Bears’ defense ready to hit the ground running
Without Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn, Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson, a makeshift defense still stifled the Browns. Next up: the 49ers. “When we play Week 1, we should have everybody back, and that’s gonna be real scary for a lot of teams,” tackle Justin Jones said.
CLEVELAND — Less than a half hour after the preseason concluded Saturday night, Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones already was on to San Francisco.
“Oh, man, I’m focused for Week 1,” Jones said after the Bears beat the Browns 21-20 at FirstEnergy Stadium to complete a 3-0 preseason.
“I’m focused on game-planning and seeing everything [the 49ers] do. Seeing what kind of quarterback Trey Lance is — seeing his tendencies and everything and really, really getting into that. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m not really worried about this one.”
Though the preseason finale against the Browns was not quite a dress rehearsal with four key starters out, the Bears’ defense is going into the regular season feeling pretty good about itself.
Even without linebacker Roquan Smith, defensive end Robert Quinn, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a makeshift Bears defense shut down the Browns’ struggling offense. The Bears held the Browns to 68 yards on 19 plays (3.6 yards per play) on their first four drives — three three-and-outs and a missed 58-yard field-goal attempt. Even when more reserves played after that, the Bears still held the Browns to two field goals and 4.4 yards per play (37 plays, 162 yards) in the first half.
Playmakers included Jones, who had a tackle for loss on the second play from scrimmage; cornerback Kindle Vildor, who had a tackle for a three-yard loss on second-and-one and a pass break-up; rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon, who had a third-down pass break-up that forced a punt; and cornerback Greg Stroman, who had a first-half interception and two pass break-ups — including one against former Bear Javon Wims on a two-point-conversion try that preserved the 21-20 lead with 2:31 to go.
“Everybody wasn’t out there today, which is OK. But you’re starting to see the DNA of our defense,” said Jones, who also batted a pass at the line of scrimmage for an incompletion. “Even if a tackle’s missed, you see 10 to 12 guys — notice I said 12 — running to the ball, flying to the ball and making it seem like we have more players on the field than there actually are. That’s the key to success — the effort to the ball and making sure that everybody’s in the camera.”
Smith, who was expected to play for the first time in the preseason after returning from his 24-day hold-in, was a surprise scratch because of “tightness” he experienced while warming up, coach Matt Eberflus said. Johnson had similar tightness in practice last week. Jackson is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. And Quinn was given a veteran’s day off.
The defense also was without rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, who injured his thumb in the preseason opener against the Chiefs.
Even when the Bears gave up yards, they got them back. On second-and-one after Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson gained nine yards on first down, Vildor tackled Johnson for a three-yard loss on a backfield pass play. On third-and-four, Gordon had nifty pass break-up to force a punt.
“That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Gordon said. “I want to get two hands on the ball next time — so next time that’s going to be a pick. But I’m ready to keep on making those plays.”
The Bears figure to get a tougher test in the season opener. But with Smith, Quinn, Johnson and Jackson presumably in the lineup, they expect to be better equipped to handle that chore.
“When we play Week 1 we should have everybody back, and that’s going to be real scary for a lot of teams,” Jones said.