Sean Desai is in his ninth season coaching with the Chicago Bears, so he has been part of the cleanup crew for some bad losses.
Still, he didn’t imagine his first postgame film breakdown as defensive coordinator would have to draw on the lessons of how to handle such decisive defeats.
That’s where Desai found himself early this week as he went over the big mistakes that drew into question his unit’s preparedness in a 34-14 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night. The Bears allowed Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw for 321 yards and three touchdowns and gave up three pass plays of 37 yards or more, two of them touchdowns.
“It was tough,” Desai said Wednesday. “We address it in a very direct, matter-of-fact way. And we address it from a teaching and learning perspective that we all have to improve on those processes.”
Desai said he counted two or three major coverage busts — not counting defenders simply getting beat one-on-one — and graded eight plays with a total of 12 missed tackles.
But it was the magnitude of some of those errors that made the defense’s performance so jarring.
“Those three or four plays against an offense like that, against a quarterback like that, is where you get exposed,” Desai said. “You watch all 16 games played in Week 1, there’s a lot of those mishaps happening. Unfortunately, that’s not what we pride ourselves on. And our guys know that.”
One obvious play that needed to be addressed was the 67-yard touchdown on the Rams’ third offensive play. It started with a coverage breakdown and ended when safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson failed to tag wide receiver Van Jefferson when he was down, allowing him to jump back up and race the final 12 yards into the end zone.
Desai said his immediate reaction, like so many others watching, was “What happened?” Then he set out to make sure Jackson and Gipson were held accountable, something the typically candid Gipson had no problem acknowledging.
“Too much football IQ between the two of us to let a play like that happen,” Gipson said. “It’s one of those things that will keep you up at night. … That’s tough, something as simple as touching a guy down. They teach you that in little league.
“It’s a play that can’t happen, shouldn’t happen and won’t happen again as long as I’m employed by the National Football League, and I’m sure Eddie feels the same way.”
Gipson also took ownership of the 56-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Cooper Kupp, who had 11.3 yards of separation from the nearest defender, according to NextGen Stats. It was the most separation on a completion of more than 40 yards downfield over the last three seasons.
“A brain fart on the secondary, myself included,” Gipson said. Neither Gipson nor Desai explained exactly what went wrong besides it being a miscommunication on a coverage assignment.
“That starts with me,” Desai said. “I’ve got to make sure everybody’s prepared to the level that we need them to be prepared. So I’ve got to give them all the looks in practice, and then we’ve got to execute.”
And Desai said the Bears continue to address the issues that led to missed tackles. That includes a short pass from Stafford to Kupp on third-and-13 in the fourth quarter that Kupp turned into a 15-yard gain because of missed tackles by Jackson and Marqui Christian.
Gipson and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree said Desai did what he needed to in the film breakdown to hold players accountable.
“There were truly a lot of ugly plays on every level, but as a secondary, the spotlight is always on you,” Gipson said. “If they give up a touchdown, you are going to know exactly who gave up that touchdown. So it was a little harder for us on the back end, and obviously it came down to us.
“The film session was a bit hard, but that’s what it’s expected to be. We have tough skin. You get paid a lot of money, you have to be coachable. He coached us hard. It was just one of those type of days.”
Gipson stressed that the Bears made mental mistakes they can correct as they look ahead to Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field.
When Ogletree was asked how players can avoid such errors moving forward, he simply said, “Be smarter.” He also said having better energy would help.
“I felt like we just didn’t have the right energy out there on the field,” Ogletree said. “I’m not saying we played, like, terribly bad or guys were lackadaisical or anything like that. But we make a play and just didn’t seem very energized.”
Desai hopes his players are ready to take lessons from the loss and move on. They have to be because Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns and running back Joe Mixon ran for 127 yards and a touchdown in an overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1.
“You can’t hang on to anything in this league,” Desai said. “This is a marathon that we’re running right now and we’re at the start of it, so you can’t hang on because that’s where things snowball.”