The Bears defense found a solution to its first half problems on Thursday night – execution, pressure and a favorable game.
Facing a Washington Commanders team that had none of the problems that plagued the Bears in the first half of the previous season – the passing of Aaron Rodgers, the underground runs of Daniel Jones, the excellence of Saquon Barkley and Kirk Cousins-to-Justin Jefferson – the Bears almost threw a first-half shutout against Carson Wentz and the 1-4 Commanders.
The Bears forced punts on Commanders’ first four possessions before two pass interference penalties cleared the way for Joey Slye’s 38-yard field goal that gave Commanders a 3-0 lead at halftime. -time.
Four days after the Bears allowed 307 yards on 44 plays (7.0 average), 6 of 7 third down conversions and three first-half touchdowns against the Vikings, they held the Commanders to 88 yards on 26 runs (3.4 average), 1 in 6 third conversions and no touchdowns.
Unconventional pressure played a key role. Safety Jaquan Brisker sacked Wentz at third-and-seven for a three-and-out on the Commanders’ first possession. Linebacker Roquan Smith sacked Wentz on third-and-five on second possession.
Wentz threw incomplete on a third and five passes for Dyami Brown, with cornerback Jaylon Johnson covering, to force a third consecutive punt. And linebacker Nick Morrow’s blitz allowed defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad to pressure Wentz to uncomplete the third and fourth to force the commanders to punt a fourth straight time.
The Bears’ aggressiveness got the better of them on the last halftime try. In third straight plays, Kindle Vildor and Johnson were called for pass interference for gains of 17 and 15 yards at the Bears 40-yard line. The third-and-six of the 20, Wentz threw incomplete for Terry McLaurin in the end zone, with Johnson in cover, and the Commanders settled for Slye’s basket with 46 seconds left in the half.
The Bears entered the game with first-half defensive numbers the coaching staff couldn’t ignore. Their 80 points allowed were tied for second most in the NFL. Their 11 touchdowns and 63 first downs allowed were the most in the league. Their 6.2 yards per play was third-highest.
The problem was highlighted in the first half against the Vikings, when the Bears allowed 86, 75 and 71 yard touchdowns to trail 21-3.
“Execution,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “They’ve made a few plays, but I’d still like to think it’s more about us than about them.”
Williams pointed to simple things like culprits against the Vikings — things he expected to fix against the Commanders on Thursday night.
“It’s always about owning your gap. It’s always about reading your keys. It’s always about tackling,” Williams said. “It’s always about doing that stuff more than them.”
And Williams also pointed the finger.
“As a coordinator, I also have to take ownership of that,” he said. “I have to call a better first half to help the guys. I believe it’s the coach and the player. So [the issue] is both.
Johnson’s return gave the Bears a boost. Johnson’s absence wasn’t really felt against the Texans and Giants. But against the Vikings, they had to defend Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen with three rookies in their secondary – cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Jones and safety Jaquan Brisker.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Williams said. “He’s another capable body, another really good player who helps us. And he’s another guy who’s been in the battles and communicates on the pitch to help the other guys. So I can’t exaggerate to how much it means for the defense that he is ready to go.