khari Blasingame. The likes of Duke Shelley, Thomas Graham Jr., Kindle Vildor and Marqui Christian did show some flashes but were ultimately inconsistent dropping back in coverage. Chicago’s coverage seemed a bit porous over the course of the evening.
One interesting situation worth monitoring is the Bears’ backup linebacker competition, especially after Saturday’s action. Both Christian Jones and Josh Woods tallied 11 tackles each, with the former getting a quarterback hit and seeing playing time as both an off-ball linebacker and off the edge and the latter tallying two tackles for a loss. Joel Iyiegbuniwe contributed four tackles and delivered some hard hits on defense while also adding a tackle for a loss. Even Caleb Johnson, seen as more of a practice squad candidate, had nine tackles and seemed to play well on special teams.
Though there were some inconsistencies in coverage across the middle of the field, the group seemed to do pretty well in stopping the run. Throwing Alec Ogletree into the mix — who didn’t play in Week 3 — gives the Bears somewhat of a positive logjam at the linebacker position.
The Bears certainly could have played better in coverage, with their cornerback group appearing to be the weakness of the defense. They played well in the front-seven, however, and their “bend, but don’t break” approach allowed them to do just well enough as a whole to come away with the win.
Three and out
3. Was it a mistake for the Bears to give Sam Mustipher the starting center job without any significant competition?
WCG’s own Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter pointed it out on Twitter on Saturday, and it was a point I find plenty of merit in. Mustipher has struggled for the most part as the team’s starting center: while his snaps have been quality, he has gotten the pocket pushed against him in the run game and seen some struggles as a pass blocker.
The 2019 undrafted free agent showed some promise in seven starts last season, but with such a small resume should come some concern about his long-term outlook. The Bears did have other bigger needs to address this offseason, but they didn’t do much of anything to push him for a starting spot. They should hope that he kicks it into high gear this season, otherwise they could be in the market for a new starter come 2022.
2. With the preseason at its end, here are a few under-the-radar Bears players who helped their status within the organization with solid play over the last three weeks:
- Rodney Adams
- Charles Snowden
- Trevis Gipson
- Alec Ogletree
- Jesse James
It would not be surprising to see at least four, if not all five of the aforementioned players make it onto the 53-man roster when it’s all said and done.
1. I know I talk about Justin Fields a lot — both on Twitter and in writing format — but shoutout to him for making preseason football the most exciting to watch it has been in years for Bears fans.
Through his ups and downs, he made whenever he played must-see television for those cheering on the navy and orange. Even though he won’t start for the Bears at quarterback Week 1, his play still provided a lot for the organization to be excited about going forward.