Will Chicago Bears struggle defending A.J. Brown?

Chicago Bears (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

A.J. Brown is going to go up against Jaylon Johnson when the Chicago Bears take on the Titans

Beyond Derrick Henry, what makes the Titans so dangerous is that they can run play action, and throw to a physical presence such as A.J. Brown. Brown is having a great second season after his breakout rookie year and now is the Titans top passing threat. The Chicago Bears are going to have eyes on him, but as you have seen, they do not adjust their gameplan for one player. The Bears play sides will expect their corners to matchup one-on-one.

A.J. Brown lines up on the left side of the field over 60% of the time according to PFF. That means that Jaylon Johnson is going to see Brown for the majority of the game.

Jaylon Johnson has taken on talented wide receivers, and while he has not been elite, he has outperformed his rookie expectations. However, A.J. Brown has a mix of skills that makes this a game where Johnson may struggle.

Before the Carolina Panthers game, we wrote that the Panthers may have success against Johnson over the middle of the field. Johnson does a great job protecting the deep ball and the sideline but can be exposed over the middle.

In the play above you can see Johnson spin himself around as he first looks to protect the sideline, and then sees another rookie in Tyler Johnson beat him to the inside.

This had been brewing, and the Panthers, featuring D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson were the perfect mismatch for Johnson. Johnson had his ups, but also had his downs, and was beat a couple of times over the middle of the field.

What makes A.J. Brown a nightmare to defend is that this is where he specializes. Brown is such a big physical presence that he is not looked at as a strong route runner. However, his ability to release and create space over the middle of the field is impressive.

Look at the play below against William Jackson. Jackson is a respected cornerback, but similar to Johnson against the Bucs got spun around due to the quick feet of A.J. Brown.

That throw was low and gave Jackson a chance to recover. However, what makes him one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL already is his ability after the catch. Brown took a 75-yard touchdown to the house on the Steelers with a similar route. Sure, the Steelers are playing off coverage, but look at the attention. Their linebacker is dropping into the zone, their safety is right over him, and their corner is protecting the sideline.

Vince Williams, Steven Nelson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick could easily be Danny Trevathan, Jaylon Johnson, and Eddie Jackson. Similar to Nelson, you should expect to see Johnson playoff coverage and protect the sideline. However, with a threat like Brown, if he gets an inch of space between Trevathan and Jackson, he is gone.

When you look at the route charts of some of his more recent games, you can see that this is where Brown dominates. Drags, slants, and curls, no matter what route he runs, he is working over the middle of the field.

However, in the image, you saw above, and the one below Brown also has a touchdown on a fade down the sideline. Once you start falling for all of the drag routes, you see Brown get a step to the outside. Brown will take what is given over the middle, but once he gets that step he is going to score a touchdown down the field.

Johnson is not going to back down from Brown, but this is not the best matchup stylistically for him. Johnson will likely be focused on protecting the sideline, and the deep ball. However, that could mean that Brown feasts over the middle of the field and starts picking up chunks on high volume.

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The Bears will need strong tackling from their safeties and linebackers, and will need to accept that Brown may have a lot of catches, but needs to be held to little yardage. The way that Jaylon Johnson can defend A.J. Brown will likely decide who wins the Chicago Bears-Tennessee Titans matchup.