LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears defensive end DeMarcus Walker did not hesitate when asked about the unit’s biggest area of improvement heading into Week 2.
“Third. Down. Third down,” he said Wednesday at Halas Hall. “We’ve got to get off the field on third down.”
Walker added that the defense needs takeaways, to stop the run and to get after the quarterback, but he was most frustrated with the inability to stop the Green Bay Packers on third down.
The Packers were 9-for-16 on third down. Jordan Love threw touchdown passes on third down and fourth down. He was 7-for-9 passing for 106 yards with a passer rating of 152.8 on third down. The Bears, meanwhile, hit Love only three times (with one sack) in the game.
It took only one game, but coach Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme and its reliance on the front four getting after the passer is already a problem. The new-look group, still an area of weakness, did not do a good enough job to rattle Love, who was in his second career start.
In case anyone forgot, the 2022 Bears were 22nd in blitz percentage and 32nd in quarterback hits — 17 behind the 31st-ranked Browns.
They opened the 2023 season with three QB hits and one sack.
“Build more chemistry,” Walker said about how to fix it. “This being my first game being back, getting used to the guys, knowing how I rush, having a better game plan going into Sundays and then not thinking so much, in my opinion. Just trusting that the treatment and everything I’ve done to get to this point is good to go. Can’t second-guess my calf.”
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The Bears blitzed on 16.7 percent of dropbacks, tied for the fifth fewest in the league, per TruMedia. That formula didn’t work. Love made big plays when given time to survey the field.
It began on the Packers’ opening drive. On third-and-goal, the Bears rushed four. Walker got double-teamed. Love had a clean pocket and found Romeo Doubs for the touchdown.
In the middle of the second quarter, on third-and-6, the Bears tried a stunt with Yannick Ngakoue and Walker. The Packers picked it up no problem.
Love hit open receiver Samori Toure, who found space in the middle of the defense when cornerback Tyrique Stevenson didn’t stay with him. The rest of the defenders were in man-to-man defense.
Right before halftime, facing a third-and-10, the Bears’ defensive line gets about as close as they had gotten to Love. Rasheem Green was a step away from the ball, but there was no interior pressure.
Love had also looked off linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, helping create more open space for rookie receiver Jaylen Reed.
Here’s the result.
On Sunday at Tampa Bay, the Bears will face a Buccaneers team that was only 6-for-17 on third down, but they protected quarterback Baker Mayfield well. The Vikings hit him only twice despite blitzing on a league-high 47.4 percent of pass attempts, per TruMedia.
Mayfield is on his fourth team in three years for a reason, but he can operate just fine with a clean pocket. Check out the Bucs’ protection on his touchdown pass to receiver Mike Evans.
From the sideline view, we see there wasn’t a Vikings defender within 4 yards of Mayfield, who could be patient as Evans ran his route.
In the second quarter, Mayfield had to maneuver the pocket a bit, but he didn’t need to scramble. He bought time but had no one in his passing lane, allowing for another easy touchdown.
Eberflus certainly won’t divulge the game plan for Sunday. After barely blitzing in the first two games of the 2022 season, the Bears went after Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills on 30.3 percent of his dropbacks in a Week 3 win.
“Week to week, we do what we think is the best to affect the quarterback, and that certainly could be the case this week and we’ll see where it goes,” Eberflus said. “But I do know that affecting the quarterback is the process that we want to get done. I don’t think we did it well enough last week. Going forward, we need to get that done.”
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One problem is cornerback Kyler Gordon, one of the team’s better blitzers, injured his hand on one of the few blitzes the Bears dialed up. He’s been placed on injured reserve and will be miss at least four games. His likely replacement, Josh Blackwell, could be used as a blitzer but isn’t as adept at the practice as Gordon.
That could mean we see safety Jaquan Brisker, last year’s team leader in sacks, involved in some pressure packages, or maybe one of the three linebackers. Based on what Walker said, the defensive linemen should be better acclimated.
Will Eberflus trust the D-linemen to shake off the Week 1 rust and get after Mayfield on their own? Or will Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams decide they need to be a little more creative to manufacture pressure?
That wasn’t done in time against the Packers. This is still not a high-ceiling defensive line. The Bears don’t have the strongest slate of opposing quarterbacks on the schedule, but it won’t matter much if their pass rush resembles what we saw in Week 1.
(Top photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)
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