How Bears rookie CBs shut down Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs


After nearly being blown away by the strong winds at Soldier Field, the Bears ended up being blown out by the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve. It was no surprise. The Bears have the second-worst record in the NFL, sitting at 3-12 now, while the Bills are one of a few legit Super Bowl contenders and are tied for the second-best record in the league at 12-3. But the way in which the Bears lost, and they way in which they gave the Bills a real fight, were unexpected.

The Bills entered the game with 3,720 passing yards this season, the fifth-most in the NFL. Josh Allen and his bevy of playmakers are a tough assignment for any defense. When the Bears announced on Friday that two of their starting cornerbacks, Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor, would be shut down for the rest of the season it seemed like just trying to contain Buffalo’s passing attack would be a monumental undertaking. But the Bears did it, and they did it with rookies at all three cornerback spots: Kyler Gordon, Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell.

“We get hype about that,” said Gordon, who acted as the team’s de facto No. 1 CB. “Before the game we’re all looking at each other, like it’s all rookies. We get to go out here and we get this opportunity to go and show the whole world how we go and how our secondary is. It’s so exciting, so we’re all hyped to do that and we have fun.”

Gordon was a huge part of the secondary’s success and continued his upward trajectory with his second interception in as many games. He couldn’t remember any major gaffes throughout the day.

“I really feel like I’m playing extremely confidently, honestly, just the way I feel,” said Gordon. “The first couple of games, me going back and forth (between outside corner and slot corner) and having a lot of stuff thrown at me, I’m just trying to be a perfectionist and get stuff done right. Once I got settled in and comfortable everything clicked. I’m just comfortable and confident really, and those two things together usually going to produce some takeaways, so I’m just gonna keep doing that and keep going up.”

The Bills’ top wide receiver is Stefon Diggs. The term “elite” gets thrown around pretty casually when talking about wideouts, but in Diggs’ case it’s on point. Year after year he hovers around the top-10 in receiving yards and touchdowns, and he led the NFL with 1,535 yards in 2020. Heading into Saturday’s game, Diggs was third in the league with 99 catches, third in the league with 1,299 yards and tied for third with 10 touchdowns. The Bears held him to just two catches for 26 yards.

“You’ve gotta show up and give him respect, but at the same time they tie their shoes just like us and they had to show us today,” said Jones. “I feel like we did pretty good.”

Jones only ran a few snaps against Diggs and saw why he’s so effective with his quick twitch and speed, but Allen never targeted Diggs while Jones was covering him.

“In this league, what I’m seeing as a rookie is that it’s all about respect,” Jones said. “I kinda wish he would’ve tried me just so I can continue to get that respect.”

The key for all three rookies against Diggs was the same: lots of film study and executing properly in practice.

“I know he likes to manipulate leverage, so one play he got me,” said Blackwell. “He stood me inside then went back outside, I kinda had to slip underneath it. But then the next time I was matched up against him he pressed me hard inside and I was like, I’m going to stay on his outside hip. Then he ran over and I was like, perfect. So I was about to slip it, and if Josh (Allen) threw it, I was going to pick it. He’s a savvy guy, so it’s always fun to have a matchup like that.”

For Blackwell specifically, the experience was humbling considering he was an undrafted free agent this offseason, cut by the Eagles on Aug. 23 and signed by the Bears on Aug. 31.

“To fast forward four months and I’m starting against one of the best quarterbacks in the league, it’s a blessing for sure,” said Blackwell. “I’m humbled to even have this opportunity but I think it’s something that I really worked for and to get that opportunity you’ve just got to make the most of it.

“When you play Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, it’s always fun to have that challenge. Then you play a game like this and it’s like, ‘You know what, I actually do kinda belong. I can play with anybody. That’s arguably one of the best offenses in the league and you learn that you’re more than capable to be in this league.”

Blackwell, Gordon and Jones have gotten close this season as three rookie corners. That closeness has led to confidence and trust in each other. That’s critical in Matt Eberflus’ defense which is predicated on everyone simply doing their job and not trying to be a hero.

“We know that we can make the plays that come our way,” Blackwell said. “Every now and then it feels like, dang, we’re three rookies out here, but at the end of the day we’re pros.

“For us it’s just uphold the standard of guys like Eddie (Jackson), Jaylon (Johnson), Kindle (Vildor). Guys who have been in the fold. They know the standard and when they go down it’s just next man up and we’ve got to uphold that standard. So with us it’s just do our thing. We’ve been playing this game for however long we’ve been playing it, so just do your thing and be your best self. Understand it, and that’s really it.”

The rookies are clearly proud of the way they played against one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league, and they should be, but they’re not fully satisfied yet.

“It’d be a little more satisfying with the win,” Gordon said. “We just keep stacking on those and keep doing good things, a bunch of good things, it’s really about putting it together. We get takeaways, now it’s about getting off the field on third down. Just moving on to the next objective to help us, as a team, as a whole, on defense.”

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