Bears

Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games

Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games

The Bears secondary doesn't garner nearly the attention it deserves. Sure, safety Eddie Jackson emerged as a household name in 2018, but the cornerback duo of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara is rarely discussed as one of the better tandems in the NFL. Free-agent signee Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn't appearing on many lists as a top offseason bargain and most football fans probably don't even realize that Buster Skrine is the team's nickel cornerback.

But this underrated and underappreciated secondary has done its job through the first five games of 2019, led by Clinton-Dix, who's Chicago's highest-graded defensive back according to Pro Football Focus. His 79.9 is actually the second-best grade among the key starters on defense, behind only Khalil Mack. He's excelled in coverage (78.1) and has already proven to be a playmaking upgrade over Adrian Amos; Clinton-Dix's pick-six against the Redskins in Week 3 is one of the defensive highlights of the season so far.

No one would've guessed that Clinton-Dix would get off to a better start than Jackson in the defensive backfield, but that's the case so far. And it's not that Jackson is having a bad year; it just goes to show how good Ha Ha has been. 

Jackson's biggest (and only) issue this season has been unreliable tackling. One of his primary jobs as a last-line defender is to make sure he doesn't allow the ball-carrier to break away from his tackle. His 36.8 tackling grade from PFF is indicative of his failures in that area. Fortunately, his sloppy play hasn't resulted in an obvious game-changing mistake, but he's not quite on pace to match his ridiculous 2018 campaign. He has yet to register an interception this season after snagging six last year. Still, Jackson is the most talented Bears defender not named Mack, and if any player is poised for a monster 11 games to finish out the season, it's Jackson.

As for that cornerback duo of Fuller and Amukamara? They're off to a strong start, having given up only two touchdowns combined. Fuller is on pace for another good season statistically with two interceptions, which puts him on pace for six this year; he had seven in 2018. 

The bye week came at a good time for Fuller, who's fallen into a bit of a slump in the last two games. He's been targeted 13 times and has allowed 10 completions for 131 yards. 

Skrine, who was signed by Ryan Pace to replace fan-favorite Bryce Callahan in the nickel role, has fared well so far under Chuck Pagano. He's played 241 snaps and has a better coverage grade from Pro Football Focus than Fuller. He also leads the defense with the lowest percentage of targets caught by his receiver (63%). The Bears could do a lot worse than Skrine at this point in the season.

Overall, the primary five secondary players for the Bears have been above average. They have the potential to become an elite group down the stretch, but in order to make that shift, they'll have to take advantage of turnover opportunities and put the struggling offense in favorable field position situations.

Bears secondary grade at the bye: B

 

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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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