Adrian Amos

Final thoughts: Bears’ defense searching for small answers to big plays

Final thoughts: Bears’ defense searching for small answers to big plays

The 2017 Bears defense was one of the NFL’s best at not allowing explosive plays. That hasn’t carried over to 2018. What happened?
 
The answer to the question is simple: The Bears haven’t tackled as well in 2018 as they did in 2017. But the root of the problem is more difficult to discern, especially for a defense that’s been buoyed by continuity and the splash additions of Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack. 
 
“We just gotta get back to it,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “Mental errors, little things, attention to details, things like that effort-wise. But that’s some things that we can control. We just gotta get those negative things out and go back to playing the football we were at the beginning of the year.”
 
The 2017 Bears allowed 27 plays of 25 or more yards, an average of fewer than two explosive gains per game. Only five of those plays resulted in touchdowns, and drilling even further, only two of those touchdown plays were passes (an 88-yarder to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper and a 28-yarder to Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones). 
 
In 2018, the Bears have allowed 17 plays of 25 or more yards through six games, an average of nearly three per week. Five of those 17 have gone for touchdowns, and all five have been passing plays. Worryingly, four of the five big-play touchdowns have come in the fourth quarters of losses to Green Bay and Miami. 
 
“Just misplacement, communication — it could be anything,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’m not really looking why it happened, I’m looking to get it fixed and to keep it from going on and on. That’s the thing about the season. I’m glad that we got it early, some different looks, great teams, Tom Brady and those guys came and gave us some stuff that challenged us, and it’s only going to help us through the season and it’s going to make us better. We’re on the right page. There’s no downfall, no let-off in us. We’re just going to keep putting our head down, going to work and getting better.”
 
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have missed 42 tackles in six games — an average of seven per game. Nineteen of those game against the Miami Dolphins, and the Bears did improve in that regard against the Patriots, with six missed tackles credited to the defense. 
 
The Bears are less concerned with finding the reason for why their previously-sure tackling escaped them in the fourth quarters of losses to the Packers, Dolphins and Patriots and are more concerned with finding a fix for the problem. But an in-season fix to tackling issues may be difficult to come by — working on it in practice isn’t practical, given the contact limitations in those practices. Tackling drills in the controlled setting of practice is another way, as is an emphasis on tackling while watching video, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. 
 
Every defense misses tackles (the Bears did miss 95 last year, a rate of about six per game) but not every missed tackle has to lead to an explosive play. Another concerning thing for the Bears is how many of those explosive plays have featured multiple missed tackles — Josh Gordon’s 55-yard gain Sunday, for example, featured missed tackles by both Jackson and cornerback Prince Amukamara. The Bears had multiple opportunities to bring down Albert Wilson on his 75-yard touchdown in Miami earlier this month, too. 
 
“The one with Josh Gordon was there,” Amukamara said. “It probably could’ve been a 20-yard play, but missed a tackle and it turned into a 55-yarder. And missed tackles was the name of the game against the Dolphins, also. But we’ve been doing a great job of trying to get those reps in practice and we’ve improved (our) tackling from last game to this game. We just gotta keep improving.”
 
There may not be a good explanation for why the Bears’ have had these issues tackling, or why all of a sudden a defense with talent and continuity has allowed a rash of explosive plays. But whatever the reason, it has to get fixed, otherwise the big gains will continue no matter who the quarterback is — Aaron Rodgers, Brock Osweiler, Tom Brady, Sam Darnold, etc.. 
 
“We just get back to — we all can make tackles, we just gotta get back to making tackles,” safety Adrian Amos said. “I don’t think it’s really a formula or anything. We just gotta get back to wrapping up.”
 
Message Received
 
While Kevin White has played more snaps (90) than Josh Bellamy (65), Bellamy has been targeted six times compared to White’s two. The explanation for that disparity, coach Matt Nagy said, is Bellamy is able to play all three of the Bears’ receiver positions, while White is only an “X” receiver. 
 
But beyond the White-Bellamy question, there’s this, too: How does seventh-round rookie Javon Wims crack into an established group of five receivers who will be active on gamedays so long as they’re healthy? 
 
It’s a difficult task for Wims, who impressed during training camp but spends team drills in practice running scout team routes, which aren’t always the ones the Bears’ offense uses. That makes it difficult, but not impossible, for Wims to flash during practice in a way that could get him on the field on Sundays.
 
“It's not easy because of the numbers,” Nagy said. “So what he has to do when he's out there on scout team, he has to use that time to really hone in. If he sees a particular route that's similar to what we do while he runs with the (play) cards, you have to run it like you would in practice. When it comes to playing in our offense and our system, when he does get reps he has to make the most of it. 
 
“That's probably the hardest part for a young guy that's at that line right there of reps, that's the hardest is being able to get the route completed and then on top of it, build trust with your quarterback."
 
The Bilal Bowl is Cancelled
 
The only two professional athletes named Bilal in American sports history play for the Bears and Jets, between defensive tackle Nichols and running back Powell. That is, until this week, when Powell was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury. 
 
Nichols felt bad for Powell, saying he knew about him and  was looking forward to tackling Powell in some Bilal vs. Bilal action. 
 
“I was gonna say a little something to him,” Nichols said. “I was gonna say man, you got a fantastic name.”

A gassed Bears defense needs to prove loss to Miami was an aberration

A gassed Bears defense needs to prove loss to Miami was an aberration

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Through the first four games of 2018, the Bears’ defense allowed on average 295 yards per game, 5.1 yards per play, 3.9 yards per run, a 33 percent third down conversion rate and 16 points per game.

Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins was, with that backdrop, a bloodbath of an aberration. Or so the Bears hope.

The Dolphins — quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler, who’s been more of a punchline than a threat over the last few years — racked up 541 yards, averaged 7.2 yards per play and 5.2 yards per run and converted eight of 17 third downs (47 percent) en route to score more points in one afternoon than the Bears had allowed in their last two games.

“Everybody knows that’s not the type of defense we play — we don’t miss tackles, I don’t think we’ve ever had that during the whole season,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We gotta come in and work on that and get ready for next week.”

It wasn’t just that the Bears allowed that level of production — it was how it happened. Albert Wilson had 155 yards on six catches, and turned a pair of short passes into 43- and 75-yard touchdowns, both of which led to Miami tying the game in the fourth quarter. Frank Gore carved up 101 yards on 15 carries, with a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center generating an excellent push for the future Hall of Famer.

“It all starts with stopping the run,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who suffered an ankle injury but stayed in Sunday’s game, said. “I feel like we didn’t do a good enough job with that today.”

Gore’s 100-yard game was the first by a running back against the Bears since Latavius Murray hit that mark in Week 5 of 2017, and Miami’s success on the ground did open up plenty for Osweiler.

But that doesn’t completely explain how the Bears didn’t notch a sack and only were credited with four quarterback hurries (the Dolphins committed, and succeeded, to selling out to stop Mack’s pass rush). It doesn’t explain how poor the Bears’ tackling angles were all afternoon, and how many missed tackles this group piled up when they did get in position (anecdotally, it felt like a Dolphins player hurdled a Bears defender at least once a quarter).

“I missed a couple that I make usually 100 percent of the time,” safety Adrian Amos said. He was only talking about himself, but he hardly was the only player to uncharacteristically miss a tackle on Sunday.

No Bears player was willing to admit the impact of the hot and humid conditions on Sunday, but this was a defense that looked gassed, especially in the second half. And while the conditions on the field were the same, they weren’t on the sideline — the visiting sideline at Hard Rock Stadium was engulfed in sunlight all game, to the point where Bears staffers had to hold up what appeared to be folding tables over the benches on the sideline to create some makeshift shade.

“It was hot,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “It was hot out there. You gotta play the game anyway. You don’t get a choice. You gotta play. They’re playing, we gotta play too.”

“There’s a lot you can say about it,” outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We haven’t played in a week, the weather is quite different from Chicago — it’s a lot of things you could say but at the end of the day you gotta execute, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

The Bears’ defense responded well to blowing a 20-point lead in Week 1’s brutal loss to the Green Bay Packers, holding the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to incrementally fewer points each week. This group will have to respond against the diabolical Bill Belichick-Tom Brady New England Patriots offense in Week 7, which presents a far greater challenge than an undermanned group led by Russell Wilson did in Week 2.

There’s no reason to hit the panic button on the Bears’ defense, not when they’ve only had, really, two bad quarters out of 20 all year (though on the other hand, that those both came in the fourth quarter in road games is a little concerning). The Jacksonville Jaguars, widely considered to have the NFL’s best defense before the season, gave up 40 points to a Dallas Cowboys offense that hadn’t shown much promise before Sunday. These things can happen.

And there’s plenty of confidence within the Bears locker room that it won’t happen again.

“This is a building block,” Jackson said. “This is a huge building block for us, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I’m going to keep repeating that because we hold ourselves to a very high standard. We just gotta put this one behind us. It’s going to be tough. Everybody’s seen it. It’s going to be tough for us to do, but we’re looking forward right now. We got a long season ahead of us.”

How Adrian Amos views his 'secret superstar' Pro Football Focus grade

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USA Today Sports Images

How Adrian Amos views his 'secret superstar' Pro Football Focus grade

Adrian Amos knows what’s out there. Specifically, this:

Pro Football Focus’s grades ranked Amos as the third-best safety in the NFL last year, behind only the Vikings’ Harrison Smith and the Rams’ Lamarcus Joyner and ahead of big-name Pro Bowlers like the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas and the Giants’ Landon Collins. That's lofty territory for a guy who doesn't carry the same kind of star power as the other top safeties in the league. 

So that leads us to this question: How does a player like Amos approach such a strong endorsement of his game from an evaluation made outside Halas Hall?

“I see it, but it’s like — it’s flattering that you graded out with some of the other safeties that are the top safeties in the league that you watch,” Amos said. “So it’s not saying — I don’t take it as saying I’m the second-best safety in the league, I take it as saying that I’m grading out as one. So I’m on my assignments, I’m making the plays I’m supposed to make when the ball is coming my way, I’m making the plays. So I take it as that. 

“It doesn’t hurt my confidence, it doesn’t boost me all the way up or anything like that. I just take it with a grain of salt. It’s good to be held in high regard, so I’m glad that I am grading out well in any form. I want to grade out well every day here when Vic (Fangio) gives me my grade sheet or when Ed (Donatell) gives me my grade sheet, I want to grade out well in all ends and just keep improving.”

Pro Football Focus' grades are often dismissed by players not graded well by the service. But on the positive end of things, Amos appreciates the grade he received but puts more stock into how he's evaluated by Fangio and Donatell. And the Bears' front office personnel who will decide if he's worthy of a second contract — Amos will be a free agent after the 2018 season — carry, perhaps, the most important view of his play. 

“I don’t evaluate any of those services,” defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said. “It’s always nice to be mentioned, but what I’m worried about is what he’s going to do with his skills on this day when I’m coaching him. Because that’s really all that matters. And we want him to play well so our team wins. I really can’t comment on those kind of things. Anytime somebody says something positive or brings something up, it’s nice, you get to take it in but keep perspective on where you are. We didn’t win enough games last year.” 

While Amos appreciates the “secret superstar” plaudits, he’s also not blind to where he needs to improve and what he needs to do better following practices and games. 

“I know with this scheme, I know when I’m right and wrong and I take the corrections by Vic,” Amos said. “I’m always listening to what (coaches are) saying. Them online, I don’t — it’s not like I’m listening to the online, but they consider this or that. But I take pride in making my plays when they come, how can I make more plays. I know Vic, with me, he’s stern in my eyes and my progression and little stuff that everybody else may not see but he’s big on me paying attention to those details and stuff like that. Just staying after that, making my plays and working to make more plays.”

Every single one of Amos’ 2,638 NFL snaps have come with Fangio as his defensive coordinator. But 2018 will be the first year Amos has stability among his teammates — he’ll have the same guy starting next to him at safety (Eddie Jackson) as well as the same cornerbacks (Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller). In front of him, Danny Trevathan is locked into a starting role and Nick Kwiatkoski looks likely to hold off Roquan Smith for at least a few weeks to begin the season. While Smith and Khalil Mack were major additions, there’s still a high degree of continuity here. 

And that continuity is why Amos is confident he can put together an even better season in 2018. 

“Every year I’ve had a new person that I was with, with linebackers and safeties and corners, for that matter,” Amos said. “So this is Year 2, per se, with us being together again. It’s just growing.”