Bears Grades: Defense achieves 'finish' goal, shuts down Vikings in win

Bears Grades: Defense achieves 'finish' goal, shuts down Vikings in win

The Bears defense played with an obvious fire Monday night in shutting down the Minnesota Vikings. But the more important element was not how hot the fire burned, but how long.

“We’ve played a lot of good football on defense [this season] but we haven’t finished games,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “I’m happy we played this whole 60 minutes, not 30, not 45, the whole 60.”

The defense forced five straight punts to open the game, the best start since stopping Detroit’s first four possessions in Week 4, and the last four of the stops were three-and-outs. The Vikings converted just two of 10 third downs through three quarters. The defense in total hit quarterback Sam Bradford nine times on 37 dropbacks.

Defensive line: A

Minnesota has been one of the NFL’s poorest rushing teams and the Bears kept them that way while bringing enough pressure to disrupt Bradford. The Vikings rushed for just 57 yards, the second time (Jacksonville) in three games that the Bears have limited an opponent to less than 60 rushing yards.

Cornelius Washington took another step as a nickel rusher with a pursuit sack of Sam Bradford in the first quarter, his second of the season. “He started right but then he came back around and got to the outside,” Washington said. “Then I had to do all that running. I was thinking, ‘I got to get him, got to get him,’ because it would’ve been my fault.”

Big Corn inadvertently left the bench early after an apparent incomplete pass, drawing a correct but unfortunate unsportsmanlike-conduct flag for leaving the bench too soon.

Hicks was a force, with two sacks and two tackles for loss. Jonathan Bullard closed down on a Vikings first-quarter run to force a third down Minnesota could not convert.

Willie Young, operating as an end in nickel personnel, deflected a screen pass in the third quarter after drawing a holding penalty that effectively was as good as a sack for creating a long-yardage conversion the Vikings couldn’t make.

[MORE GRADES: Offense responds well to Jay Cutler's return in win over Vikings]

Linebacker: A

Leonard Floyd used a superb counter move of speed and then power against Jake Long for a second-quarter sack, his third in two games. “We were studying [Long] all week and I knew he was pretty much a ‘no-hands’ guy so I knew I had to use a lot of speed-to-power to get to the QB,” Floyd said. “I think everybody in the OLB room did a good job.”

Pernell McPhee, in his second game after a missed year until the Green Bay game, came off the bench in the first quarter with some significant pressure on Bradford, which built into a second-quarter sack on a third down. He also had a near-sack hit of Bradford to force an incompletion. McPhee accounted for a sack, tackle, forced fumble and three quarterback hits

Danny Trevathan delivered a pass deflection in Bears territory, one of two for him. Jerrell Freeman led the Bears with seven tackles.

Secondary: A

The Vikings hurt the Bears through the air last year. This year, with pressure up front, the Bears kept Stephon Diggs relatively in check, with eight catches but a moderate 76 yards and only one longer than 16 yards. Tracy Porter will get credit for a pass-defensed in the first quarter but might’ve had an interception if he’d been able to get turned around in time, with good position.

“Sacks don’t come for this defense without corners who are covering their butts off,” said Hicks, who had two of the Bears’ five sacks.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Special teams: B+

Cre’Von LeBlanc again put the offense in a deep hole by not fielding a punt, allowing 20 yards of roll on Minnesota’s second punt to leave the offense at the Chicago 5 in the first quarter. LeBlanc recovered for a 13-yard return to put the offense into plus-territory in the second quarter.

Pat O’Donnell again topped 40 yards in net (41.4) on five punts. Connor Barth hit his sixth straight field goal, from 30 yards in the first quarter for an early lead. He converted from 28 yards in the second.

Sherrick McManis delivered a punt-tackle inside the Minnesota 20 in the fourth quarter when the Vikings would have gained a boost from field position after stopping the Bears’ offense.

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.