The Bears’ 2023 preseason came to an end in disappointing fashion Saturday, as Chicago lost 24-21 at home to the Bills.
It was a narrow margin against one of the best teams in the NFL, even if Josh Allen and the rest of Buffalo’s starting lineup didn’t take too many reps. As is the case with any loss, there were certainly areas where the Bears struggled, but it wasn’t a terrible outing in the grand scheme of things.
Now that the Bears’ backups have all made their case to make the 53-man roster, let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from Chicago’s loss.
Tyson Bagent had the floor as the Bears’ second-string quarterback on Saturday, a massive development for a player who started off the preseason just two weeks ago as their fourth-string option.
He ended up throwing the most passes of the three Bears quarterbacks who took snaps against the Bills, going 7-for-14 with 43 passing yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He also contributed four rushes for 23 yards and a touchdown, leading two of Chicago’s four scoring drives and finishing off a third. Though his stat line wasn’t all that sexy, he looked like a seasoned veteran on a majority of the reps he took.
Save for his interception — which was admittedly a bad read on his part — Bagent looked poised and decisive with the ball. The play before his interception, he delivered a nice throw that got dropped in the end zone by tight end Stephen Carlson. P.J. Walker had the better day from a statistical perspective, going 6-for-11 with 71 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, but Bagent’s status as QB2 and superior playing time indicated he’s probably the favorite as the second-string option right now.
Both quarterbacks were of course proceeded by Justin Fields, who went 2-for-6 with 51 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. The third-year QB also ran three times for 16 yards in the preseason finale. As is the case with a lot of starters in these games, there wasn’t a massive sample size to go off of for Fields, but he did seem to have his ups and downs. His poise behind a depleted offensive line wasn’t all that great, and one could argue the rookie Bagent looked more comfortable under pressure. That said, his agility and playmaking vision helped the Bears move the ball down the field on their first field goal drive.
Truthfully, not too many skill players stood out on Saturday, for better or worse. DJ Moore’s lone catch went for a 40-yard gain, further displaying his YAC ability after his tremendous touchdown catch in the preseason opener. The aforementioned Carlson had a 28-yard gain but also dropped two passes, including a would-be touchdown. It was tough for the run game to truly get going behind an offensive line that struggled against Buffalo’s depth up front, but Roschon Johnson passed the eye test in terms of how hard he fought for each yard he gained.
It wasn’t the sexiest game for the Bears’ offense, but for a preseason game, it could’ve been a lot worse. Now, the biggest question revolves around health on the offensive line, where Doug Kramer joined the likes of Cody Whitehair, Teven Jenkins, Lucas Patrick, Nate Davis and Darnell Wright as linemen dealing with injuries as of this writing.
The ups and downs put on display by the Bears’ defense against the Bills made for a rollercoaster of a viewing experience for sickos like me who love the team enough to sit through the entire game.
Chicago’s run defense wasn’t very good, as they didn’t plug up too many holes along the defensive line en route to allowing 5.1 total yards per carry to Buffalo ball-carriers. The pass-rush didn’t make a massive impact, as Bills backup quarterback Kyle Allen was only sacked once all game.
Still, there was good to come from this game for the Bears’ defensive unit. Trevis Gipson had yet another sack, stripping Allen for a fumble that teammate Noah Sewell picked up for a forced turnover. Michael Ojemudia put on a clinic at cornerback, breaking up 3 passes in his last-minute effort to make the active roster. Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens both deflected passes at the line of scrimmage and showed promise early in the game.
Those inconsistencies the Bears faced plagued rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, whose highs were high but whose lows were quite low. He had the first interception of his NFL career — even if preseason stats don’t count — showcasing tremendous body control and reactionary skills to jump the route and stay in bounds along the sideline. He projects as a Week 1 starter for the Bears as an outside cornerback, and while he has a skill-set that typically translates to success at the NFL level, most rookie corners face some sort of inconsistency in Year 1. It’s something worth keeping in mind with him this season.
Though coverage was a bit lax early in the game, the Bears picked it up in the second half, allowing just 7 points after halftime despite allowing 17 in the first half. A lack of safety depth became apparent in two-high shells, but rookie Kendall Williamson did have a nice PBU out of the slot. Saturday also marked the Bears debuts of Yannick Ngakoue and Tremaine Edmunds, but neither played enough to really provide much to go off of.
The interior run stuffing was alarming and seems like it could be a problem for the Bears, but it does seem helpful they’ve increased their pass-rushing presence and have linebackers who can clean up better at the second level. Based off of preseason reps, the Bears still have some work to do to completely transform their defense, but there is some reason to be excited in the grand scheme of things.
Three and out
3. Kudos to wide receiver Isaiah Ford for his blocked punt in the fourth quarter.
His special teams play set the Bears up for a touchdown drive that cut the game down to a 3-point lead for the Bills. His speed and effort getting into the backfield and disrupting the punt is exactly what coaches are looking for out of their backups, who see a good amount of playing time often come in the third phase. Ford projects as someone on the outside looking in as far as the active roster goes, but he could stick around on the practice squad with special teams value like that.
2. After Tyler Scott’s 56-yard kick return in the second quarter, one has to wonder how safe Velus Jones Jr.’s job is as the Bears’ main returner.
The injury to Dante Pettis means VJJ’s spot on the roster is a bit more safe, but his specific role might still be in jeopardy with the breakaway speed and ball-carrier vision Scott displayed on that return on Saturday. Scott’s college tape indicates he could develop into a solid starting wide receiver, but for the time being, settling into a WR4 role and taking on kick return duties isn’t a bad use of his skills by any means.
1. Try not to overreact to the cuts that get made between now and the start of the regular season.
There have been dozens upon dozens of training camp heroes who don’t amount to much in the NFL. That’s not to hate on those guys by any means — being in the NFL at all is an incredible accomplishment and is more than I’ll ever achieve in my lifetime. That said, there aren’t going to be instances in the regular season where, say, a backup defensive lineman goes up against a unit made up entirely of backup offensive linemen. Success in these games comes in a vacuum, and while it’s fun to analyze the preseason, it’s worth noting these games aren’t the end-all, be-all when projecting a team or player’s outlook for the regular season.