Chicago Bears: Is defense ready for improved Mike Evans?

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: Mike Evans #13 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 24, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: Mike Evans #13 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 24, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bears are going to have their hands full with Mike Evans on Sunday

We all know that the biggest concern on the Chicago Bears defensive side of the football is Mike Evans. However, as Evans enters Week Four of his 2018 season, the vibe around him is that this is not just the same Mike Evans that we know and respect. No, this is an even more improved Mike Evans who seems to be ready to take that next step forward into being an elite wide receiver.

While extrapolating three games over a 16 game season is unrealistic, Evans is on pace to crush his career highs in every single category. Everyone is pointing to the magic of Ryan Fitzpatrick being what got the team off to their 2-0 start, but a better than ever Mike Evans is arguably more justifiable of a reason. With that in mind, his numbers could continue at this furious pace, and the Evans we all know may be an even tougher threat to defend.

Fine tuning the small things

One thing that feels apparent from watching Evans this season compared to years past is that he is fine-tuning a lot of the finer points of his game. This is not a knock on Evans, but a player with the physical ability and athleticism of Evans does not need to rely on the minor details in the way that a player such as Antonio Brown does. You could argue that is why Evans has been inconsistent at times and is not regarded with the Browns of the world. However, getting these details down can add to his game.

You can see a difference in his route running from this link here in 2017, to this one from Week Two of 2018. In the first one, he is not selling much. He is running down the sideline, and kind of traps himself into the sideline before trying to turn around for a quick curl.

With his size and catch radius, he has a chance here, but no room for error. In the second route, he is aided by the sideline being wider, sure, but watch the subtle movements in his routes. He starts by using that space to widen his stance and open the middle of the field. After beginning to the sidelines, Evans gives a hard head fake to the middle of the field which gets the cornerback to bite. Then, he sits down at the top of his route with all of the room for error in the world.

In this play, he uses that head fake to the inside again to turn his man around completely. However, now he is working back to the sideline as an extension. The footwork to change direction at the 35 is extremely impressive for his size.

Again, that is a much better usage of the sideline on a comeback route in comparison to last season.

The improved version of Evans showed up on Monday Night Football and had Coty Sensabaugh falling all over himself. Sure, it is Coty Sensabaugh, but watch here how he is once again able to open him up. He first shows the post and has Sensabaugh open to defend the inside. However, Evans throws a quick fake to the outside. Considering Evans just burnt the Eagles on a similar route last week, Sensabaugh froze and tried to move his body back around to the outside. That, of course, is where Evans sits right in the middle of the field while Sensabaugh has to clean himself up.

Sure, this is Desmond Trufant and not Coty Sensabaugh. Still, look at the difference in movement for each route. He shows a possible hint of a comeback before slamming down for a post route. Against Coty Sensabaugh, every move of his head, shoulders, hips, and feet set up the next move. Against Trufant, there was one small fake. Watch this play against Xavien Howard in 2017. Howard stays square and keeps Evans in front of him the entire time. Evans was not selling anything.

Watch this play here. Evans is running the curl and go. However, notice how he breaks the beginning of his route at an angle inside, and he sells his curl inside to set up all of the space he created to the sideline. This gives room for error for a quarterback such as Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Now, look at this play against Janoris Jenkins. Evans is breaking to the outside, and every move he makes is at an angle to the outside. In the last clip against Artie Burns, he used the middle of the field to suck the cornerback in and expose the space on the sideline. Here, he saw space to the outside and went to it.

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How to defend Mike Evans

It was already going to be the toughest task of the game considering Kyle Fuller has issues with ball skills and players with good contested catch skills can beat him. However, now you add in a banged up Prince Amukamara and the potential for a new and improved Mike Evans, and we have problems.

The key for Evans is trying to keep him square in front of you. However, that is easier said than done. Especially considering you are not granted much safety help thanks to Desean Jackson and Chris Godwin and their deep field prowess.

If the Buccaneers are going to beat the Chicago Bears, it will be because of a massive game from Mike Evans. We will see if this defense is up to the task of shutting down a potential elite threat.