Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams spoke with reporters Thursday about a variety of topics, including the defensive line's struggles with getting to the quarterback. Here are three things we learned:
(1) Williams is working on making changes to the pass rush and finding different ways to bring pressure.
The Bears defense has continuously struggled to generate pressure from their front four, ranking near the bottom of the league in sacks this season with 15; only half of those have come from the defensive line.
Through 10 games, safety Jaquan Brisker leads the team with 3.0 sacks while former Bears linebacker Roquan Smith ranks second with 2.5. Linebacker Jack Sanborn, end Trevis Gipson and tackle Justin Jones each have 2.0 sacks.
"We would like our front four to lead our team in sacks," Williams said. "It's not happening right now, but we look for that to change as we go on. So you know what? To the credit of our guys, they're upset about it that they're not leading the group in sacks, but they're still working their tails off, they're still hustling, andー this is the type of team we haveー they're excited for the guys that do have the sacks. It's not a pissy attitude where, 'hey, I'm looking at you sideways.' Our team, they're excited about that and that shows what kind of guys we have."
While the defense hasn't been able to get home much, players like Jones and Sanborn took a step forward last Sunday. Jones now leads the defense in tackles-for-loss with eight after recording two last Sunday and Sanborn added a pair of TFLs as well.
Jones is also tied with cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Kindle Vildor along with safety Eddie Jackson in passes defended with four. Williams expects Jones' production on the defensive line to keep increasing based on his mentality and preparation.
"I would say when you get a veteran in here and how open he is to coaching," Williams said, "really, I hate to say that, but not everyone is like that. Some guys are, 'hey, I've been successful doing this, so I'm going to do this throughout my career.' He's come in and he's been wide open and saying, 'hey coach, help me get better, help me to improve. What things do you see that I need improvement?'"
(2) Williams excepts cornerback Jaylon Johnson to bounce back after struggling against the Lions.
"I do know this, when Jaylon hasn't performed up to his standards, I do know the next week, you can almost bet the next week is going to be better," Williams said. "He's prideful, he's smart, he's tough, he's mentally stable. And so I guarantee you this week will be even better than last week."
Johnson was dealing with an oblique injury last week, causing him to be limited in Thursday and Friday's practices. While the cornerback was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report, he started Sunday's game.
Johnson uncharacteristically gave up a couple big plays against Detroit, including a 44-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff to receiver Tom Kennedy late in the fourth quarter, which set up the game-winning touchdown.
"I think, not just Jaylon, but anyone, and me included, that when you go into a ballgame and you have expectations of how you're going to perform and especially when you work hard—as hard as he does—that yeah, it's going to bother you," Williams said. "I'm glad that it bothers him that he didn't grade out A-plus. That just means he's going to continue to work, continue to improve. You know what, we wouldn't think anything different. Even if he grades out A-plus, we're still looking for that it's A-plus-plus the next week. So we don't approach it any different."
(3) Williams sees continuous growth in rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon, whether it's in the meeting room with the types of questions he asks or his comfort level in games.
Gordon, the Bears' second-round draft pick, has started all 10 games in his rookie year and played 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps this season. Like any young player, Gordon has struggled at times, but made big plays in other moments.
Four weeks ago, the Washington product recorded his first career interception, picking off Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth quarter and returning it 42 yards. Then against the Lions, he was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on Goff. Coach Matt Eberflus said that penalty can be avoided with better body control, serving as a learning moment for the rookie.
While the ups and downs are unavoidable, Williams is excited about Gordon's consistent improvements and ability to play faster each week.
"When you talk about rookies or first year players, you have to give them a little bit of grace," Williams said. "Not much. But a little bit in terms of the season for them in college was almost coming to an end. And so it's all those things that are stacked on top of them. It's not just football. It's the length of the football season. It's the intensity of the football season. It's the complexity of the NFL season. It's the physical demands that we're putting on the guy's body — physical and mental. I'm still pleased with Kyler Gordon in a big way."
The Bears practiced among the flurries at Halas Hall Wednesday afternoon as they get ready for Sunday's matchup with the Falcons in Atlanta.