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 grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

Bears grades: Win over Vikings provides blueprint for success

QUARTERBACKS: C+

All the Bears needed Sunday was an average game from their quarterback to support an outstanding defensive effort. Chase Daniel provided that and a little more in place of an injured Mitch Trubisky. 

Daniel completed 22 of 30 throws for 195 yards with a touchdown, but crucially didn’t turn the ball over. He engineered four drives that lasted at least four minutes and 30 seconds, and hit a couple downfield shots, too, to Allen Robinson and Javon Wims. More than anything, Daniel’s comfort operating the Bears’ offense stood out, and is why the Bears felt like they didn’t miss a beat when he came into the game. 

The Bears can probably win a couple more games with Daniel playing like he did Sunday. Long-term, the Bears’ best option remains a healthy Mitch Trubisky, but what Daniel did against the Vikings — and what the team expects him to do against the Oakland Raiders in London — is why he’s a highly-paid, trusted backup. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

David Montgomery gritted out 53 yards on 21 carries — not exactly a great day production-wise, but he didn’t seem to get a ton of help from his offensive line. Where Montgomery excelled Sunday was in pass protection — he picked up blitzes well and was instrumental in keeping the pocket clean for Daniel to work through his progressions. 

Tarik Cohen didn’t do much on the ground but did turn a well-executed option route into a 10-yard touchdown. The Bears only had two running backs active on Sunday with Mike Davis not dressing and Kerrith Whyte Jr. dropped from the 53-man roster to the practice squad. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: B+

Robinson caught all seven of his targets for 77 yards and played an important role in getting the Bears’ offense into rhythm after Daniel subbed in for Trubisky. His reliable ability to set up his routes showed up in a big way against a good Vikings secondary, especially on his 25-yard snag that set up Cohen’s touchdown. 

Wims had his best game as a pro, catching four of his five targets for 56 yards, including an excellent downfield route and catch for 37 yards. Starting in place of an injured Taylor Gabriel, Wims played the most snaps (68) of any Bears receiver (94 percent). 

Anthony Miller still struggled to get going, though, and was only targeted three times. 

TIGHT ENDS: C-

Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and J.P. Holtz combined for five catches and 36 yards, and the Bears’ run blocking wasn’t great. Burton is getting closer and closer to full strength, though he still hasn’t played more than two-thirds of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a game this year. In 2018, Burton never played fewer than 69 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in a given game, and frequently was on the field for 75 percent or more of the team’s snaps. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

Credit this group for playing much better in pass protection on Sunday, with the pocket generally being kept clean for Daniel as the Bears built a 10-point lead at halftime. Rashaad Coward deserves praise for how effective he was filling in for an injured Ted Larsen at right guard (this after Larsen started in place of an injured Kyle Long). Coward said he hadn’t played guard since high school, and he almost exclusively worked at right tackle after being converted from defensive line a year and a half ago. Sunday was his first NFL action as an offensive lineman (he played one game as a defensive lineman in 2017 with the Bears). 

Still, this group needs to be better in the run game. Minnesota’s front seven is excellent, yes, but there weren’t always lanes for Montgomery and Cohen on Sunday. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A+

Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris were absolute monsters starting in place of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols. The pair combined for 3 1/2 sacks and, along with Eddie Goldman and Abdullah Anderson, were instrumental in limiting Dalvin Cook to just 35 yards on 14 carries. 

This was the biggest test the Bears’ defensive line depth has faced in recent memory, and Jay Rodgers’ group absolutely aced it. Cook was averaging 6.6 yards per carry entering play and had just 2.5 yards per rushing attempt on Sunday. Rodgers deserves a ton of credit, too, for developing guys like Williams and Robertson-Harris into not just serviceable reserves/rotational guys, but highly productive players when needed. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Another game, another Khalil Mack strip-sack. This one came on the first play of the second half and gave the Bears three free points, but more importantly further scrambled Kirk Cousins’ decision-making and put a stamp on how dominant a performance this defense would have for the entire game. 

While Leonard Floyd didn’t show up on the stat sheet, his play on the edge against the run contributed to Cook’s miserable day. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Danny Trevathan played one of his best games with the Bears, taking advantage of the work put in by his defensive linemen to make a number of plays to stop Cook from getting going. And Nick Kwiatkoski absolutely played his best game in a Bears uniform, stuffing the stat sheet with a team-high nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. His bull rush of Cook, on which he pushed the Vikings’ running back into Cousins for a sack recorded by Williams, was a perfect representation of how well the Bears’ defense played all afternoon. 

Kevin Pierre-Louis deserves praise, too, for how well he played in a pinch on passing downs in place of Kwiatkoski. 

CORNERBACKS: A

Prince Amukamara’s forced fumble in the first quarter bailed out some sloppy, penalty-filled play from the rest of the defense and made sure the Vikings didn’t score on their first trip into Bears territory. While Stefon Diggs went over 100 yards, most of it came late in the game when the Bears’ defense backed off, and holding Adam Thielen to just six yards on two catches was a masterclass by this group. Kyle Fuller also had an impressive pass break-up in the third quarter. 

SAFETIES: A-

Eddie Jackson’s unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter gave Minnesota’s offense some life on a drive that ended with Amukamara’s forced fumble. Otherwise, he and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played well, with Clinton-Dix recovering Amukamara’s fumble — which was a heads-up play, given officials needed a clear recovery by the Bears to overturn the call on the field and give possession to Chicago. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Eddy Pineiro continued gritting through the pinched nerve in his kicking leg to connect on all three of his field goal attempts. While the longest of those kicks was from 38 yards, that Pineiro ability to fight through pain and keep making kicks is impressive. 

Sherrick McManis’ return to Chris Tabor’s kick/punt coverage units was noticeable after the veteran was inactive for the Bears’ last two games. They need more of him, and perhaps less of rookie Duke Shelley, who was called for his third special teams penalty of the season on Sunday. Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice tackle in punt coverage, too. 

COACHING: A

Yes, the Bears committed far too many penalties (seven for 50 yards) — again — but that sloppiness shouldn’t take away from the top-down coaching this team put in leading up to and on Sunday. 

The first name here that stood out is defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, who did a phenomenal job getting Williams, Anderson and Harris prepared for taking on larger roles with Hicks and Nichols out.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano called a masterful game, with the Bears’ pass rush working in concert with its secondary to the point where Amukamara remarked plenty of plays felt over before Minnesota’s receivers were able to get into their routes.  

And Nagy deserves credit for not only the offensive gameplan, which Daniel executed well, but for the overall tone he set in the face of being without five — then six, then seven — starters during Sunday’s game.

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The Bears’ 2019 preseason All-Stars, from Deon Bush to Thomas Ives

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USA Today

The Bears’ 2019 preseason All-Stars, from Deon Bush to Thomas Ives

The best thing a fringy roster player can do in the month of August is put good things on tape during preseason games. Ask any undrafted free agent and they’ll regurgitate what’s been drilled into their heads: Your tape is your resume. 

Those players, with the Bears, have had four complete games of resume-building over the last month. Most of those guys will never play a down of football for the Bears. A handful will make the initial 53-man roster, though that does not guarantee them a spot on it after Labor Day weekend’s waiver wire frenzy dies down. 

The lucky ones will make a practice squad, giving their NFL careers a lifeline. Others will never play professional football again. 

But over four preseason games, a handful of Bears players put some good things on tape — the kind of things that will keep their NFL careers alive in some way, at least for the next few months. Here are this year’s Bears preseason All-Stars:

Safety Deon Bush

Bush is very much on the Bears and will enter the final year of his rookie contract as the primary backup to Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But no Bears player looked better in preseason games — and practices — than Bush, who had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. The Bears should feel comfortable with his ability to step in for either of their ex-Alabama safeties this season. 

Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris

It was a little odd that Robertson-Harris played in the Bears’ first three preseason games, given his important role in Jay Rodgers’ defensive line rotation. When he was on the field against mostly backups, he dominated — as you’d expect. 

Offensive lineman Alex Bars

The undrafted rookie from Notre Dame worked his way into football shape over the last month, and all but secured his spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster by not only playing guard well in preseason games, but holding his own while playing tackle for the first time since 2016. Plenty of evaluators considered him to be as high as a mid-round draft pick before he suffered a torn ACL and MCL last September; what he put on tape in the preseason only bolstered the thought that the Bears might’ve unearthed at least a solid backup in Bars. 

Outside linebacker James Vaughters

Vaughters had a strip-sack in consecutive preseason games, and notched another sack in Thursday’s preseason finale. The 26-year-old former CFL player had the most productive preseason of any of the Bears’ edge rushers, giving the Bears’ decision-makers a difficult choice on whether to keep him or not. He’s one of the bigger roster question marks heading into cut-down weekend — which, on the other hand, is a representation of just how few roster spots were actually open for the Bears this year. 

Tight end Jesper Horsted

So we started this list with two guys who are stone-cold locks for the roster, one guy who likely played his way onto it and another who gave the Bears something to think about. Now we get into the guys who played well, but probably won’t wind up on the roster. Horsted, despite missing the Bears’ first preseason game, caught eight passes for 121 yards with two impressive touchdowns. But coach Matt Nagy noted how far Horsted has to come as a blocker in the wake of Thursday’s preseason finale. That’s something the team could try to develop with the Princeton alum on the practice squad. 

Wide receiver Thomas Ives

The Hinsdale Central product ended his preseason in impressive fashion at Soldier Field, and finished August with a team-leading 148 receiving yards. The 6-foot-5 Ives is another prime practice squad candidate.

Tight end Ian Bunting

Another Hinsdale Central alum! Bunting’s 18.2 yards per reception led the Bears in preseason play, and his soft hands and good feel for open space showed up, but he needs work as a blocker. He has an interesting case to make the Bears’ roster, but he might not have done enough to be claimed on waivers — meaning whatever team that claimed him would have to keep him on their 53-man roster. So the Bears could probably sneak Bunting on to the practice squad if they like his upside. 

Cornerback Clifton Duck

While Duck may not have the size or speed of some of the Bears’ other young corners — Kevin Toliver, John Franklin III, Duke Shelley, Michael Joseph — he displayed the best pure football instincts of anyone in that group this preseason. His 62-yard interception against the New York Giants was impressive, and he flashed behind the scenes in practice a few times, too. He could wind up on a practice squad, either in Chicago or somewhere else around the league. 

Running back Ryan Nall

It was notable that seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte Jr. did not play Thursday, which could indicate his place on the roster is secure. That would mean Nall, for the second consecutive year, would be cut after a productive preseason. Nall caught a team-high 10 passes and rushed for a team-high 135 yards (including an average of 5.6 yards per carry), but he’s sort of like the Duck of this offense in that he has good instincts but looks likely to be passed over by someone with more ideal traits. He’s another practice squad candidate, though if the Bears need a running back in a pinch they could do worse than Nall. 

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