Bears look the part in preseason opener
The preseason might not be the best indicator of a team's readiness to compete when the games start to count, but seeing a roster gel early on is still much better than the alternative. The Bears handled business against the Titans in the preseason opener and came out with a 23-17 victory. Saturday afternoon's contest saw them make plays on both sides of the ball, including standout performances by a few surprise players (and a few more from players expected to play at a high level).
One of the most positive takeaways for Chicago was the play of Justin Fields, who looked in command of the offense during his limited time on the field, leading two scoring drives before calling it a day. The connection between him and his new number-one receiver, D.J. Moore, has received rave reviews from camp, and they already look to be in midseason form. The pass-catcher only needed one catch to show why the team coveted him this offseason, taking a bubble screen 62 yards to the house on the offense's third snap of the contest.
Fields only played one more drive after the lightning-quick scoring strike, and it had a shockingly similar outcome. This time, it was running back Khalil Herbert that displayed great run-after-the-catch ability, weaving through defenders on a screen of his own for a 56-yard score. What did the signal-caller's stat line look like after two drives? Three for three, 129 yards, and two touchdowns. Does the Titans' defense deserve some credit for poor tackling (and horrendous pursuit angles)? Absolutely. However, Fields' opposition to taking what defenses gave him was one of his biggest critiques through two seasons. It's still far too early to assess whether he has grown there, but he passed the first test with flying colors in that department.
While Fields (unsurprisingly) stole the headlines, he was far from the only player who played a great game. The defensive front, in particular, played much better than many expected. They controlled the battle at the line of scrimmage all afternoon and finished the contest with eight sacks. Two players that stood out the most were Terrell Lewis, who finished with two sacks and a tackle-for-loss, and Trevis Gipson, who had a sack of his own and three hits on the quarterbacks. The latter was also stout against the run all game, regularly blowing up running plays before they could develop.
The Bears also had standout play from their secondary, as they accounted for two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Second-round selection Tyrique Stevenson settled in quickly after giving up a 30-yard reception on the first play. The cover man proved he was not afraid to get his pads dirty, as he was around the ball all game and finished with a team-high seven solo tackles, including one behind the line after blowing up a bubble screen.
The University of Miami product was not the only first-year player who got off to a quick start, as Chicago's entire rookie class deserves a special nod for their performance. They not only received contributions from nearly every selection, but they also saw a few surprising performances from undrafted guys. Undrafted rookie defensive end Jalen Harris finished with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Meanwhile, seventh-round selection Travis Bell split the sack with him and had a QB hit of his own. Another undrafted rookie, safety Bralen Trahan, also caught the game-sealing interception with only seconds left in the contest.
While the victory was a great way to kick off the (pre)season, there were some areas where they looked very much like a team playing their first game in 8 months. First off, Velus Jones was... not good. He entered the doghouse last season for muffing punts early in the season, and it looks like those issues are still plaguing him, as he lost another fumble while attempting to catch a punt yesterday. Reports from camp indicate the 26-year-old is still electric with the ball in his hands, but he will have to quickly correct the issue if he wants to be the starting returner (or even make the roster, for that matter).
On the defensive side of the ball, the team will also have to get better against the run, as they gave up 126 yards on the ground and five yards-per-carry on the day. They should perform better when all their starters take the field, but their performance in that area is worth monitoring over the next two preseason games.
Morale may be high right now, but it is important not to overreact to the preseason. Don't forget, this is the same Bears team that won the same amount of games in the preseason last year (3) as they did in the regular season. However, there is reason for excitement, considering they appear to be in great hands with Ryan Poles running the ship, which is undeniably moving in the right direction.