Not bad for openers: Bears’ defense shines in Mitch Trubisky’s shadow
Leonard Floyd was just doing what he’s paid to do.
“I came off the ball, [saw] the tackle pass-setting me and beat him around the edge,” Floyd said of his lighting-quick undressing of right tackle Menelik Watson for a sack of Trevor Siemian on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage Thursday night at Soldier Field. “My eyes definitely got wide seeing that I was getting off the tackle like that, and I saw the quarterback, ran him down and made the sack.”
The second-year outside linebacker’s sack for a seven-yard loss was the flash play of the night for the Bears’ defense. But the most notable sign of progress for a defense that expects to take off this season was its third-down efficiency.
With the Bears’ first- and second-team defense on the field, the Broncos converted only one of six third-down plays, averaged 3.6 yards per play and scored three points in the first half. In fact, the Broncos were 1-for-8 on third down and averaged 3.8 yards per play into the fourth quarter before third- and fourth-team Bears defenders yielded two touchdowns that gave the Broncos a 24-17 victory.
Last year, the Bears were 22nd in the NFL in third-down efficiency (40.5 percent).
“We did good for our first outing,” Floyd said. “We’ll watch the film, look at errors we made, practice and correct ’em and look forward to looking better next week.”
And on each of those third-down stops, pressure forced the misplay. Defensive end Mitch Unrein pressured Siemian into a bad throw that forced the Broncos to settle for a field goal. Nickel back Bryce Callahan’s open-field tackle forced a punt. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard dropped running back Stevan Ridley for a two-yard loss on third-and-one. Outside linebacker Dan Skuta caught scrambling Paxton Lynch from behind to force another punt. And linebacker Christian Jones came free on a blitz to pressure Lynch into an incompletion on third-and-two.
“We did all right, for the most part,” outside linebacker Willie Young said. “To see the way the guys were flying around, being a preseason game, it says a lot about where this team wants to go as a unit.”
Floyd got the opener off to a fast start when he sacked Siemian. Watson, for what it’s worth, was playing his first game for the Broncos. He was signed as a free agent after four disappointing seasons with the Raiders — just 17 starts, including five last season.
The momentum from Floyd’s early sack diminished quickly as the defense quickly was off-kilter, and the Broncos drove 67 yards — from their 13-yard line to the Bears’ 20 — in the next eight plays.
The biggest issue was discipline, as the Bears were called for four penalties in four snaps. Young was called for a neutral-zone infraction and unnecessary roughness. Callahan was called for pass interference against wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. And outside linebacker Sam Acho was penalized for roughing the passer.
“We had too many penalties; they were self-inflicted,” Unrein said. “But I feel like we’re in a good spot this time of year. We just have to build on it and keep on getting better every day.”
Rookie Eddie Jackson entered the game with Deon Bush at safety in the second quarter and made an impact play when he closed quickly to break up a pass from Lynch to tight end A.J. Derby on second down. It was not exactly a flash play, but for a team in need of safeties making plays on the ball, it seemed like a revelation.
“That’s my job, but I got a little excited, just to see I could break on a ball like that,” Jackson said. “I’ve been out since October [because of a broken leg at Alabama]. So everything right now is an opportunity, and I have to take advantage of every opportunity I get. It was just exciting to be able to make those plays and break on those balls like that. It gets your confidence level back.”
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