The Bears find themselves with an 0-1 deficit to start off the 2021 season.
Though they were heavily seen as the underdogs heading into their Sunday night matchup on the road against the Rams, a 34-14 loss certainly isn’t what Bears fans had in mind. The offense was serviceable but lacked explosiveness, but it was arguably the defense that really held the team back.
Here are some quick instant notes from tonight’s loss.
Andy Dalton wasn’t bad!
Not scoring any touchdowns and throwing an interception is far from franchise quarterback material. However, Andy Dalton didn’t play terribly in his regular-season debut.
He finished the game with a 71.1 completion percentage and was able to execute as a game-manager quarterback who moved down the field with dinks and dunks. He was accurate and, more often than not, was able to hit his receivers in stride and fit passes into soft spots against zone coverage.
Even though Dalton was an upgrade over the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, the offense didn’t have much urgency or explosiveness in it. His longest of his 38 passing attempts traveled roughly 15 yards through the air, and the Bears were limited in their ability to stretch the field with splash plays.
David Montgomery has some serious juice
After breaking out in 2020, David Montgomery started off the 2021 season on a high note.
The third-year back topped 100 yards, tallying 107 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and even excluding his 41-yard run in the first quarter, he had a solid 4.4 yards per carry. He looked even more explosive than he did last year, showcasing an element of decisiveness and burst with the ball in his hands.
Justin Fields’ usage was...interesting
Dalton started at quarterback for the Bears, as expected. However, fans did get to see some of rookie Justin Fields.
While Chicago didn’t allow Fields to truly run the offense as a traditional offense all that often, they did utilize his athletic ability and use him as a decoy in the run game. He even scored the first touchdown of his NFL career, picking up a three-yard run for a score in the second quarter. His athleticism should make teams more wary of the run game because of his own running ability once he steps into a full-time starting role, but it would have been fun to see him attempt a few more passes.
Injuries aside, offensive line was pretty solid
The Bears saw both Jason Peters and Larry Borom leave the game due to injuries, but all told, their offensive line played fairly well.
Dalton was sacked twice but more often than not had enough time to execute the offense Matt Nagy called for him. The Bears also did a good job of clearing up lanes in the run game and were able to beat the Rams off the ball with power on a pretty consistent basis. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but they definitely surpassed expectations on Sunday.
Roquan Smith can still tackle really well
All told, Roquan Smith had a couple of questionable plays and looked hesitant at times in coverage. However, there’s no denying that he’s a very good tackler.
Smith led the team with 10 tackles and was a consistent second-level force in the run game. He showcased sideline-to-sideline range as a tackler, putting his instincts in the ground game and his athletic ability to good use. He certainly looked more comfortable than Alec Ogletree, who although is much newer to the defensive scheme, appeared out of place on both passing and running plays at first glance.
The Georgia alumnus put up tremendous tackling production over the course of the 2020 season, and he built upon that to kick off the new year. He — along with Akiem Hicks up front, who contributed half of a sack and some solid pressure along the interior — was a pretty bright spot on an otherwise poor defense.
The secondary can’t cover deep
It was a bold strategy for the Bears to ignore their gaping holes in the secondary, and their lack of significant investment showed up tonight.
The Rams were consistently able to stretch the field against what appeared to be a zone-heavy coverage scheme the Bears ran. Chicago’s defensive backs looked lost on several occasions, failing to communicate effectively and determine when to rub off routes in zone onto another defensive back. Neither of Kindle Vildor or Marqui Christian stood out, and Tashaun Gipson played a big role in Cooper Kupp’s first touchdown, drifting towards the sideline instead of picking up Kupp’s route across the middle of the field.
From the cornerbacks to the safeties, essentially every starter made some sort of an error in coverage. Speaking of safeties...
It’s time to be concerned about Eddie Jackson
The Bears signed Eddie Jackson to a four-year extension in January of 2020. After an underwhelming season last year, he started off this year with one of the worst performances of his career.
Jackson saw himself struggling with tackling, which has been an issue for much of his career. However, it was his issues in coverage that made him stand out in a negative light on Sunday. Blown assignments saw him give up a big play in zone coverage to Van Jefferson, and he followed that up by failing to touch Jefferson, who then proceeded to get up and score a touchdown. He failed to put up much in the way of note-worthy plays in a positive light.
His coverage was a big part of what had him praised universally in 2018 and what had him still make a Pro Bowl appearance in 2019. He fell off a bit in 2020, though, and he started off the new year looking lost and not having the same precise, ball-hawking style of play he has in the past. Considering the Bears don’t have a reasonable out in his contract until 2023, they better hope they can get better play out of him.
On an unrelated note, the Rams have a beautiful stadium. My own nostalgic views of Soldier Field aside, it sure would be nice if the Bears also had a state-of-the-art stadium...