The Bears got their revenge win over Matt Nagy, and they’re currently undefeated in the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles era.
Okay, both of those are overreactions to a Week 1 preseason game. But there was a nice buzz in the air at Soldier Field on Saturday when Chicago defeated the Chiefs 19-14. After months of speculation and debate over just about everything imaginable, Bears football made its return in a triumphant fashion.
The Bears got what they wanted out of the preseason: A lot of the starters got some reps to warm up, and their young talents stood out in their first real NFL action. For a team that’s not expected to light the league on fire this year, it’s good to see strong performances from your developing prospects.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the Bears’ victory this week:
Many expected the Bears to take a run-heavy approach this year, and they did exactly that this week.
The Bears ran 32 times to their 26 passes, though the latter number includes scrambles and doesn’t include sacks. Still, the run-to-pass ratio was pretty large, which means fans got to see plenty of action from the team’s running backs.
Arguably the best runner of the day was rookie Trestan Ebner. The Baylor product ran for 31 yards on six carries for a respectable 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught a receiving touchdown on an 11-yard Texas route, and he returned two kickoffs for a combined 53 yards. The speedster looked like a legit NFL weapon in his touches, bringing electricity to the field when he got the ball.
Chicago was pretty inefficient on standard handoffs otherwise, though. Khalil Herbert only ran for 2.9 yards per carry, and the three running backs not named Trestan Ebner averaged just 3.1 yards per carry as a unit. They did generate some splash plays with end-arounds, as both Dazz Newsome and Equanimeous St. Brown picked up some solid gains on the ground.
Newsome scored the second of the Bears’ two touchdowns, making the snag off of a nice back corner throw by Trevor Siemian. That was a nice bounce back after muffing a punt early in the game. The likes of Darnell Mooney, Dante Pettis, Chris Finke and Nsimba Webster all had receptions go for more than 14 yards, and Mooney’s difficult grab from Justin Fields was especially flashy. Tajae Sharpe finished as the Bears’ leading receiver with 2 receptions and 44 yards, including a stellar toe-drag catch along the sidelines. No receiver was able to put up stellar numbers due to their heavy rotation, though.
Speaking of Justin Fields, the second-year quarterback finished 4-for-7 with 48 passing yards. Two of his incompletions were admittedly more on his receivers, and the throws he made looked confident and accurate. Pocket presence was still a bit of an issue — he was sacked twice — but encouraging flashes were there. It’s hardly a large enough sample size to get a definitive statement on how he played.
Trevor Siemian did a good job as the second-stringer, scoring two touchdowns and 89 yards with a 7-for-13 performance. He took advantage of the Bears’ defense forcing a turnover to score a touchdown, and he moved the team down the field on his other scoring drive. Nathan Peterman had some questionable decisions and got sacked twice, but he finished 4-for-6 in limited opportunities: not too bad, all things considered.
Sacks were an issue for the Bears’ offensive line, who struggled a bit as a unit. Michael Schofield got dominated at right guard by All-Pro Chris Jones early on. Offensive tackle Shon Coleman also struggled a bit in pass protection. Chiefs rookie George Karlaftis did a great job of making his presence felt in the backfield. The Bears’ offensive line also struggled a bit with creating consistent running lanes for their teammates, especially along the interior.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Chicago up front, though. Braxton Jones more than held his own as their starting left tackle, showcasing the length and athleticism that had him highly touted out of Southern Utah. Teven Jenkins had some ups and downs working with the backups, but the ups he displayed were truly impressive. It will be more about consistency with the latter as he works his way back from undisclosed issues, while the former continues to build momentum after a strong training camp.
Two words: Jack Sanborn.
The Wisconsin alumnus and Lake Zurich native was a sixth-round player on my draft board, so to see the Bears sign him in undrafted free agency was a nice development for me. You would expect my delight, then, when Sanborn played as well as he did on Saturday.
He finished the game with 7 total tackles, tallying a tackle for a loss, a pass deflection and an interception. He was also active on special teams and ended up with two tackles in the third phase. Forget an undrafted rookie; he looked like a seasoned veteran. His diagnoses were precise in run support and coverage, and he played with a red-hot motor. Sanborn’s 7 tackles tied for the team lead, and with more performances like that from him in the preseason, he could very likely end up making the Bears’ active roster.
The Bears notched 4 sacks as a unit, with all of them coming in the second half. Fifth-round pick Dominique Robinson put his athleticism to good use off the edge, taking advantage of an unblocked path and closing right in on Shane Buechele for a sack. Defensive tackle Trevon Coley dominated the stat sheet, finishing with two sacks, a pass deflection and three QB hits. Micah Dew-Treadway also contributed a sack up the middle. The latter two did a good job of standing out on a Chicago roster that has some question marks up front, while the former showcased the tools that made analysts view him as a steal for the Bears in Round 5 this year.
Chicago’s defense struggled a bit in coverage early in the game; that will happen when Jaylon Johnson barely plays and Kyler Gordon misses action. The Chiefs were able to utilize short passes to catch fire in the first half and move the ball down the field. Matt Adams finished with 7 tackles and was reliable in bringing down ball-carriers, but he struggled in space. The middle of the field was a point of emphasis for Kansas City’s offense.
One exception to those coverage struggles was rookie Jaquan Brisker. The second-rounder had four tackles — one being for a loss — and a pass deflection that was nearly an interception. He was decisive in his movements and looked like the all-around stud that he was at Penn State. Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson and linebacker DeMarquis Gates were also among defenders who stood out, while Trevis Gipson generated some pressure off the edge in limited snaps.
The defenders the Bears will rely on most barely played on Saturday, if at all. The unit’s play against the Chiefs is hardly enough to determine how the starters will perform. That said, it was encouraging to see several young players shine.
Three and out
3. I won’t be saying anything about the Soldier Field grass conditions from Saturday that hasn’t already been said.
Look, I’ve grown up watching Bears game at Soldier Field, and it will always have a nostalgic place in my heart. But there are so many more positives that can come with a move to Arlington Heights. The Chicago Park District isn’t doing itself any favors by neglecting serious field care after an Elton John concert.
2. It was a bad idea for me to jog to Soldier Field on an empty stomach.
I arrived late to the game because of traffic on I-55, and I got dropped off about a mile away from the stadium. The game was just about to start when this happened, so I had to jog there to make sure I missed as little of the game as possible. Mind you, the only thing I’ve consumed at this point are two small protein shakes. I don’t eat anything at the game but have a beer. After the game, I had to walk/jog over a mile to meet my Uber because he couldn’t meet me at the designated spot. Then my phone died, and I had no way of contacting my driver. By the time I got into the car, my stomach was killing me, and I was on the verge of throwing up.
What does this have to do with the Bears game? Nothing.
1. It’s so easy to buy into the hype of the first preseason game of the year, especially if your team wins.
With how much the Bears community is talking about them, Jack Sanborn might as well be the second coming of Luke Kuechly, and Braxton Jones could be a Pro Bowl tackle in Year 1. While getting positive returns on your rookies is always nice, remember that it’s just one game. Better yet, remember it’s just one game in which the other team barely plays its top players. The same goes for negatives — Khalil Herbert only averaged 2.9 yards per carry, but that doesn’t mean he’s a terrible back.
I’m very happy that football is back, and I’m assuming those reading this are, too. This whole thing is a progress that will take some time, so it’s best to be patient. Please don’t be that guy or gal who rushes to judgment right away.