2015 Grades: Bears DL did not play at level needed for top D


2015 Grades: Bears DL did not play at level needed for top D

What the Bears have and exactly what they need, other than at nose tackle, is fluid. The line overall was respectable but did not play at the level needed for a top defense. The Bears ranked near the bottom against the run, giving up an average of more than 120 ground yards for most of the season and an unacceptable average of 4.5 yards per carry. Some of the reasons were obvious but the overall was not good enough.

The plan, once upon a time, was a three-down group of Ego Ferguson, Jeremiah Ratliff and Ray McDonald. None of those was on the roster after the sixth game. The subsequent three were Jarvis Jenkins, Eddie Goldman and Will Sutton. Of those, only Sutton was dressed for the Detroit game. It was that kind of year for the defensive line and position coach Jay Rodgers.

Because of nickel usage, Willie Young delivered a solid year once he recovered from his ’14-ending Achilles injury. Young’s six sacks in barely a half-season of full involvement was a positive for a team otherwise bereft of pass rush from its interior defensive linemen other than Goldman (4.5).

[MORE BEARS GRADES: Running backs ¦ Secondary]

Goldman was a hit as the Bears’ second-round pick in the 2015 draft and appears to be the anchor the Bears need in their 3-4.

“I think it started slow and then he had steady progress from a certain point on and played well overall the last two-thirds or half of the season,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “But he kept improving, which I think is important for a rookie; if they keep improving that’s a good sign. Hopefully we’ll have bigger and better things moving forward.”

Jenkins was solid most of the season but did not finish as strong as he started, with three sacks through the first four games. But he had just two more shared sacks over the final 11 before being inactive for the Detroit game. Jenkins is due to be an unrestricted free agent, wants to remain in the system, but is a decision for the Bears going forward.

Sutton impressed coaches when the pads came on in training camp and performed at both nose tackle and five-technique. He was a non-factor in pass rush and will need to take another step to remain in the ’16 plans. Mitch Unrein was an in-season pickup, played well enough to earn three starts, and projects as part of the down-lineman rotation next season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Newly signed Greg Suggs made a case for himself going into the offseason with a sack of Stafford to end the second Detroit possession. Bruce Gaston and Mitch Unrein were relentless in pressure, not always reaching Stafford but forcing two hurried throws for incompletions.

Ferguson is expected back from knee surgery after a solid start as a run-stopper before the injury at Kansas City.

The weakness against the run does not fall entirely on the line, particularly when linebackers were inconsistent at gap support. But the defense needed more stoutness at the points of attack from the front which exposed weaknesses in tackling deeper in the defense.

“Some of it’s due to letting guys get in the open field with the ball,” Fangio said. “That makes those tackles very hard to get down at times. When you break down early, it makes the end of the down that much harder.”

Moon's DL Grade: D

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.