Bears

Bears at the Bye: Eddie Goldman continues to be D-Line's unsung hero

Bears at the Bye: Eddie Goldman continues to be D-Line's unsung hero

As important as the offensive line is to a team's ability to generate consistent production and points on offense, so too is the defensive line with its responsibility to keep second-level defenders clean to make plays against the run and pass.

The Bears have enjoyed so much success on defense in 2019 thanks in large part to the dominance and depth of their defensive linemen. 

The Bears are currently fifth in total defense, sixth against the run and 11th against the pass. The run defense has been especially impressive until the hiccup in Week 5's loss to the Raiders when rookie RB Josh Jacobs ran for 123 yards. Prior to that pretty shocking performance, Chicago may have had the league's best run defense.

The Bears' down linemen are led by Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks, who's been battling through a knee injury early this season. It forced him out of Week 4's contest against the Vikings; he returned to the lineup in London against Oakland but exited the game early with a dislocated elbow. There's still no official word on how long he'll be out.

The Bears can't afford to lose Hicks for an extended period of time. He's a tone-setter upfront and has played that part early this season in the games he's played. He's been Chicago's best run defender and leads the team with an 80.0 run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus. He's also a critical piece in the Bears' pass rush; he has 23 sacks from 2016-2018. In a tad over three games this season, Hicks has one sack and eight QB pressures. If he's out of the lineup, someone like OLB Leonard Floyd has to pick up the slack.

Next to Hicks is arguably the Bears' most underrated player, NT Eddie Goldman. In fact, there may not be a more underrated defensive player in the NFL right now. Goldman is off to another fantastic start in 2019 and has been borderline great in all aspects of his game. He's thriving against the run — as always — and has contributed as a pass-rusher, too. He doesn't have any sacks this season but is tied for fourth on the team with eight QB pressures (the same number as Hicks, who's a more widely-recognized pass-rusher). He's worth every penny (and more) of the four-year, $42 million extension he signed before the start of the 2018 season.

Second-year defensive end Bilal Nichols ascended to the starting lineup in training camp but has been knocked off his path to stardom by a hand injury that's forced him out of the last three games. He's played just 42 snaps this season but was trending toward becoming another draft gem for GM Ryan Pace. The former Delaware Blue Hen was selected by Pace in the fifth round of last April's draft. He's inching closer to returning, but he'll have to fight for starter's reps because of the rise of Roy Robertson-Harris.

RRH has been fantastic in 2019. He's logged 180 snaps and is second on the team in quarterback pressures (11) and third in sacks (2.5). Beyond the stats, Robertson-Harris has been disruptive. He's been explosive off the snap and is proving to be an extremely difficult assignment for opposing offensive linemen. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and if his play continues at its current level, someone (maybe even Pace) is going to open the checkbook for him.

The most surprising standout from the Bears' defensive line this season has been defensive tackle Nick Williams. The fourth-year pro from Samford is enjoying a breakout season and is currently second on the team with four sacks. You read that right: Williams has more sacks than any Bear who isn't named Khalil Mack.

After entering the league as a seventh-round pick of the Steelers in 2013, Williams bounced around between Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Miami before finally signing with Chicago in April 2018. Who would've guessed that that transaction, which was nothing more than a blip on the news radar, would turn into such a critical piece of the Bears' defense in 2019. Williams, much like Robertson-Harris, has made himself some coin through five games.

Thanks to this collection of big uglies, the Bears have avoided a regression on defense under Chuck Pagano. In fact, they're playing more aggressive than they ever did under Vic Fangio. Assuming Hicks and Nichols make a healthy return for the final 11 games of the season, this defensive line will keep Chicago in the playoff hunt.

Bears DL grade at the bye: A

 

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Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

The Chicago Bears have a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2019 after falling to 4-6 following Sunday night's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, it's time to start looking ahead to 2020 and the necessary moves GM Ryan Pace must make in order to take advantage of the Bears' already championship-worthy defense.

Pace will face some obvious challenges in the offseason, most notably the salary cap where the Bears won't have much flexibility. According to Spotrac, Chicago will be in the bottom-five teams in the league in cap space which will make shopping in free agency a limited endeavor. 

But as we've seen many times in the NFL, creative general managers can move money around in ways to free up the dollars for new contracts to make sense, and it's on Pace to make sure he does that in order to land at least two big-ticket free agents to fix two of this team's most pressing needs.

The NFL draft will also provide Pace with a great opportunity to add young, starting-quality talent in the second round. The Bears will end up with two of this year's top-60(ish) players and they have to make those picks count.

Here are four players Pace should target in order to turn the 2020 Bears into the contender they were supposed to be this season.

Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)

Bridgewater would be the perfect target for Pace and the Bears in free agency to bring stability and reliability to the quarterback position. The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings has resurrected his career after a devastating knee injury in 2016. Now three seasons removed, Bridgewater proved he's ready to take on a starting job after playing five games in relief of Drew Brees after the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a hand injury.

Bridgewater won all five starts and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes along the way. He racked up 281 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bears and displayed the kind of accuracy and decision-making that Matt Nagy's offense calls for.

The Bears won't be the only suitors for Bridgewater's services, but the appeal of starting in Chicago with a defense that's proven it can win games on its own will at least be enticing for the former Lousiville star.

Sign TE Austin Hooper (Falcons)

Hooper will command a contract similar to what Chicago paid Trey Burton in 2018 (four years, $32 million), so it will be hard to justify tying up that much money in the tight end position. But as 2019 has proven, there's no way for Nagy's offense to reach its potential without a weapon at tight end in the passing game.

Hooper missed Week 11 with an MCL injury and could be on the shelf for a few more weeks, but he's been one of the league's better playmakers at tight end this season. He has 56 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns and has shown steady improvement over each year of his career. He had 71 catches for 660 yards and four scores in 2018.

Draft OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) in 2nd round

It'll take a little bit of luck for 'Prince' to fall to the Bears' first of two second-round picks, which right now sits at No. 46 overall. But the Bears have to be aggressive in upgrading the offensive line this offseason. While Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are serviceable offensive tackles, a player like Tega Wanogho has the kind of traits that could eventually develop into a top-tier starter on either side of the offensive line.

The Bears could decide to prioritize the interior of the offensive line in the draft, and that's fine. But the best (and cheapest) way to land a high-end offensive tackle is through the draft, and Pace has to swing for the fences on a pick like this in 2020.

Draft EDGE Yetur Gross Matos (Penn State) in 2nd round

Pass rushers like Gross Matos are often pushed up the draft board because of the premium placed on the position, but with several teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round and with the number of ridiculously talented wide receivers in the 2020 class, a player like Gross Matos could suffer a bit of a fall.

Gross Matos has six sacks so far this season, which is a respectable total but has fallen a tad short of expectations entering the year. He had eight sacks in 2018 and was a popular pick to explode as a sack artist this fall. Still, he has the athletic profile Pace loves in his pass rushers and would be an instant upgrade over Leonard Floyd, who's failed to live up to his first-round billing since joining the Bears in 2016.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: What happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward?

Hub Arkush, JJ Stankevitz, and Ben Finfer join the birthday boy on today's show.

0:00 - Sunday's debacle in L.A. continues to dominate headlines. So what happens with Mitch Trubisky going forward? Is Matt Nagy's offense fixable? And how did a team that was one of the favorites for the Super Bowl fall apart this quickly?

16:00 - Jeremy Roenick joins Kap to talk about Kirby Dach's hot streak and if the Jeremy Colliton saved his job by making one tweak to his scheme.

24:00 - Dave Wannstedt joins Kap to discuss the fallout from Sunday's Bears loss to the Rams. How would Wanny handle Eddy Pineiro's confidence? Plus he talks about how to keep a team motivated with the playoff hopes essentially gone.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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