The Chicago Bears celebrated Thanksgiving with a 23-16 win over the Detroit Lions. It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t ideal, but the Bears won their fifth straight game for the first time since 2012 and went three-for-three in their stretch of divisional games.
The unfortunate timing of playing an early Thanksgiving game 80 hours after a Sunday night game was compounded by the injury to Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Backup Chase Daniel had to prepare for the third start of his now 10-year career at the drop of a hat. Daniel, the experienced professional he is, was prepared and played well enough for the Bears to secure a victory.
“You have no idea, especially when you don’t have any reps with these guys, in two days of walk-through practices, how it’s going to go,” coach Matt Nagy said. “No matter how much experience he has in his offense, you really, truly don’t know how it’s going to go. For him to be able to come out here and do what he did, protect the football and be a leader when he needed to be a leader, I thought he did a great job.”
Good teams find ways to win, and Thursday, the Bears took advantage of timely turnovers to find success. Late in the fourth quarter, Detroit had a chance to take the lead with the game tied at 16. Safety Eddie Jackson, however, had other plans in mind. The Lions lined up with two receivers and a tight end to the left, while the Bears were in man and sending Roquan Smith on a blitz. The two outside receivers ran inside routes, while the tight end, Michael Roberts, ran to the flats. The outside receivers pulled Prince Amukamara and Bryce Callahan to the middle of the field, freeing up the tight end. Jackson, manned up on Lorenzo, read the play and knew where the ball was going to be before it was thrown. He jumped the route and had nothing but daylight on his way to the end zone to take a 23-16 lead after a Cody Parkey extra point.
The Lions weren’t done yet though, and they marched the ball all the way down to the Bears’ 11 with a chance to tie the game. Matthew Stafford, facing a third-and-nine with 1:11 left, overthrew his receiver and right into the waiting hands of Kyle Fuller for the game-sealing pick.
The situation wasn’t great, but Matt Nagy found a way to get his Bears a win. The defense shined and Daniel was efficient, and it was enough to get past the rocky road of misfortunes they faced.
Scheming a quarterback to success
There was doubt as to whether or not the Bears would continue their hot streak without Trubisky. Chase Daniel has limited game experience and a backup working efficiently is only something you can hope for. He answered the call, going 27-37 for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought, you know, at first we were a little off, Daniel said. “Whether it be timing or jitters for myself or what have you. You know the first quarter, until really the two or three-minute mark to go in the first quarter, we just didn’t play well. And it all starts with me, right? It starts with the quarterback and the offense, so I think it was knocking off a little rust, taking a deep breath in the pocket. You know there were guys were open all day.”
Daniel’s familiarity with Nagy’s system played a big factor in his success. The two go back to Kansas City and have a good relationship with one another. Daniel understands the intricacies of the offense such how to read the defense before the snap or what route concepts to attack against a certain coverage. This understanding allowed him to run it effectively.
“He was very comfortable,” Nagy said of Daniel. “He sees the field really well because he knows where to go with the football with coverages. We call him the MIKE doctor for making MIKE IDs with protections for a reason, because he sees things well,” the MIKE being the defense’s middle linebacker.
Indeed, Daniel made checks at the line of scrimmage and knew where to go with the ball before the snap. He was in command the whole time and took care of the ball, a tantamount ability that backups usually lack.
“The timing was going to be the biggest concern yesterday, right?” Nagy said Friday. “Just with him not having that with the guys since the preseason.”
What was most compelling about Daniel’s day was how Nagy schemed him to efficiency. Daniel delivered some tight-window throws, but Nagy used Taquan Mizzell Jr. and Tarik Cohen out of the backfield to perfection. The two touchdowns they scored were set up by carrying defenders to the middle of the field and leaking one of them out on a wheel route, which left them wide open in the end zone for an easy touchdown. Nagy called for a lot of jet-motion, which is when the quarterback motions a player across the formation before the snap. This helped identify the coverage and keep the defense off-balance as they account for the backfield movement. Trubisky can pull the trigger and hit his receivers down the sideline more effectively than Daniel, so Nagy used the middle of the field to his advantage with crossing routes and quick strikes to the middle. The screen game was also used point of emphasis, and in the end, the Bears got the win.
Eddie Jackson’s rise
Two years ago, first-round hopeful and Alabama safety Eddie Jackson was carted off the field after fracturing his leg against Texas A&M. He fell to the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft, where the Bears traded up to draft him.
“Eddie Jackson. Eddie Jackson, he’ll make a play anywhere,” his teammate Akiem Hicks said. “We’ve got guys like that all throughout every position room. Guys that will come up with that clutch play and guys that it means a lot to. I think that’s what makes us special.”
The last time the Bears had a safety at Jackson’s level was Mike Brown, and even his physical style of play differs from Jackson’s rangy, ball-hawking playstyle. Today’s NFL and the evolution of the passing boom has placed even more importance on coverage safeties, and the Bears appear to have one in Jackson.
“He’s playing on another level right now,” Nagy said Friday. “He’s very instinctual. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. And I said yesterday that I haven’t been around too many guys or, you know, safeties or defensive backs that have the awareness and the instincts that he has.”
This season, he has as many touchdowns (three) as Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Keenan Allen. He has the most defensive touchdowns in the NFL since 2015 with five, despite being drafted in 2017. Additionally, he has four interceptions this year as well as a forced fumble and fumble recovery. It is safe to say that in only two years Jackson has elevated himself as one of the league’s best safeties.
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