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Bears Defense Got Contributions from Underrated Players Against Lions

The Chicago Bears' defense is getting contributions from some underrated players. That's why they were once again dominant against the Lions Sunday.

It was the Bears’ offense – led by career days for Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson – who stole the show on Sunday when the Bears defeated Detroit.

That being said, Chicago’s defense played a lead role in the victory as well, dominating the Lions for the better part of three quarters. And while they have been playing like this all season and getting national attention for it, there are a couple of players and/or aspects who aren’t getting their fair share of credit from the mainstream non-Chicago media.

I cover that and more in this film breakdown of the Bears’ defense against the Lions.

This is nothing new for Bryce Callahan

I’m sure Chris Myers and Daryl Johnston, the crew covering Bears-Lions (and Bears-Bills the week before that), were taken aback by the play of Bryce Callahan on Sunday. He certainly raised some eyebrows in that game, deflecting multiple passes and coming down with an interception in Lions territory.

Building off of that, I have some news for Myers, Johnston, and the soon-to-be rapidly diminishing group of people around football who haven’t heard of Callahan. This was not a one-time spike in play for the fourth-year man out of Rice. He has been performing this well all season long, and his level of play is as high as or higher than any nickel cornerback in the game.

Take this play from all the way back in week one against Green Bay, on a key third and one.

Callahan Tackle

The first thing that stands out here is his outstanding play and route recognition, which has been there all season and is evidence of a committed film rat. This is a very standard pick play, which Green Bay has historically loved to run.

As soon as Randall Cobb breaks outside, Callahan knew exactly where the ball was headed and acted like it. At that moment, he switches from coverage technique to pursuit technique as he began his charge to the eventual ballcarrier. Once he reaches his target, he shows textbook “eyes to the thighs” form and drives through the contact – using his momentum to his advantage instead of giving it up. He then rolls while Cobb is in his grasp, ensuring that he won’t escape.

They gave Cobb the first down and based on replay it seemed like the correct call, but it was much, much closer than it should have been thanks to Callahan’s instincts and technique.

Those instincts are what allowed Callahan pick off a Matthew Stafford pass on Sunday:

Callahan INT vs Lions

Callahan read Marvin Jones‘ route like a book here, putting himself in perfect position to make a play on the ball. He anticipated Jones’ next movement, given the situation (third and seven) and the route combinations Detroit likes to run, and it got the Bears the football with a short field. Eventually, it led to a touchdown.

Callahan TFL on screen

In this clip (and in the Green Bay one but it comes into play even more here), Callahan’s understanding of pad level is on full display. Before that, he reads the screen to Adam Humphries immediately and after taking his pre-planned first step backward, goes in to make a play.

Now for the pad level lesson. Callahan’s blocker is the 6’5″ Mike Evans, and Callahan stands at a relatively diminutive 5’10”. If they know how to use it, and Callahan does, this is an advantage for the shorter player. He ducks himself under where Evans expected him to be, to the point where his shoulder pads are at around the bottom of the numbers on Evans’ jersey. By the time Evans adjusts, it’s too late and Humphries is down for no gain.

Callahan INT vs. Cardinals

Late in the game against Arizona, Callahan (slot, top of the screen) is in a tight man-to-man set on this play, as the Bears bring extra pressure on a crucial fourth and five.

What everybody missed on Callahan in the 2015 draft process is his ability to react to cuts that receivers make in the blink of an eye. Christian Kirk, a talented second-round rookie, runs an out route here. Watch how tiny the interval is between when Kirk breaks outside and when Callahan breaks in the same direction. It’s almost non-existent.

Once this happens, Kirk is not open and won’t be open for the remainder of the play. However, the quarterback sees the blitz in his face and forces the throw. By the time the ball gets to Kirk, Callahan is waiting for it and the interception becomes the easiest part of the play.

Lastly, Callahan embodies an attitude that you simply cannot teach; many call it “Bulldog mentality.” In essence, it’s the state of mind that it doesn’t matter how many inches or pounds or half seconds in a 40 time you have on me, I will out-work you and out-hustle you. I’ll let me from yesterday explain the rest.

Parts working in tandem in run defense

It’s very rare that one player creates a run stop of less than one or two yards. When it happens, it’s usually the fault of a blown assignment in the A or B gap that leaves an interior defensive lineman completely unblocked.

Instead, run stuffing is almost always a full team effort, with each player filling one gap or responsibility and closing up every possible hole while one or two guys finish off the play. And there were two examples from the Bears-Lions game that illustrates this perfectly, like this one where nearly every player in the box did their job well and contributed to a stop.

Run stop #1

Going from left to right, Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, and Leonard Floyd, all had something to do with the result (Eddie Goldman was the one who didn’t really do much, but he’ll get a lion’s share of credit in the next clip).

Mack physically did not do anything – he was in coverage – but his mere presence made left tackle Taylor Decker to stay back and make sure he didn’t come screaming off the edge. The optimal choice for Decker would be to try and cut off Trevathan, but he couldn’t do that because he had to account for Mack. Hicks crossed the center’s face and went right by him (he’s so much more agile than his size would indicate), nearly untouched. This closed off an A-gap cutback lane for Kerryon Johnson to go through once he saw the blockade in his initial read.

Floyd and Smith took on their blocks well and held firm at the point of attack. Instead of pursuing the ball early, they maintained gap responsibility and made sure Johnson couldn’t break contain around the edge (Floyd) or cut back upfield after shifting into the B-gap (Smith).

Finally, Trevathan – freed up because of Mack, in the gap Johnson has to go through because of Hicks, and not having to worry about a bounce outside because of Floyd and Smith – finishes the job and brings down Johnson for a minimal gain, breaking down and making a textbook from-behind tackle after Johnson moves laterally in an attempt to escape.

3rd down stop High EZ

Cue Stephen A. Smith voice: I want to make it very, very clear that this was an absolutely heinous play call by the Lions. But that doesn’t change how well it was played by the Bears.

Watch number 52 and number 91, Mack and Goldman, respectively. Mack is the obvious contender for hero on this one because A. He’s Khalil Mack and B. He wrapped up fullback Nick Bellore for no gain in a key halt of a drive on third and one. And yes, this is an excellent play by Mack. He made a great read, not falling for Kerryon Johnson’s toss fake and heading right for the ballcarrier, and he kept his feet churning through contact, not going to his knees until Bellore was down.

Also, your first reaction here could very well be “Bold strategy, leaving Khalil Mack completely unblocked.” It was my initial response as well, but look closer. This play is designed to gain one yard and only one yard, and if the line did their job, it absolutely would have.

The two blockers taking on Bilal Nichols (LT and TE) did well, moving Nichols out of the B-gap and preventing him from making any kind of impact on the play. But the play design makes the key mistake of leaving Eddie Goldman one-on-one, and they paid the price for it. He gets lower than his blocker immediately, and stands him up – you can see the center’s head is clearly higher than everyone else’s.

This push, or stalemate at worst, makes it so that Bellore cannot go through the A-gap because with Goldman’s push and the guard blocking down to the linebacker, there really is no A-gap. This forces Bellore more to the outside than he wanted to, where Mack stood, waiting for his prey.

Other film notes

Adrian Amos is the worst member of the secondary and it’s not particularly close. The Bears would be best served to let somebody else overpay for him and draft his replacement in the third or fourth round.

If the game was not in hand, the Bears would not have given up 22 points. The onside kick distorted the final score, first of all. And it was clear on film at the end of the game that the defense was gassed, from a long drive than having to go back out after Anthony Miller‘s blunder. The game was not as close as the score indicates.

-That’s two consecutive excellent games from Leonard Floyd, and here’s hoping that first sack sparks a rampage because that would be terrifying for opponents.

-Speaking of rampages that terrify opponents, the “Return of the Mack” was everything we hoped it would be and more. I would love nothing more than to break down his two NSFOL (not safe for offensive linemen) sacks, but at this point, I don’t think it’s necessary. He’s so good it’s self-explanatory.

Low point: None!

High point: Another late-round gem for Ryan Pace

Nichols strip sack

This is Hicks-like, from Bilal Nichols.

It’s a testament to how much work the two must be put in together. This move is one of Hicks’s favorites, though he tends to use it more in run defense than pass rush.

Nichols didn’t wait until the point of attack to begin his sequence of maneuvers. He gave a violent, full-extension club to the left guard’s right arm, which set up a quick but full-extension swim move – the full extension is the key part because when the OL can’t get his hands on you, he can’t block you.

He got by his man almost untouched and would have brought down Stafford more gracefully had he not tripped over Akiem Hicks’s massive legs on the way there. But it was to the Bears’ benefit because Stafford seemed so stunned that Nichols was sacking him basically by falling face first into his thigh that he lost the football. He recovered it, but that is a forced fumble for Bilal Nichols.

That’s all for this week. Be sure to keep up with all the Bears content from The Loop Sports.

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2 comments on “Bears Defense Got Contributions from Underrated Players Against Lions

  1. Pingback: Who Should the Bears Cut and Keep This Off-season?

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