Chicago Bears Preseason Week 1 Film Review: First-String Defense

Detailed film analysis of the Chicago Bears starting defense from two series played in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos.

In the preseason opener, the Chicago Bears defense played just two series. The first series resulted in a touchdown for the Denver Broncos. On the second series the defense forced a turnover. 

The Bears lost the game 22-0 but there were just as many positives from the first-team team defense as there were negatives. 

With that in mind, let's use game film to highlight and analyze six plays from the starting defense. 

Play I

This is the first snap of the game. OLBs Willie Young (top) and Lamarr Houston are rushing off the edges, with DE Akiem Hicks (blue) in a one-on-one matchup up the middle. The clock shows 14:52. 

One second later the pocket has collapsed on both sides, with Young and Houston closing in on QB Mark Sanchez. In addition, Hicks has pushed the right guard into Sanchez's face. 

The pocket completely collapses, which forces Sanchez to scramble left. DL Ego Ferguson, who was double teamed at the snap, cleans up the play by cutting off the run angle, forcing Sanchez to throw the ball into the stands. 

Analysis: The Bears struggled last year to apply consistent pressure on passing downs, particularly in the face of opposing quarterbacks. The pass rush found more consistency in the second half of the campaign when Houston and Young returned to full health. On this snap, we see what I've seen from Houston and Young throughout camp. Both attack the edge and drive the offensive tackles into Sanchez. At the same time Hicks, whom I've been lauding since OTAs, uses a bull rush to push the guard into the quarterback's face. If the Bears can collapse the pocket like this on a regular basis this year, the defense will thrive. 

Play II

This is an off-tackle run play with RB Ronnie Hillman carrying the ball. At the snap, the Bears three-man defensive line gets swallowed up in the middle . Focus on Chicago's inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman (blue) and Danny Trevathan (red). 

Note: There was is no All-22 film available in the preseason, so this is the best angle I can provide.
As Hillman hits the line of scrimmage, Trevathan has already fought off a reach block on the back side. With the blocker at his feet, Trevathan is eyeing the running back and preparing his angle of attack. On the play-side, Freeman is hiding behind the two front blockers, who are occupied with DE Mitch Unrein. This is a sneaky move by Freeman because Hillman has no idea where he is. 

Freeman attacks and hits Hillman at the line of scrimmage. On the weak side, Trevathan is sprinting toward the cutoff point, leaving a blocker (yellow) in his wake. Freeman slips off the tackle but Trevathan is there to clean the play up after a short gain. 

Analysis: For Bears fans used to watching Shea McClellin, Christian Jones and James Anderson wait for run plays to come to them, it's refreshing to see two linebackers who consistently attack the line of scrimmage. Here we see Freeman fight around blocks in front of him before crashing downhill on the ball carrier. At the same time, Trevathan jukes out a blocker on the weak side, freeing himself to make the tackle. From what I've seen of Trevathan and Freeman the past few months, both are well worth the investment and should help bring Chicago's defense to the next level. 

Play III

This is a zone blitz in which Freeman (blue) will shoot the left A gap, with Houston (red) dropping up the opposite hash. 

As the play develops, the Broncos will execute a double cross at the underneath and intermediate levels. 

Freeman bites on the underneath receiver, leaving Houston all alone in the middle of the field. Notice Houston has quit his backpedal as Sanchez releases the ball. 

WR Demaryius Thomas catches the pass just behind Houston, who is too shallow to make a play on the ball. 

Analysis: This play gives us a look at a relatively simple Vic Fangio blitz package. The zone scheme drops Houston down the middle of the field but the blitz doesn't finish or create pressure, which puts the defense in precarious position. Sanchez does the right thing and attacks Houston, who does not have the quickness, speed or awareness to be a threat in coverage. 

Play IV

This snap highlights an edge rush from Young (blue). At the 10:34 mark, he's locked up with the left tackle. 

In less than a second (the clock still shows 10:34) Young separates from the block and turns the corner. Notice Houston on the opposite edge doing the same thing. 

Young beats Houston to the quarterback by half a second, hitting Sanchez as he releases the pass, which falls harmlessly incomplete. 

Analysis: Here again we see Young and Houston crashing both sides of the pocket against a first-team offensive line. Playing just 14 snaps, Young had 2 QB hurries and a QB hit. That's elite-level production, albeit from a small sample size.

Play V

This is 3rd and 9, with the Bears showing an all-out blitz. Eight players are lined up in the box, with each preparing to rush the quarterback. 

All eight defenders blitz, leaving man coverage on each of the four receivers. There is no safety help over the top, as Adrian Amos is blitzing. 

The blitz applies pressure and Trevathan levels Sanchez as he releases the pass. 

This is the moment the pass is released. Notice CB Bryce Callahan has turned back to the line of scrimmage and stopped running, while Thomas continues to streak up the field. 

Callahan is five yards behind Thomas as he makes the easy touchdown grab. 

Analysis: This is the conundrum Fangio faces. He wants to attack opposing offenses with the blitz, particularly on passing downs. Yet that leaves a suspect secondary man-to-man on the back end. Even if the blitz gets through, as it did on this play, it won't mean anything if the cornerback loses his man. Callahan knew there was no safety behind him yet he seemed more concerned with watching the blitz than making sure Thomas didn't get behind him. Callahan gets caught flat-footed and Thomas is wide open for six. 

Play VI

The following series, Sanchez executes a play-action naked bootleg. The underneath receiver uses a double move and is about to break back outside. The slot receiver will stem to 10 yards before breaking toward the near sideline. Callahan (red) is covering the underneath receiver. 

Sanchez is about to release the ball and Callahan realizes the pass is intended for the player behind him. As such, Callahan begins to float backward away from the underneath route. 

The slot receiver has a step on Freeman and is open for the first down, and more, but Callahan reaches back and tips the ball up in the air. 

Freeman reacts quickly and snatches the ball out of the air for an interception. 

Analysis: On this snap, Callahan does a very good job of making up for the previous touchdown. He showed great awareness in dropping off the underneath receiver once he realized the pass would be behind him. He then reacted and made an athletic play to tip the pass in the air. Callahan is a skilled player, as we see here, who could develop into a dependable starting cornerback if he can avoid the mental errors, as we saw on the previous series. 

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