Chicago Bears Film Review of Jack Sanborn’s first career start
The Chicago Bears trading Roquan Smith saw a huge opportunity for Jack Sanborn. The Bears said that Nicholas Morrow will step into the role that Smith had, but Morrow was an every-down player already, so Sanborn essentially stepped into an every-down role. Going from a UDFA to a special teams option, to a starting linebacker in a few months is a huge ascension. How did Jack Sanborn handle his first NFL start?
The Chicago Bears ended up playing dime more on Sunday than they have all season. Some of that may be because of Miami, and some of that may be because they did not trust Jack Sanborn in coverage. Either way, they had DeAndre Houston-Carson on the field for seven snaps in place of Sanborn. All of those were third-down or two-minute situations.
Chicago Bears film review: Jack Sanborn
You could see in moments throughout the game that Sanborn had issues in coverage. In the play below, he is in a tough situation. He is lined up as the linebacker towards the bottom below. The key here is to watch him bite on the jet sweep action.
As he bites to the right, you can see two wide receivers who are cruising behind Jack Sanborn to the left. This is not necessarily the fault of Sanborn, but you can tell that the quarterback is reading Sanborn as his key.
Because Sanborn is late to recover, Nicholas Morrow is able to handle the under route, but there is nobody and a huge window to the receiver over the middle. If Sanborn stays back, he may not have shut this playdown, but he does create a block to that window, and you may not get the throw. A lot of this comes down to the scheme that Miami has, and there are so many pieces moving around that Sanborn was a bit off.
In the play below, the Miami Dolphins essentially scheme an easy completion to Tyreek Hill. They have a wide receiver lined up to the far outside, which means the Chicago Bears need to have a cornerback out there. They are also running zone, so the cornerback would not follow a specific player anyways.
So, with the outside cornerback taken out of the play, it leaves the slot and the linebacker with the two inside wide receivers. They put Tyreek Hill on the far inside, so the scheme lines him up with Jack Sanborn.
Sanborn sees Hill come at him, and he tries to stay in his zone but is late to realize that no one is in there. At that point, he needs to stick to his man or get depth, knowing the players around him. Hill breaks free, and Sanborn ends up doing a great job recovering for a tackle.
The play below is the last where we see some of the issues with Sanborn in coverage. He bites on play-action once again, and this one is hard. As you see Sanborn run hard to the right side, a wide receiver flies across the screen away from him. This is a tough situation for Sanborn to be thrown into, and situations like this are why they got Houston-Carson on the field more than when Roquan Smith was playing.
Still, these are tough plays, and rookie UDFA was put in a tough spot against a dynamic offense. As noted, no one is killing him for being schemed up against Tyreek Hill. Below shows some of the flashes of upside that he brings in coverage as well.
Here, they run play action as well, but Sanborn does not bite and gets depth. The Dolphins run an Inside route from their outside receiver, and you can see that as he sinks in the zone, Jack Sanborn is right there. This is a great example of what he needed to do on the touchdown above.
This play also came after the touchdown, which shows us that Sanborn realized he messed up on that play. Miami gave him another test, and on this play, he got depth and forced the quarterback to check down, and look away from Sanborn.
Once again, we see some improvement from the Chicago Bears rookie against play action. He bites, but only takes a step, compared to the hard crash he did earlier in the game. Then, he is in a full-on sprint.
As noted, just getting in the throwing window is key. It forces the quarterback to throw a much better football, even if the receiver is open. In this play, the quarterback throws deep and misses because he did not want to test Sanborn.
The last two plays showed growth from Sanborn in the game from issues he made earlier.
Chicago Bears run defense with Jack Sanborn
The play below is the best that we saw from Sanborn. He reads the run to the left. Watch him get under the block of the left guard. He breaks through with ease and makes the tackle.
Another example of Sanborn in the run game is below. With this play he does a good job of reading his keys and staying in his gap. Then, he gets his chance to attack and does not hesitate as he holds his own in the ground game.
Overall, Sanborn led the team with four stops, and you saw two of them in the examples above. He was better in the run game than in coverage, but the Chicago Bears recognized that, and let DeAndre Houston-Carson steal a few coverage snaps.
Still, better than that is the growth that we saw from Sanborn in coverage as the game went on. The nuances of the NFL will continue to test him, but as a baseline for expectations moving forward, Chicago Bears have to like what they saw.