FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Bears’ offensive line flowed left, eating up defensive linemen and linebackers. Guard Kyle Long, as he’s known to do, muscled New England Patriots standout linebacker Jamie Collins into being a non-factor.
And behind it all, Jeremy Langford was decisive, just as the Bears want him to be. With one quick cut, the second-year running back ran through a gaping hole and into the end zone late in the first quarter.
It’s unwise to read too much into all the highs and lows of preseason play. The Bears lost 23-22 after taking a 11-0 lead at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. Quarterback Jay Cutler said the Patriots didn’t show much front- or coverage-wise, calling it “a pretty bland game.”
But Langford’s 5-yard touchdown run was important because he read everything right on a play the Patriots’ undoubtedly wanted to stop after three days of joint practices.
“I could tell previously on our first couple drives how fast they run outside, and the offensive line was doing a great job of pushing them off,” Langford said. “It was really up to me to find that hole and get vertical.”
Much is expected of Langford after the Bears said goodbye to Matt Forte. Langford can’t replace Forte by himself, but it’s obvious he’s the leader of the group of backs that coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains want to feature.
Before veteran Jacquizz Rodgers entered the game in the second quarter, Langford was the only running back to play with quarterback Jay Cutler this preseason.
He didn’t do much last week against the Denver Broncos, but he had five touches on 10 plays, totaling 10 yards. On Thursday, he was the star of the first quarter, gaining 55 yards on eight carries and making an eight-yard catch. A play before his touchdown, Langford broke loose for a 34-yard run.
As a group, the Bears’ first-team offense was significantly better than it was last week. The Patriots dressed more defensive regulars than the Broncos, including Collins, cornerback Malcolm Butler, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, end Chris Long and safety Devin McCourty.
What was most encouraging was how Langford read his blocks in the outside zone running scheme the Bears want to use. He said he identified some of the Patriots’ tendencies when reviewing film of their practices together.
His 34-yard run was full of highlights:
† A cut inside center Ted Larsen’s block of Terrance Knighton, the Patriots’ massive defensive lineman.
† A move inside blocks by guards at the second level. Kyle Long forcefully handled Collins, while rookie Cody Whitehair locked up Hightower.
† A juke of McCourty in the open field. With that move, Langford was able to get around a block by receiver Alshon Jeffery and reach the sideline before getting knocked out of bounds.
“It’s speed and putting on pressure on the linebackers,” Langford said.
It didn’t always look that good. Langford’s first run of the night went into the backs of his linemen before he shifted to his left and rolled into a 5-yard gain. But he seemed to improve with every touch thereafter, and how he used his quick feet proved meaningful — even for the preseason.
“He made a step forward,” Fox said. “He had a good week of preparation, a good week of practice. I thought he had a heckuva season a year ago as a rookie, and he continues to impress and get better.”