How Bears shut down Trey Lance, 49ers with H.I.T.S principle

·5 min read

How Bears shut down Lance, 49ers with H.I.T.S principle originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

CHICAGO – Sunday was supposed to be Trey Lance’s big coming out moment as Kyle Shanahan's hand-picked franchise quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bears had other plans.

All week the Bears’ veteran defensive leaders preached making Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, “prove” he could beat them with his arm.

The North Dakota State product failed to pass that test. The Bears held Lance to 13-for-28 passing for 164 yards and an interception in the Bears’ 19-10 Week 1 at a rain-soaked Soldier Field.

“What you think he did? He ain’t do s--t,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said of Lance after the win. “We made him play quarterback. We know he hurt us in the run game with his feet, and everybody knows at some point he’s going to run and make a play. But I feel like we had to really make him play quarterback.

“Like I said, he’s still a young guy and I think he’ll end up being a good player for them. But it’s early. He has to go through it. I feel like we did exactly what I said we would. Make him prove himself as a quarterback.”

All offseason long, new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff have preached the H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, and smart football) principle. The new staff got buy-in from everyone on the roster, and the Bears’ defensive performance was the first evidence that the concept can lead to wins.

“That’s results. That’s the big thing,” safety Eddie Jackson said of the H.I.T.S principle after the win. “When you see the results start to show up – I’ve been saying it all camp. You start to see the results on film, the way we practice, the way we hustle, just the mindset of the whole team, that mindset and how we’ve built our foundation and continue to build this identity on defense. We just want to continue to fly around on defense and get the ball.”

The H.I.T.S principle was in full effect early Sunday.

With the 49ers inside the Bears’ 20-yard line on their first possession, Deebo Samuel took a handoff around the left side and gained 4 yards before Johnson punched the ball out. Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker recovered it for an early momentum swing and a plus on the H.I.T.S report card.

The early takeaway was big, but for most of the game, the H.I.T.S principle showed up in how the Bears’ defense made Lance do what they wanted – hang in the pocket and beat them with accurate throws in tight windows.

“It’s just a young quarterback thing,” Jackson said of the plan to fluster Lance. ”You know, Year 2, he didn’t play a lot last year. Trying to get him to do something different that he’s not comfortable with, and that’s to try to get him to drop back and throw the ball, go through his reads, give him different looks and disguise.

“It played out today. He made a few plays but that’s how we wanted to keep it.”

On a soggy field with a new Bermuda surface, the Bears’ defense played disciplined, fundamental football. They gang-tackled, kept the yards after contact to a minimum, and only gave up two explosive plays in the passing game.

With the offense struggling in the first half, the Bears’ defense stood tall and got the team to halftime only down 7-0. Lance and the 49ers’ offense tacked on three more to start the third quarter, but that was it for one of the most feared offensive attacks in the NFL.

The Bears’ offense engineered longer drives in the second half, allowing the defense to rest and be at its peak for winning time.

After Justin Fields hit Equanimeous St. Brown for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Bears up 13-10 in the fourth quarter, the Chicago skies opened back up, and a deluge fell on Lance and a 49ers offense desperately trying to find answers in unideal conditions.

“The ball game was over,” Johnson said about that moment. “They didn’t want to play no more. Especially having those conditions and being down two scores. It’s really hard to throw the ball down the field. It’s hard to do a lot with those weather conditions. You can see it in their eyes. They was trying to get out of here and go home.”

It was only fitting that the H.I.T.S principle sent Lance and the 49ers to the tarmac.

On third-and-5 from their own 41, Lance dropped back and looked for Jauan Jennings over the middle of the field. Jackson and Brisker executed the game plan to perfection. The safeties gave Lance a Cover 2 look and baited him into a throw they knew he wanted to make.

Jackson read the play, stepped in front of the pass, and took it 26 yards the other way to set up the Bears’ kill shot touchdown.

With the Chicago rain cascading down on a sloppy 49ers team, Lance walked to the sideline to talk with Shanahan as the Bears’ heavily-doubted defense celebrated Jackson’s dagger.

“Nobody is surprised in this locker room or in the building,” Jackson said after the win. “Everybody outside is more surprised than we are. We know what we got, and I’ve been saying I feel like we going to shock a lot of people, surprise a lot of people with the way we work. I feel like nobody works harder than us and the mindset we have as a team and what we building is something special.”

The Bears never gave Lance an easy chance to beat them. They didn't blitz him on any of his 34 dropbacks, but still pressured him 12 times. On those 12 pressured dropbacks, Lance went 1-for-7 for minus-2 yards and two sacks.

The game plan worked to perfection.

For all the talk of Lance being an unknown entering his third career NFL start, the Bears seemed to know exactly who and what Lance is at this moment and what he is not.

Their assessment was correct, and they let the H.I.T.S principle do the rest.

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