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Bears' much-anticipated defensive improvement doesn't show up in loss to Packers

Will DeWitt Avatar
September 11, 2023

CHICAGO — Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones caught the ball near the line of scrimmage with a wall of blockers in front. He followed that convey for an easy 51-yard gain with multiple defenders trailing him.

Fast forward three plays later and Jones found paydirt as the Packers took an 11-point lead early in the second half. From there, it was straight downhill for the Chicago Bears as they lost the 2023 season-opener to the Packers 38-20 on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The Bears’ defense was supposed to be better than this.

But that’s the difference between expectations and reality.

For all of the improvement that supposedly took place, from every free agent acquisition like T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds to the rookies Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens, the Bears’ defense looked like the same unit from last year.

One would’ve never known there were six new starters on this unit as the same patterns carried over. Literally, copy and paste.

  • Quarterbacks picking apart the secondary due to no pass rush
  • Inability to get off the field on third down
  • Allowing game-changing chunk plays
  • Failing to generate takeaways
  • Surrendering touchdowns every time opponents reached the red zone

It’s the same old song and dance for Alan Williams’ unit.

The Packers may be without Aaron Rodgers, but the first Jordan Love chapter of this rivalry was everything Green Bay could’ve asked for. Love finished the game with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns.

It may as well have been Rodgers under center as the results were similar.

“Despite the Bears’ first-half resilience, it was in the third quarter when Aaron Jones seized control of the game.

In addition to the 51-yard gain off the screen pass, Jones had multiple big gains on first-down runs. He also scored from 35 yards out off an in-breaking route, beating, then running away from Edwards. Jones gained 103 yards and two touchdowns on the Packers’ first two drives of the third quarter, putting Green Bay up three scores.

Two drives later, the Bears had a chance to mount a comeback as they made it a 10-point game near the end of the third quarter. But the Bears defense could not make a stop on third-and-8, allowing Packers receiver Jayden Reed to get open for an easy catch. Love fumbled on the very next play, but was able to pick the ball up and find a wide-open Luke Musgrave down the left sideline to the Bears’ four-yard line as Chicago had a busted coverage with nobody covering the tight end.

The Packers scored on the very next play to go up 31-14, and any comeback hopes the Bears had went straight out the window.

Green Bay took control after halftime and the Bears could not find an answer. Second-year defensive end Dominique Robinson thought things would go differently.

“I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t expecting that to end that way,” Robinson said. “We let up a few big plays that led to them scoring. We knew everything that was coming. It was just a lack of execution.”

On the day, the Bears allowed a touchdown every time the Packers reached the red zone (three touchdowns on three trips). They also allowed conversions on 56.3 percent of third downs (9 of 16). For a unit that ranked 27th in the red zone and 32nd on third downs last season, the lack of any “improvement” in these crucial moments is alarming.

The NFL’s worst unit at sacking the quarterback in 2022 (averaging 1.2 sacks per game) only managed to take down Love once despite a near-complete overhaul of the defensive line.

The Bears also gave up three pass plays that went for 30 or more yards to a quarterback who entered the game with 83 career pass attempts and down a primary receiver in Christian Watson. They made the inexperienced quarterback look like a seasoned pro.

When asked what happened with the communication in the secondary on the plays where the Packers’ receivers got behind the defense, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson said that it wasn’t up to snuff.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Johnson said. “I’m not too sure of the details of it, but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough.”

When it comes down to why the Bears’ defense failed to execute Johnson was unsure what happened.

“I don’t know. We go out there each and every practice, we practice hard, we come out here with a good gameplan and we believe in ourselves and we believe in our system,” Johnson said.

Wrapping Up

Bears fans expected different from their team. They were given reasons to be optimistic that this year’s team was better — and could hang in there with a team that has had their number for over a decade now.

That was proved false in the season opener. Green Bay now has nine straight wins over the Bears, and the Packers proved that the Bears have a lot of work cut out for them if they want to walk into Lambeau Field and come away with a win in the season finale.

If the Bears want that to happen, they must clean up the same mistakes that haunted them last season. They must find a pass rush. They must figure out how to get off the field on third down. They must stop allowing offenses to gain easy yards due to missed tackles and busted coverages. And they must grow a backbone in the red zone and force teams into settling for field goals. The players they invested so heavily in must be difference-makers.

Should Matt Eberflus and Williams fail to address these issues, the season could become exceptionally challenging.

There’s plenty of football left to find answers, but the sour taste left in everyone’s mouth after getting demolished by the Packers, surely will not be forgotten.

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