Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

USA Today

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

Pro Football Focus doesn’t seem to expect much regression for the Bears defense, at least when it comes to run defense.

PFF analyst Mike Renner ranked every team’s ability to stop the ground game, heading into 2019, and Chicago remains on top.

The team retained its entire front seven, top-to-bottom, with the exception of Sam Acho, who spent most of last season on injured reserve anyway.

One of the biggest keys, in Renner’s analysis, is Akiem Hicks, who was among Pro Football Focus’ top performers in the running game.

“The former Saint is proving himself one of the best free agent additions in recent memory,” Renner wrote. “His 13.3 run-stop percentage was the second-highest figure of any interior defender in the NFL last season.”

The Bears allowed the fewest rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of any defense last season, and the 3.8 yards per attempt they gave up was fourth best.

With the whole gang back together for 2019, the team is in a great spot to run it back under Chuck Pagano.    

Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

USA Today

Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

DENVER – Over the last 18 months or so, the Bears’ defense has grown accustomed to having great performances overshadowed by the team’s kicker. When they get bailed out with a game-winning 53-yarder as time expires, however, it’s a spotlight they’re more than happy to share. 

“I knew it was good as soon as he pointed up to the sky,” Leonard Floyd said. “I knew he was going to make the kick.”

“You think about everything, all those games last year – especially that playoff game,” Khalil Mack added. You put pressure on that guy. Eddy P, birthday man. 

“He came out and nailed that mother f –.” 

Piñero’s coronation will certainly win the headline battles, but it was once again the Bears’ defense that kept them in the driver’s seat for three and a half quarters. The Broncos’ stats (372 total yards – 292 of them passing and 90 coming on the ground) are probably gaudier than Chuck Pagano’s unit would like, but they’ve now gone back-to-back games allowing just one touchdown. 

“There were some times there that they were tired,” Matt Nagy said. “Even at the end, you saw [Khalil Mack] come out on the fourth-down and so I just wanted to call a time out. I felt like it was more important for him to be out there on that fourth-down. He was tired. Those guys, you could feel it.” 

The game had shades of the 2018’s Week 5 loss in Miami, where scorching temperatures took a huge toll through the second half and into overtime. Between the thin air and unseasonably warm weather (the thermometer read 87 at kickoff), you could see why the Broncos have been astoundingly great in early-season home games. And while most of the players admitted that they felt the altitude in some way or another, no one was making excuses for the Broncos’ 12-play, 62-yard drive that would give them the lead with 30 seconds left. 

“Football is a tiring game,” Akiem Hicks said. “You play a lot of football and you just try to have the best results you can.” 

If anyone was happier about the win than Piñeiro, it was cornerback Buster Skrine. After the Broncos scored to make it a 13-12 game, kicker Brandon McManus missed the PAT. Skrine was flagged for being offside, however, and the Broncos got another chance from the one-yard line. Given new life and pretty advantageous field position, Denver went for two and converted, seemingly giving them a win. 

30 seconds and 53 yards later, the Bears were 1-1 – and now Piñero may not have to pay for his pregame steaks any time soon. 

“I was about to come in here and say I lost the game …” Skrine said. “ … “I’m about to post on my Instagram [taking my teammates] out to dinner and everything.” 

“Woo, hot darnit. We got it done – we needed that,” quipped Hicks, in his best country drawl. “It’s good to be 1-1. We’re going to go forward, we’re going to do what we need to do.”  


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Eddy Pineiro 52-yard FG for 16-14 win over Denver Broncos saved Bears season

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Eddy Pineiro 52-yard FG for 16-14 win over Denver Broncos saved Bears season

A win by any other name is still a win. But this one…

One game after coach Matt Nagy deemed 51 yards to be beyond Eddy Pineiro’s field-goal range, the young kicker converted from 40, 52 and 53 yards on Sunday, the last to close out a 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos as time expired.

It was a kick that may have done nothing short of save the Bears season.

Nagy predictably and not incorrectly pointed out that the loss to Green Bay was “just one game” and not the season. But in every NFL season over the past 20 years alone, at least one team has missed the postseason by one game, because of one loss, including the Bears in 2008, 2012 and 2013.

A defeat on Sunday – and that was decidedly close to becoming reality after the Broncos took the lead with a touchdown and successful two-point conversion with 31 seconds remaining – would have effectively put the Bears in a perilous place this early in the season because of five NFC teams already standing at 2-0, with one of them being the Packers, and Philadelphia (1-0) playing Sunday night.

But that didn’t happen, and now the Bears go to Washington to play the 0-2 Redskins next Monday night, followed at home by Minnesota, 1-1 after a poor performance at Green Bay at home and the North American Raiders (1-1) in London.

The win over the Broncos did little to allay concerns about a Chicago offense that was supposed to reach new heights with quarterback Trubisky operating for a second season in the Nagy schemes. The Bears were outgained 372-273 while rushing for 153 yards on 29 attempts, including 18 for a workman-like 62 yards and a touchdown, the only one for the Bears through eight quarters this season, by rookie running back David Montgomery.

The offense was held to 3 points by the Packers and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine; then struggled repeatedly against the Broncos and Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator, for the previous four seasons. The Bears converted just three of 11 third downs.

“The last two weeks our offense has gone up against two pretty good defensive [coaches],” Nagy said.

After its woeful pass-run imbalance vs. Green Bay, the offense ran the football 29 times and threw it 27. Very notably, the protection allowed zero sacks and only two hits on Trubisky while Nagy stayed with a balanced plan, even to the point of handing the ball to Montgomery on three straight dives from the Denver one-yard line. He stretched the ball over the goal line on the third one.

“I told [Montgomery],” Trubisky said, “’Go put it in there.’”

Game-winning moment

For his part, Trubisky managed to run five plays within 30 seconds with the game hanging in the balance. He overcame a penalty for too many men on the field, but aided by a roughing flag on rush-linebacker Bradley Chubb he navigated the Bears into position with a 25-yard completion to wide receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson went to the ground with the one second needed for the Bears to call a timeout and get Pineiro and the field goal unit on the field.

That final possession projects to be a massive confidence-builder for Trubisky, who missed badly on two previous throws toward Robinson before directing the second fourth-quarter comeback and fourth game-winning drive of his three-year career.

“I’ve always been taught that quarterbacks are evaluated on how they finish games,” Nagy said.

The kick also overrode repeated mistakes and shortcomings on all sides of the football and beyond. Buster Skrine was offsides on a missed Denver PAT, allowing the Broncos a second chance, which they converted. The Bears were flagged for too many men on the field in the closing seconds. The defense allowed 195 passing yards by Denver quarterback Joe Flacco in the second half but managed its first takeaway of 2019, a Kyle Fuller interception at the Chicago 3 with less than 5 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

To some extentNagy and the Bears were clearly content to operate in a borderline not-to-lose mode, which against a Denver Broncos team that is off to just its second 0-2 start since 1999.

 “We’re not where we want to be as an offense or me as a quarterback,” Trubisky said.

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