Bilal Nichols

Bears at the Bye: Eddie Goldman continues to be D-Line's unsung hero

Bears at the Bye: Eddie Goldman continues to be D-Line's unsung hero

As important as the offensive line is to a team's ability to generate consistent production and points on offense, so too is the defensive line with its responsibility to keep second-level defenders clean to make plays against the run and pass.

The Bears have enjoyed so much success on defense in 2019 thanks in large part to the dominance and depth of their defensive linemen. 

The Bears are currently fifth in total defense, sixth against the run and 11th against the pass. The run defense has been especially impressive until the hiccup in Week 5's loss to the Raiders when rookie RB Josh Jacobs ran for 123 yards. Prior to that pretty shocking performance, Chicago may have had the league's best run defense.

The Bears' down linemen are led by Pro Bowler Akiem Hicks, who's been battling through a knee injury early this season. It forced him out of Week 4's contest against the Vikings; he returned to the lineup in London against Oakland but exited the game early with a dislocated elbow. There's still no official word on how long he'll be out.

The Bears can't afford to lose Hicks for an extended period of time. He's a tone-setter upfront and has played that part early this season in the games he's played. He's been Chicago's best run defender and leads the team with an 80.0 run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus. He's also a critical piece in the Bears' pass rush; he has 23 sacks from 2016-2018. In a tad over three games this season, Hicks has one sack and eight QB pressures. If he's out of the lineup, someone like OLB Leonard Floyd has to pick up the slack.

Next to Hicks is arguably the Bears' most underrated player, NT Eddie Goldman. In fact, there may not be a more underrated defensive player in the NFL right now. Goldman is off to another fantastic start in 2019 and has been borderline great in all aspects of his game. He's thriving against the run — as always — and has contributed as a pass-rusher, too. He doesn't have any sacks this season but is tied for fourth on the team with eight QB pressures (the same number as Hicks, who's a more widely-recognized pass-rusher). He's worth every penny (and more) of the four-year, $42 million extension he signed before the start of the 2018 season.

Second-year defensive end Bilal Nichols ascended to the starting lineup in training camp but has been knocked off his path to stardom by a hand injury that's forced him out of the last three games. He's played just 42 snaps this season but was trending toward becoming another draft gem for GM Ryan Pace. The former Delaware Blue Hen was selected by Pace in the fifth round of last April's draft. He's inching closer to returning, but he'll have to fight for starter's reps because of the rise of Roy Robertson-Harris.

RRH has been fantastic in 2019. He's logged 180 snaps and is second on the team in quarterback pressures (11) and third in sacks (2.5). Beyond the stats, Robertson-Harris has been disruptive. He's been explosive off the snap and is proving to be an extremely difficult assignment for opposing offensive linemen. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and if his play continues at its current level, someone (maybe even Pace) is going to open the checkbook for him.

The most surprising standout from the Bears' defensive line this season has been defensive tackle Nick Williams. The fourth-year pro from Samford is enjoying a breakout season and is currently second on the team with four sacks. You read that right: Williams has more sacks than any Bear who isn't named Khalil Mack.

After entering the league as a seventh-round pick of the Steelers in 2013, Williams bounced around between Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Miami before finally signing with Chicago in April 2018. Who would've guessed that that transaction, which was nothing more than a blip on the news radar, would turn into such a critical piece of the Bears' defense in 2019. Williams, much like Robertson-Harris, has made himself some coin through five games.

Thanks to this collection of big uglies, the Bears have avoided a regression on defense under Chuck Pagano. In fact, they're playing more aggressive than they ever did under Vic Fangio. Assuming Hicks and Nichols make a healthy return for the final 11 games of the season, this defensive line will keep Chicago in the playoff hunt.

Bears DL grade at the bye: A

 

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Bears injury report: Taylor Gabriel ruled out vs. Vikings

Bears injury report: Taylor Gabriel ruled out vs. Vikings

Taylor Gabriel had a huge game against the Redskins, but he will be out Sunday against the Vikings.

Gabriel was ruled out on the Bears official injury report on Friday with a concussion. He didn’t practice this week. Gabriel had three touchdown receptions and 75 receiving yards on six receptions in the 31-15 win against the Redskins.

Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols has also been ruled out with a hand injury.

Four players are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game:

DT Akiem Hicks (knee)

K Eddy Pineiro (right knee)

OL Kyle Long (hip)

TE Trey Burton (groin)

Hicks and Long missed practice both Thursday and Friday. Pineiro was out Wednesday and Thursday, but returned to practice in a limited capacity on Friday. Burton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was limited on Friday.

DL Bilal Nichols will miss at least one game with a broken hand

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USA Today

DL Bilal Nichols will miss at least one game with a broken hand

Matt Nagy announced on Thursday afternoon the defensive lineman Bilal Nichols broke his hand in the Bears' 16-14 win over Denver last Sunday. 

The team expects him to miss Monday night's game in Washington, but he likely won't be put on IR. 

Nichols, whose hand was already in a cast by the time media were allowed in Denver's locker room, could concievably play with a cast/club on the broken hand, according to Nagy. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd did the same thing for the first half of last season after he broke his hand in preseason.

"When you are in the trenches like that, you have to figure out where you are with the club, no club, your fingers and using them," Nagy added. 

Nichols had a productive first year in 2018, appearing in 14 games (and starting six) while recording three sacks, seven QB hits, and five tackles for loss. Analytics site Pro Football Focus gave Nichols a 77.0 rating last season, which was the third-best score for a Bears' defensive lineman.

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