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).
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.
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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