When a defense gives up 321 yards and three touchdowns through the air in a game? Don’t expect much in the way of praise to go their way. The Chicago Bears gave up 34 points and could do almost nothing to stop Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams passing attack. It would be easy to say that the entire secondary was responsible for those breakdowns. Yet the truth is never that simple. A perfect example is Jaylon Johnson.

If one were to review the footage from that game on Sunday night? People would realize the second-year corner actually played really well. Los Angeles threw the ball in his direction three times over the course of the game. They managed just one completion for 13 yards. The other two? One was well-covered and the other Johnson came dangerously close to intercepting. Stafford didn’t go in his direction often. A testament to how good the coverage was.

It didn’t matter.

Johnson couldn’t be everywhere and the Rams ended up finding the Bears’ biggest weakness pretty early in the game. That was Marqui Christian. He assumed the nickel corner role for Chicago going into the game after Duke Shelley was benched. Stafford went at him six times in the game, connecting on five passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson added to the misery with their own mishaps in coverage as well.

It isn’t a coincidence that rumors popped up before the season that the Bears had concerns about the nickel spot. Sunday night proved it. That said, it also justified the team’s confidence in Johnson. They truly feel he has #1 cornerback potential. If he continues to play like he did in that game, the secondary might have a foundational piece with which to rebuild moving forward.

Jaylon Johnson might be a critical piece for the future

It’s clearer than ever that the Bears defense will undergo significant changes after 2021. Several of their most prominent names are likely gone next offseason. Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Tashaun Gipson, and maybe even Khalil Mack could find their ways out of town. The team has to start shedding salary in their efforts to retool the roster around Justin Fields. This would be much harder to do if they had no young pieces to work with.

Thankfully the team might be okay in that regard. Roquan Smith is an emerging star at inside linebacker. Bilal Nichols is coming off the best season of his career at defensive end. Now Jaylon Johnson has something going at cornerback. Those three players are 24, 25, and 22 years of age respectively. They absolutely represent the future of this defense. Some GM Ryan Pace or whoever replaces him can build around.

The hard part will be finding complementary pieces.

Good defenses in this modern NFL need three solid cornerbacks to be functional. At this point, the Bears only have one. Kindle Vildor has a lot still to prove. The nickel spot is a mess. That figures to be a major focus for them in 2022. People can criticize the Kyle Fuller move all day, but that was coming sooner or later. The Bears felt they had somebody who could replace him in the long run. They might be right.

Erik Lambert
Educated to be a writer at the prestigious Columbia College in Chicago, Erik has spent the past 10 years covering the Bears.