Chicago Bears’ evaluation of ‘ascending’ LT Braxton Jones will play into offseason moves — and his test against Myles Garrett was big
Chicago Bears left tackle Braxton Jones faced the ultimate test of his development Sunday against Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, and the second-year player thought he did “an all right job” into the third quarter.
In the end, though, Jones said he needed to do more to stop the Browns star.
On the Bears’ final drive after the Browns pulled ahead 20-17 with 32 seconds to play, Garrett got around Jones quickly on back-to-back plays to pressure quarterback Justin Fields. The two plays resulted in Fields incompletions, and that set up the final Hail Mary pass that the Browns intercepted to seal the win.
“In that fourth quarter, the game is on the line, if we score in that situation we’re going to win the game,” Jones said. “He’s going to do as much as he can to affect that, and he did do that in that last drive. I just think I have to have better sets, be more square. I can see all of the things (on film) I messed up on, but in the moment, out in the fire, I definitely could have done a better job.”
Garrett, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, has given plenty of other offensive tackles a hard time this season while racking up 13 sacks and 26 quarterback hits. In a game against the Tennessee Titans, he had 3 1/2 sacks and five quarterback hits.
Garrett didn’t get a sack or quarterback hit Sunday while moving around on the line some so he was not always facing Jones. But NFL Next Gen Stats said he totaled seven pressures, including six in fewer than 2.5 seconds.
Pro Football Focus had Jones as giving up eight pressures.
“I’ve never seen somebody bend the edge so quick,” Jones said. “Even when I’ve had bad sets — I’ve done it against other players before — it’s never been that quick. And he just does everything so quick and efficient. He has no wasted movement. When he gets to a tackle spot, he presses your spot quickly, and that’s what makes you have to make decisions. … He’s just a different player.”
When offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was asked Thursday about Jones’ performance, he qualified his response by noting just how big of a task it is to face Garrett, saying it’s part of Jones’ growth.
“He played against the best player in the league,” Getsy said. “I thought he did a really good job most of the game. A couple times, a guy of that caliber is going to make a play or two, right?”
Garrett is just one elite opponent in many Jones is facing this season. Over the previous four games after Jones came back from a neck injury on Nov. 5, Pro Football Focus gave Jones high marks for his play.
On Sunday at Soldier Field, he and the Bears face an Arizona Cardinals team that ranks 22nd in the NFL with sacks per pass attempt (7.49%) and doesn’t have a single player with more than five sacks — seemingly a good game to get back to playing the way they want to on offense.
Getsy said he believes Jones is in a “great spot” and called him an “ascending player.” The evaluation general manager Ryan Poles has on Jones’ season in January will factor into how the Bears approach their offseason moves.
Poles opted to upgrade at right tackle, drafting Darnell Wright in the first round this spring and wanted Jones, a 2022 fifth-round pick, to continue his development on the left side. With two high first-round draft picks in 2024 — the Bears would have Nos. 1 and 5 through Week 15 — Poles could nab a top left tackle in the draft. But the Bears have plenty of other needs he might consider more pressing given Jones’ overall play.
For Jones, who is typically self-aware in talking about his play, the need to prove himself doesn’t feel that much different from usual.
“There’s always that type of pressure all the time,” Jones said. ”Just being a young guy, obviously you want to do your job, but you can’t make it more than it really is. … But just me as a person, I’m always being hard on myself. I want to have the best outcome no matter what I’m doing. I always want to have perfect games even though I know I’m never going to have a perfect game. That is my goal at the end of the day.”
After a rookie season in which he started all 17 games, Jones worked on his body during the offseason to better combat bull rushes. He said he felt stronger and “better overall in just about everything” heading into the season.
But then what Jones called “a fairly serious neck injury” affected the start of his season.
He declined to offer many specifics because the Bears didn’t release details, but he said it started out as soreness. He wasn’t 100% in his first two games, but he really began to experience the effects after Week 2. The Bears then put Jones on injured reserve for six games from Weeks 3-8.
Jones said there were “things that were definitely scary about the injury.” And he thinks the time away helped him grow mentally stronger, giving him a better appreciation for how quickly the game can be taken away.
“Just to understand that any play can be your last, and when you’re out on the field, try to give it all you can,” he said. “As players sometimes we take that a little bit for granted.”
Jones said he has felt more comfortable with the injury the last few weeks. But originally, he felt the absence set him back, putting him behind players who spent the first half of the season perfecting their crafts.
“To come back in the middle of the season and start playing again, you’re behind,” Jones said. “The biggest thing was just to keep a good mind and just stay focused as much as I could, try and get better each and every week.”
He is happy to have reduced his penalties since returning. After being called for four false starts and four holding penalties (two of them declined) over his first three games, according to Pro Football Reference, Jones hasn’t been called for another penalty.
But he still wants to improve at so much more.
The Bears have three more games to play — against the Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers — but Jones knows what his offseason focus is going to be.
“I’ve got to make a huge jump in technique,” Jones said. “It’s going to be big for me. I feel like I’ve gotten enough strength to do what I need to do, but I’m putting myself in bad situations so it doesn’t even matter if you have strength or no strength.
“With bad technique, you’re never going to be able to play in this league. The biggest thing for me this offseason is getting technically correct. Then everything can come together and I can have a clean third year.”
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