After Rodgers-Brady gauntlet, Bears’ defense needs to show its fangs again
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai thinks his defense learned some lessons after getting throttled by Brady last week. Against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers on Sunday, it has a chance to prove it.
It was a bit of a “Welcome to the NFL” moment for Bears first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai the last two weeks.
Plotting back-to-back games against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady — arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, both amazingly at the peak of their powers at 38 and 44, respectively — is a mentally taxing chore for even veteran coordinators, let alone a rookie.
“Those guys are the best of the best,” Desai said. “They’ve seen most everything, and I’ve got to do a good job of moving that hat around . . . on a consistent basis. There were times we did a good-enough job of it — and I did a good-enough job. And there were times that we didn’t.
“That’s part of the growth process. Obviously it’s a learning process for me. But, quite frankly, it’s a learning process for a lot of coordinators in this league when they go up against these guys regardless of years of experience.”
The Bears didn’t fare well, losing to Rodgers and the Packers 24-14 and getting crushed by Brady and the Buccaneers 38-3 last week. Rodgers and Brady combined for six touchdown passes with no interceptions.
It could have been worse — and it has been for the Bears. The last time they faced Rodgers and Brady in back-to-back games — in 2014, when Mel Tucker was the coordinator and Desai was a quality-control coach — the Hall of Fame-bound duo combined for 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions, and the Bears lost 51-23 to Brady and the Patriots and 55-14 to Rodgers and the Packers.
There’s no real shame in coming up short. Over the last 10 years, five teams have faced Rodgers and Brady in back-to-back games and are 1-9 (with Rodgers and Brady combining for 32 touchdown passes and one interception). Those teams are 0-5 on the back end, outscored 200-37. That’s an average of 40-7 in the second game, so even the Bears’ 38-3 loss is kind of what happens when you face Brady and Rodgers in back-to-back games.
“That’s part of the NFL,” Desai said. “It’s a long season. That was Week 7, and obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted — from a team perspective and certainly from a defensive perspective.
“But having said that, there are also some things we can built off of from that tape. Some things with swarm, particularly in the second half, where the guys played with tremendous energy and good technique and fundamentals that we’re going to continue to build on.”
We’ll see about that. Yes, the Bears’ defense didn’t quit, holding the Buccaneers to three points in the second half, including a goal-line stand in the third quarter. But by then, it was 35-3.
The degree of difficulty goes down a notch against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers on Sunday. Garoppolo, the Rolling Meadows graduate, is notoriously hot-and-cold. Of his 37 NFL starts, he has had a passer rating of 100 or better 20 times and 89 or lower 15 times. Only twice has he been in the 90s.
This season has been more of the same, with a fast start against the Lions in the opener — 314 yards, a touchdown pass and a 124.2 rating in a 41-33 victory — but shaky performances in his last two starts against the Seahawks (165 yards, 79.1 rating) and Colts (181 yards, two picks, 60.9 rating in the rain).
That makes this more of a fair fight than the last two weeks. It’s a chance for Desai and the Bears’ defense to show those hard lessons weren’t for naught.