On paper, the Bears’ matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game wasn’t a good one.
But the paper didn’t expect nose tackle Eddie Goldman to revert back to his old dominating self.
Going into the Week 9 matchup against the Steelers, the Bears had allowed at least 145 rushing yards to their opponent in three straight games. The run defense had sprung a major leak and it was apparent that Goldman was not the same player he was when he last played in 2019. But against the Steelers, Goldman regularly penetrated the backfield and the Bears held talented rookie running back Najee Harris to just 62 yards on 22 carries.
“I think Eddie played a really good game against the Steelers and he was a bright spot for us, and that was good to see,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said Thursday. “He impacted that game in a positive way, and he shows how dominant he can be when he’s lined up in certain positions against the center, so that’s positive.”
There was no better example of that than a key 3rd & 1 in the fourth quarter when Goldman blasted Steelers rookie center Kendrick Green straight backwards, which forced Harris to stop his feet.
The running back had nowhere to go and cornerback Jaylon Johnson flew in on the run blitz to help Goldman clean up for no gain and force a 54-yard field goal.
“Obviously having down the middle play at that level helps you,” Desai said. “So there’s a lot of factors to the run defense for us, but (Goldman’s) growth is certainly a factor and it’s noticeable on tape.”
Before the game in Pittsburgh, Goldman’s 2021 season had been mostly forgettable. After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Goldman did not show up to mandatory minicamp in the offseason and the Chicago Tribune reported the 27-year-old was mulling retirement. Goldman arrived to training camp on time, but then quickly tested positive for COVID-19 after choosing not to get vaccinated. He returned to play in one preseason game — and looked pretty good — but then suffered a knee injury on Labor Day, right before the regular season started.
In other words, the start of the 2021 season did not go as planned for Eddie Goldman. After missing the first three games of the season because of the knee injury, he returned to play the Lions in Week 4 with little practice time and almost zero game reps in nearly two years. The stats never do a nose tackle justice, but it was telling when Goldman didn’t record a single defensive statistic in his first two games.
“If you don’t do something for a long time, it’s just getting your feet wet, seeing the speed of the game, the timing of the game, addressing the blocks, making sure your eyes are in the right spot, making sure your hand placement and footwork are in the right spot. And that takes time. That takes reps. When you’ve lost reps over time you don’t get those reps back. That’s time lost,” Desai said.
Still, many outsiders expected Goldman to play at a high level right away, perhaps because he looked so good in the preseason against the Titans.
“I think that’s why they’re outsiders,” Desai said. "That’s their job, to speculate and make assumptions and go off tape that was two years ago. When you’re in the know and you work with guys every day, you’ve gotta expect there’s going to be a growth process. That’s the reality.”
That’s understandable, but it was natural for concern to grow when Goldman had played five mostly quiet games while the team’s run defense slipped.
“It’s not like he was playing bad, but there’s a certain expectation from the outsiders. So yeah, when you build expectations from the outside, I mean often times people fail,” Desai said. “If (goals) were set by the people around you, you probably wouldn’t meet them, because they don’t know what you’re going through and the process that you’re trying to achieve your goals. So it’s similar. He’s got his goals and we’ve got our goals for him, and we’re going to help him develop in that way.”
The Steelers game was a major step in the right direction. And the hope inside Halas Hall is that Goldman will be much better and more consistent in the final eight games of the season. If that’s the case, the defense would be getting a much needed boost.
“He’s growing into it and he’s continuing to get better,” Desai said. “It’s not like he’s hit his peak yet either.”