Over 8 years of coaching Division II college football, I have broken down and graded a lot of film. Grading this weeks Bears film was definitely interesting after years of watching NFL football to enjoy the game without being overly “coachy”. The good, the bad, and in-between, here are your week 1 grades for the 2022 Chicago Bears.
From a coaching standpoint, Matt Eberflus’s first game as Head Coach was certainly interesting. The defense came to play and the HITS philosophy was on display early. The problems early in the game were with the play calling on offense. Conservative play calling and a lack of creativity left horror flashbacks of Matt Nagy calling plays in Chicago. After an impressive preseason utilizing play action and rollouts to help play to Justin Fields’ strengths, he was routinely dropping straight back to pass in the first half. Even the run game failed to get going due to overly predictable bland play calling. The redemption however, came in the second half. For the first time in what felt like years, the Bears made adjustments at halftime. Improved play calling and a more creative gameplan put the Bears in position to comeback in the second half and come up with a win. The Bears were very disciplined, avoided penalties (0 in the second half), and played strong situational football.
It was a very up-and-down performance for Justin Fields in his first performance in this new offense. Justin missed a handful of reads, repeatedly giving up on plays too early or forcing throws with easier throws open. It was far from all negative, however. Fields was excellent on the move and once he found his rhythm he made the plays needed to win the game. Fields was accurate and consistently hit open receivers in key moments, even when plays broke down and he was forced on the move. Expect improvement with better weather and in-season game planning.
This was not one of David Montgomery’s better games. I had hoped reviewing the film would leave me with a more positive feeling than his stat line from the game. Unfortunately, too often he was quick to cut back instead of pressing the play side aiming point. Several opportunities for solid gains turned into negative plays or small gains because Montgomery was looking for bigger plays instead of playing disciplined and making the plays the scheme and blocking gave him. Khalil Herbert, however, did an excellent job of being patient with his cuts. Herbert consistently was patient pressing his aiming point and making quick decisive cuts, moving one gap and pressing vertical.
Despite leaving the game without a reception, I felt fairly positive about this group after watching the film. Griffin & Kmet did a good job of blocking both at the point of attack and cutting off gaps backside. While I had hoped Kmet would make a few receptions, he did still have a very positive impact on the passing game staying in on protection. Blasingame & Tonges were both productive in the game. Blasingame was used more in the traditional fullback role but was also used as a wing at times to help in protection. Tonges was used more as the third tight end and played mostly in a wing or H-Back type role.
Initially, I expected to watch the first half and see a lack of separation or open receivers. However, there were multiple times Mooney or other receivers were open, but Fields had either given up on the play or forced it into coverage despite open targets. After going the entire first half without a reception, this group came out and made plays when called upon in the second half and finished the game without a drop. EQ & Pringle both showed out as excellent blockers in the run game and EQ had a sealing block to send Dante Pettis into the endzone on a broken play. This group finished with two touchdowns and left reasons for positivity. Darnell Mooney only getting one reception in the game would be concerning if it wasn’t for the relationship he and Fields have developed throughout the off season. He was open multiple times in the game but pressure & bad reads left him uninvolved, but I would expect better production in the future.
Despite coming into the game with very low expectations for this group, the O-line played well. Rookie Braxton Jones needs to improve at taking on bullrushes and setting a base, but his feet were good against speed. Jones also had a solid performance in the run game where he was fairly consistent. Cody Whitehair was steady & consistent in the game, & veteran backup center Sam Mustipher did a solid job filling in and giving a steady performance without being a weak link. Tevin Jenkins gave up one pressure early and then settled in well and was solid in protection while being excellent in the run. Lucas Patrick rotated series at right guard and did a good job of reminding everyone why he was the big signing for this group. He was solid at guard while showing enough physicality to remind you why he needs to start at center over Mustipher when ready. For the second year in a row, Larry Borom held his own against Bosa and was solid in protection, was impressive in the run game, and is arguably the best inside zone blocker in this group. This line could develop into a strength of this team by mid-year if this continues.
The edge players were excellent in this game highlighted by rookie Dominique Robinsons’ 1.5 sacks. Quinn, Gipson, Muhammed, and Robinson consistently created edge pressure and kept contain in the run game. The interior D-Line however was a concern to me. Justin Jones failed to make an impact in the game and the running backs were able to consistently find yards inside. New addition Armon Watts was the best player on the interior and was able to have an impact in the second half displaying great physicality against the run. Overall, this group created pressure and limited the 49ers run game. Hopefully, the interior can continue to develop and improve.
It felt evident that Roquan Smith hadn’t practiced much in the new defense or played in the preseason. Roquan seemed to consistently be a step slow in the run game fitting gaps slower than normal and was step behind on several opportunities to make bigger plays in the game. This wasn’t a bad performance for him, but far from elite in comparison to Fred Warner playing on the other team. Matt Adams seemed more comfortable playing the Sam role and was surprisingly a bright spot. Nicholas Morrow was solid but hard to notice at times.
The Bears’ secondary was a huge bright spot on Sunday. Jaylon Johnson finished the game without being targeted once, made a big impact play early creating a takeaway with a Peanut Punch, and was good tackling in the run game. Eddie Jackson flashed his potential again with an excellent interception in the 4th quarter and was great in coverage. Jaquan Brisker had some rookie struggles and was late fitting gaps and missed tackles. But his performance was largely positive. Recovering a fumble early and making big plays in the run game while holding up in coverage, Brisker showed why he’s going to develop into a dynamic playmaker on this unit. Kyler Gordon struggled in coverage at times and was targeted often, despite the struggles Gordon showed promise in a still positive performance. Lastly, Kindle Vildor showed improvement from last year but still is a clear weakness in the secondary.
Cairo Santos struggled in the weather missing two extra points but I don’t expect this to continue. His biggest mistake of the day however was a costly 15-yard penalty for him getting Trent Gill to bring a towel onto the field to press down and flatten the kick spot. Gill however was excellent punting in the game and did a great job of changing field positions. There weren’t any noticeable coverage issues, but Dante Pettis did have a questionable decision to field a punt inside the 10 without a fair catch.