Why Bears aren't sweating rough run defense against Titans originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Before Justin Fields and DJ Moore connected for an electric 62-yard touchdown on a screen pass in Saturday’s Bears preseason opener, fans were probably thinking to themselves, “Oh no, here we go again.”
The Bears finished the 2022 season with a league-worst 3-14 record in large part because they fielded one of the worst run defenses in the league. The team almost entirely overhauled their defensive line and linebacker corps to try to fix the issue, but in their first game action against the Titans, the Bears starting defense allowed backup running back Tyjae Spears to run right down the field, which set up an easy touchdown run for Malik Willis.
That was it for the starting unit. One series and one touchdown surrendered.
On Monday, after the team had gotten a chance to look at the tape, Matt Eberflus didn’t seem too concerned with the performance.
“I thought it was good,” Eberflus said. “To a certain degree it was better in terms of the punch, playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. I certainly felt that. But the precision and detail needs to be cleaned up.”
It’s worth noting that in the preseason, teams sometimes opt to focus on one or two things that they want to work on for various units. They don’t gameplan.
In the one series that the starting defense played, Spears carried the ball six times for 32 yards, with a 14-yard run and a nine-yard run in the mix.
While Eberflus conceded that the defensive line needed to tighten up on a few details, nose tackle Andrew Billings chalked up the lack of production to simply being out on the field with fully live contact for the first time.
“In camp we're not trying to throw people to the ground, we're just trying to stay in front, stay on their blocks,” Billings said. “I think the difference in the game is what we need to work on. It's just like really getting rid of a dude instead of just likeー for me personally, it was like I was trying a swim off or stuff. It's like no, you've got to rip a Z. In a game they're really trying to push you to the ground so it's a little different than practicing against each other.”
The Bears head to Westfield, IN for joint practices against the Colts this week. There’s still no fully live hitting, especially on the pass rush, but intensity usually ramps up higher at joint practices since players are lining up against true opponents rather than teammates. The practices will culminate with the team’s second preseason game of the year.
We’ll see if the extra week in practice and the anticipated intensity uptick helps the Bears starters perform better against the run, if they get more playing time. If not, we’ll be left wondering 2023’s run defense might be a repeat of last year’s poor performance.