Bears In-Foe: A well-rested Eagles D to face Bears Monday night

Bears In-Foe: A well-rested Eagles D to face Bears Monday night

Under former coach Chip Kelly's round-the-clock hurry-up offense, the Eagles defense needed an ample supply of oxygen masks on the sideline. Their units spent the most time on the field the last three years.

So what happened Sunday, courtesy of the Carson Wentz-led offense and the Cleveland Browns being the... Browns, behind a bad (and now injured) Robert Griffin III? They were on the field less than 21 minutes.

Former Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz took over a unit that ranked 30th in the NFL last season, yet has some very good parts in moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and his trademark "Wide 9" setup.

The underrated, overlooked Fletcher Cox was recognized by the team in June to the tune of a $102.6 million payday ($63 million guaranteed) over six years. After collecting just 12.5 sacks his first three seasons, he soared to 9.5 a year ago, and will attack more now as Schwartz moves him from end to tackle alongside athletic run-stuffer Bennie Logan. Schwartz also moves former 3-4 outside linebackers Brandon Graham (6.5 sacks last season) and Connor Barwin (who's posted 11.5- and 14.5-sack seasons) to defensive end. Former first- and second-round picks Marcus Smith and Vinny Curry remain in backup roles.

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Nigel Bradham followed Schwartz from Buffalo to join a speedy group of linebackers, joining Mychal Kendricks around middle man Jordan Hicks, whose great rookie campaign a year ago was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle. He'd otherwise have been in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. Once the Lions finally let veteran Stephen Tullock go, he reunited with Schwartz in a backup role.

Pro Bowl strong safety Malcolm Jenkins has elevated his game since leaving New Orleans a couple of years ago and now teams with small but physical former Ram Rodney McLeod, who signed a five-year, $35 million free agent deal.

One of Schwartz's ex-Bills cornerbacks, starter Leodis McKelvin, will be sidelined Monday night by a hamstring injury sustained versus the Browns.  So the decision on who fills in falls between two LSU products, seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills (who delivered the hit that injured RGIII Sunday), or another former Bill, veteran Ron Brooks. Nolan Carroll is physical in man-press on the opposite side and was having a good 2015 before breaking his ankle.

Special teams

Darren Sproles has gone to the last two Pro Bowls as a returner, and averaged 15 yards on four punts Sunday, so the Bears' coverage units have to be on-point, to say the least. He led the league in punt return average last season and has two return touchdowns each of the past two years, though rookie Wendell Smallwood returned one kick against Cleveland. Kicker Caleb Sturgis started slow but finished strong in 2015, and missed a 46-yard field goal attempt versus the Browns while converting two others. 36-year-old punter Donnie Jones was second in the league a year ago with 23 fair catches, while ranking sixth in net average, seventh in gross.

Join Chris & Dan Jiggetts from Halas Hall at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on CSN Chicago, for "Bears Huddle" and "Bears Blitz." You'll hear from Bears coaches and players after practice, previewing Monday Night's home opener.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.