Bears Insider

Why Bears' rough first series vs. Titans only elevated defense's belief they'll be ‘scary' dominant in 2023

The Bears' first-team defense put up little resistance against the Titans in one series Saturday, but that hasn't dimmed the giant expectations they have for themselves

NBC Universal, Inc.

CHICAGO -- The Bears' first-team defense has been a high-octane wrecking ball during training camp. They've delivered multiple dominant performances against the offense and let them know about it after each incompletion, sack, run stuff, and drill victory.

Safety Eddie Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Jones, and cornerback Jaylon Johnson have all talked about their astronomically high expectations for their group, especially after the addition of edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

The word "dominate" has often been thrown around at Halas Hall. That's what this Bears' defense, one that was one of the worst in the NFL in 2022, believes it's capable of this fall.

Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans was the first chance to see most of the first-team unit in action against a different offense.

Even with linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, safety Jaquan Brisker, defensive end DeMarcus Walker, and Ngakoue out, the Bears' first-team defense should have been able to handle Titans' backup quarterback Malik Willis and Tennessee's second-team offense.

The opposite occurred.

Willis hit Chris Moore for 30 yards on the first play, rookie running back Tyjae Spears moved the ball at will on the ground, and Willis capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Except for rookie cornerback Tyrqiue Stevenson and rookie linebacker Noah Sewell, those 12 snaps were all the work the first-team defense got Saturday in the Bears' 23-17 win at Soldier Field.

While the results weren't what the Bears' defense wanted, getting knifed up by Spears and Willis in a meaningless exhibition game wasn't a blow to their confidence. They played their base vanilla defense and were missing four key members of the unit. Once whole, the vision remains the same for the 2023 Bears' defense.

“This s--t will be locked down," defensive tackle Justin Jones told NBC Sports Chicago after the win. "The defense will be complete. It’s locked down. I’m more excited now, just having seen everybody come out here and try to hit somebody, especially our young guys. It’s exciting because they are about to witness what we are about to do to.”

What really got Jones' blood pumping Saturday was watching second-year cornerback Kyler Gordon and Stevenson lay big hits on Titans receivers and backs.

Gordon set the tone on the first play of the game when he plastered Moore and almost jarred the ball loose. Gordon had another big hit toward the end of the drive, while Stevenson made several impressive tackles during extended duty.

A secondary that wants to hit? That's music to Jones' ears and might fuel this defense's motor.

“Our boys come down and hit! I love that! I love that!" Jones told NBC Sports Chicago. "That s--t get my hyped. I love that! You got DBs who really want to come down and really lay somebody out, that make the D-line want to do even more. It affects us. It’s contagious. I love that.”

Jones spent most of the day on the sidelines watching the young members of the Bears' defensive line. He saw third-round pick Zacch Pickens burst through the line to sack Will Levis. The sack is great, but what Jones wanted to see out of Pickens, Gervon Dexter, and Travis Bell was how they'd react to being in that arena.

“I’ve seen that the venue isn’t too big," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago. "We came out here during Family Fest and you could kind of see them looking around, like, this is kind of crazy. Got big eyes. But when we come out here today, it felt like practice. We out here just trying to play. We trying to hoop. You see Zacch over there with a big smile on his face and he having a good time. It’s good to see. Them rookies, they was out there ready to play.”

Vibes, confidence, and determination are important. The Bears' defense will need those to reach what they believe is elite potential.

But they'll also need a fully-healthy unit.

The injuries to Edmunds, Brisker, and Walker aren't considered long-term. Ngakoue, who the Bears signed during the first week of camp, is still ramping up.

As long as the defense is whole come September 10 when the Green Bay Packers arrive, the Bears' defense believes nothing will stand in their way.

“We’re going to blow through the roof," Gordon said. "I know we all got a lot of high expectations, not only for ourselves, but for us as a group. At practice, we know the type of energy we brought during training camp, and we’re all just really so excited to go display that, especially Week 1 against our rivals and just keep taking it through the entire season. There’s a lot of good things that we expect and I’m excited to see it.”

When asked what goes through his mind when he thinks of a defense with Edmunds manning the middle, Brisker providing juice in the backend, and Walker and Ngakoue alongside him upfront, Jones smirked and shook his head.

“Sky is the limit with this group I feel like," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago. "We got some scary, scary f---ing guys. And I feel like everybody is on the same page, everybody is really genuine, and everybody really wants to see each other win. I feel like that’s going to be the glue. We go as our defense goes, and I feel like we’re on the right track, especially once we get everyone back. It’s going to be scary.”

Saturday wasn't the opening salvo this confident defense wanted. It's unfair to judge the unit off 12 snaps in a preseason game without four of their best players. But it is also fair to expect this unit, with 2/3 of its starters, to be able to stop Willis and Spears.

Does it mean they won't meet expectations? Of course not. It was merely our first look at a unit that has talked a big game all of camp and backed it up against Justin Fields' and the Bears' offense.

They didn't meet the eye test Saturday. But they will, and, if their bravado is to be believed, we'll know it when we see it.

Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.

Contact Us