The Bears’ defense will go from facing a quarterback who has seen everything to one who, in football terms, is just a baby.
And he’s coming off one of the worst games by a passer this season.
In his seventh career start, rookie Sam Darnold went 17-for-42 for 206 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions in the Jets’ 37-17 loss Sunday to the Vikings.
Darnold’s 34.4 passer rating was the second-worst mark of any starter in 2018. The Bills’ Nathan Peterman, who one day might have the honor named after him, posted a 0.0 rating in Buffalo’s season opener against the Ravens.
The Bears smell blood.
“As a rookie, we want to make him make a mistake,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We’re going to send pressure at him and hopefully get some turnovers.”
The old football saw — that you blitz a rookie more than a veteran — applies this week. Expect defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to present the opposite tack compared to last week’s plan against Tom Brady, who carved up a defense that often rushed only three guys.
Trying to confuse a rookie quarterback is standard fare around the league, Jackson said.
“Right now we want to take advantage of that,” he said.
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan joked that “you don’t have to be a player to know” that there’s a difference between Brady, who has thrown 9,055 passes, and Darnold, who has thrown 221.
“Tom, I feel like, was probably more aware of what was going on, what coverages are, certain reads and stuff,” cornerback Bryce Callahan said. “I still prepare the same regardless of what quarterback is out there.”
Maybe. But with a rookie on tap, the Bears have preached aggression with the pass rush and takeaways this week.
The Bears have proved they can do both. They’re tied for first in the NFL with 11 interceptions and have at least one interception in every game. Their plus-seven turnover margin is the second-best in the league, and their 65 points off turnovers lead the NFL.
Their 19 sacks are tied for eighth-most in the league — though they had 18 through their first four games.
A rookie quarterback could cure exactly what ails the Bears, who have allowed 69 points combined in their last two games.
“You know he has playmaking ability out there, but Tom Brady, he’s been around for a long time, and he knows the game a little bit better,” Trevathan said. “But this young guy, he can play ball. We’re not going to take him easy; we’re not going to take anything we do easy.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles said he was pleased with how Darnold, a USC alum who ranks 26th in the league with 222 passing yards per game, reacted to his performance against Minnesota.
“He tries to get better and learn from his mistakes,” Bowles said. “He studies. And he works to get better every day. So attitude-wise, he’s been great.”
Bowles said Darnold is up for the challenge.
“Just because he stays true to who he is,” he said. “He doesn’t try to put on any airs and try to be something he’s not or someone he’s not. He loves football, loves the game.
“He has an inner fire that allows him to be the best where he doesn’t have to show it outwardly; he wants to put in the work. He wants to be the best. He’s very comfortable around his teammates and the guys who gravitate toward him. He’s always willing to learn. And not a lot of things faze him.”
If that sounds familiar, it is: The Bears said the same thing about Mitch Trubisky last year.
This season, though, the Bears’ defense is the one looking to benefit from those growing pains.