If running back Tarik Cohen were a few inches taller, quarterback Chase Daniel would have thrown a 22-yard touchdown pass to him in the second quarter of the Bears’ 23-16 victory against the -Lions on Thanksgiving.
Instead, Daniel’s throw went off of Cohen’s fingertips before the goal line. He was wide open after an out-and-up route in the backfield.
“As you saw, we should have had another touchdown with Tarik up the sideline,” Daniel said. “Little bit of an overthrow.”
It’s a result of Daniel and Cohen’s inexperience together. Daniel, though, made up for it in the fourth quarter by completing a 14-yard pass to Cohen for a touchdown on a similar route.
Here are five takeaways after watching film of Thursday’s victory:
Passing the test
It’s time to give the Bears’ offensive line credit. The Lions’ four sacks of Daniel are deceiving.
“I thought our offensive line played really well,” he said. “The stats will say four sacks. Well, three or four of those were all my fault, and that’s from just not playing for a long time.”
Daniel actually had time to pass on all four plays. It included a -Lions blitz in the fourth quarter that included Glover Quin, cornerback Nevin Lawson and linebacker Jarrad Davis. It ended with Quin’s takedown of Daniel.
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah’s sack in the third quarter was an example of a play where Mitch Trubisky was missed. Daniel had room to run, but Ansah tripped Daniel for no gain.
The Lions’ third sack of Daniel came on a blown play on second-and-two from the Bears’ 46 in the third quarter. It was a run-pass option play where Daniel didn’t hand off to Taquan Mizzell or throw the screen to receiver Anthony Miller. Instead, Daniel ran the ball back to the line of scrimmage.
The Bears’ running game didn’t produce again, but coach Matt Nagy was comfortable enough to have his backup quarterback attempt 37 passes on the road in his first start since the 2014 season. His confidence started with another strong game by the offensive line in pass protection.
Mixing in Mizzell
The Bears’ use of Mizzell likely will continue, even if it means fewer snaps for starter Jordan Howard. Mizzell has a skill set that Nagy likes for his offense.
“We feel like we have some advantages with him in the pass game,” Nagy said.
That’s not always the case with the slower Howard. The Bears designed the pick play that resulted in Mizzell’s first career touchdown a day before playing the Lions.
Mizzell lined up in the near left slot against former Bears linebacker Christian Jones and cut around receiver Allen Robinson, who turned to Daniel and impeded Jones’ path.
The touchdown came a play after Mizzell made a falling catch on a route out of the backfield for an 11-yard gain. Mizzell also ran for seven yards on a run-pass option play to close out the first quarter.
Mizzell’s nine snaps against the Lions were the most he has had since being promoted from the practice squad against the Bills on Nov. 4. He had only one play (one carry for a one-yard loss) against the Vikings.
Daniel does it
According to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, 14 of Daniel’s 27 completions came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Overall, nine players caught passes from Daniel.
“Once we settled in, we were able to do some RPO stuff, do some quick pass gains, take some shots,” Daniel said. “I thought the scheme was great. I really enjoyed this game plan.”
It still was important for Daniel to take shots down the field. It started with overthrowing Miller on a fade on the Bears’ second offensive play.
But it also included a 29-yard completion to Robinson down the right sideline. Robinson extended his left arm to gain separation from Lions Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack only had one tackle and one quarterback hit, but his impact was felt.
During inside linebacker Roquan Smith’s sack on third-and-eight from the Lions’ 27 in the second quarter, Mack occupied three offensive linemen: left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Frank Ragnow and center Graham Glasgow.
Tight end Levine Toilolo also briefly chipped Mack. He lightly shoved Mack with his right hand before running his route.
The Lions’ obsession with Mack left Smith one-on-one with running back Theo Riddick. He beat him quickly with a swim move to sack quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“That’s what you pray for as a blitzing linebacker: a one-on-one with a back,” Smith said. “It’s great. I just got a good move and got to the quarterback.”
There was more, too. When Smith hurried Stafford into an errant throw on first-and-10 from the Lions’ 30 in the third quarter, Riddick and right tackle Rick Wagner focused on Mack. It left Smith with a free run right at Stafford.
When the Bears used a blitz that featured three defensive backs to attack Stafford and close out the first half, Mack’s rush was handled by Ragnow and Decker. Backup safety Deon Bush had a free run at Stafford. It was Bush’s only play on defense.
With outside linebacker Aaron Lynch out with a concussion, Mack played 59 of the Bears’ 66 defensive snaps, while Leonard Floyd handled even more with 62 plays. Isaiah Irving (eight) and Kylie Fitts (two) barely spelled them.
Mack wasn’t on the field for LeGarrette Blount’s two four-yard touchdown runs. On the first one, Irving was in and filled a gap inside for Decker. Blount ran behind Decker — who sealed off Irving — then collided with safety Adrian Amos and barreled into the end zone.
On the second, Mack sprinted off the field as the Bears used four defensive linemen on the goal line: rookie Bilal Nichols, Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard. Blount scored off the left end again, carrying Nichols on his back into the end zone.