Buster Skrine

Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games

Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games

The Bears secondary doesn't garner nearly the attention it deserves. Sure, safety Eddie Jackson emerged as a household name in 2018, but the cornerback duo of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara is rarely discussed as one of the better tandems in the NFL. Free-agent signee Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn't appearing on many lists as a top offseason bargain and most football fans probably don't even realize that Buster Skrine is the team's nickel cornerback.

But this underrated and underappreciated secondary has done its job through the first five games of 2019, led by Clinton-Dix, who's Chicago's highest-graded defensive back according to Pro Football Focus. His 79.9 is actually the second-best grade among the key starters on defense, behind only Khalil Mack. He's excelled in coverage (78.1) and has already proven to be a playmaking upgrade over Adrian Amos; Clinton-Dix's pick-six against the Redskins in Week 3 is one of the defensive highlights of the season so far.

No one would've guessed that Clinton-Dix would get off to a better start than Jackson in the defensive backfield, but that's the case so far. And it's not that Jackson is having a bad year; it just goes to show how good Ha Ha has been. 

Jackson's biggest (and only) issue this season has been unreliable tackling. One of his primary jobs as a last-line defender is to make sure he doesn't allow the ball-carrier to break away from his tackle. His 36.8 tackling grade from PFF is indicative of his failures in that area. Fortunately, his sloppy play hasn't resulted in an obvious game-changing mistake, but he's not quite on pace to match his ridiculous 2018 campaign. He has yet to register an interception this season after snagging six last year. Still, Jackson is the most talented Bears defender not named Mack, and if any player is poised for a monster 11 games to finish out the season, it's Jackson.

As for that cornerback duo of Fuller and Amukamara? They're off to a strong start, having given up only two touchdowns combined. Fuller is on pace for another good season statistically with two interceptions, which puts him on pace for six this year; he had seven in 2018. 

The bye week came at a good time for Fuller, who's fallen into a bit of a slump in the last two games. He's been targeted 13 times and has allowed 10 completions for 131 yards. 

Skrine, who was signed by Ryan Pace to replace fan-favorite Bryce Callahan in the nickel role, has fared well so far under Chuck Pagano. He's played 241 snaps and has a better coverage grade from Pro Football Focus than Fuller. He also leads the defense with the lowest percentage of targets caught by his receiver (63%). The Bears could do a lot worse than Skrine at this point in the season.

Overall, the primary five secondary players for the Bears have been above average. They have the potential to become an elite group down the stretch, but in order to make that shift, they'll have to take advantage of turnover opportunities and put the struggling offense in favorable field position situations.

Bears secondary grade at the bye: B

 

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Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

Even when they weren't at their best, the Bears' defense found ways to keep them in the game

DENVER – Over the last 18 months or so, the Bears’ defense has grown accustomed to having great performances overshadowed by the team’s kicker. When they get bailed out with a game-winning 53-yarder as time expires, however, it’s a spotlight they’re more than happy to share. 

“I knew it was good as soon as he pointed up to the sky,” Leonard Floyd said. “I knew he was going to make the kick.”

“You think about everything, all those games last year – especially that playoff game,” Khalil Mack added. You put pressure on that guy. Eddy P, birthday man. 

“He came out and nailed that mother f –.” 

Piñeiro’s coronation will certainly win the headline battles, but it was once again the Bears’ defense that kept them in the driver’s seat for three and a half quarters. The Broncos’ stats (372 total yards – 292 of them passing and 90 coming on the ground) are probably gaudier than Chuck Pagano’s unit would like, but they’ve now gone back-to-back games allowing just one touchdown. 

“There were some times there that they were tired,” Matt Nagy said. “Even at the end, you saw [Khalil Mack] come out on the fourth-down and so I just wanted to call a time out. I felt like it was more important for him to be out there on that fourth-down. He was tired. Those guys, you could feel it.” 

The game had shades of the 2018’s Week 5 loss in Miami, where scorching temperatures took a huge toll through the second half and into overtime. Between the thin air and unseasonably warm weather (the thermometer read 87 at kickoff), you could see why the Broncos have been astoundingly great in early-season home games. And while most of the players admitted that they felt the altitude in some way or another, no one was making excuses for the Broncos’ 12-play, 62-yard drive that would give them the lead with 30 seconds left. 

“Football is a tiring game,” Akiem Hicks said. “You play a lot of football and you just try to have the best results you can.” 

If anyone was happier about the win than Piñeiro, it was cornerback Buster Skrine. After the Broncos scored to make it a 13-12 game, kicker Brandon McManus missed the PAT. Skrine was flagged for being offside, however, and the Broncos got another chance from the one-yard line. Given new life and pretty advantageous field position, Denver went for two and converted, seemingly giving them a win. 

30 seconds and 53 yards later, the Bears were 1-1 – and now Piñero may not have to pay for his pregame steaks any time soon. 

“I was about to come in here and say I lost the game …” Skrine said. “ … “I’m about to post on my Instagram [taking my teammates] out to dinner and everything.” 

“Woo, hot darnit. We got it done – we needed that,” quipped Hicks, in his best country drawl. “It’s good to be 1-1. We’re going to go forward, we’re going to do what we need to do.”  

 

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Buster Skrine pays homage to Bears legends Walter Payton and Dick Butkus

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USA TODAY

Buster Skrine pays homage to Bears legends Walter Payton and Dick Butkus

In honor of the 100th season of NFL football, Bears cornerback Buster Skrine broke out a special pair of cleats adorned with Bears legends. 

The cleats, which can be seen on Skrine's Instagram, have Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Dick Butkus on either cleat and feature a sharp blue, orange and white color scheme. 

On his IG, Skrine gave a shoutout to the artist Johni Bleu, who mostly focuses on conceptual art and portrait-focused realism.

Bleu is just as excited as Skrine to see these wonderful cleats hit the field when the Bears take on the Packers on Thursday night.