Gabriel: Bears Defense's Midseason Report Card

November 08, 2018 - 12:29 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) At the halfway point of the Bears' regular season, the defense is playing outstanding football.

Chicago is fourth in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in total defense. The Bears also have 21 takeaways, the second-most in the league.

On Tuesday, we graded the offensive positional units. Let's do the same now for the defense.

Defensive line

The Bears' defensive line has more depth than at any time I can remember since I came to Chicago in 2001. All six members of the line have made contributions, allowing defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to use a rotation to keep all five who dress fresh.

Akiem Hicks who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. With his size, strength and athleticism, he's disruptive against the run and the pass. In the Bears' base scheme, Eddie Goldman plays on the nose and in the sub package he plays as a defensive tackle. Goldman has lost weight from a year ago and is much more agile. He can be a load to knock off the line of scrimmage.

The surprise is rookie Bilal Nichols, a fifth-round pick who's seeing significant playing time as he keeps producing. Roy Robertson-Harris is the most athletic player of the group and can line up all over. He plays in spurts but consistently comes up with big plays.

The player who isn't playing up to expectations is Jonathan Bullard. The coaching staff expected him to be the third player in the team's rotation, but he has dropped to No. 5. Bullard has the traits to be good, but he lacks a level of consistency. Journeyman Nick Williams has only played in two games, but he plays hard when given the opportunity. 

Grade: A+

Inside linebacker

Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith have been superb in the first half of the season and perhaps form the fastest and most athletic linebacker duo in the league. Both have top-notch instincts and make plays all over the field. While neither is flashy, they simply produce. Both are on pace to surpass the 100-tackle mark by season's end.

Smith caught up quickly after missing training camp, and he has shown improvement every week.

Reserve linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Joel Iyiegbuniwe are competent players. Iyiegbuniwe has flashed in the last few weeks and is a consistent special teams player.

Grade: A+

Outside linebacker

Before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him the past two games, Khalil Mack was played at a Defensive Player of the Year level. He has emerged as a leader since being acquired from Oakland on Sept. 1 and had five sacks in the first four games. I've no doubt he'll pick up where he left off when he returns healthy, and the expectation is he'll do so against the Lions on Sunday.

Leonard Floyd has been a disappointment, as he has yet to record a sack. Granted, Floyd had to wear a club cast to protect his fractured hand early on, but he's been healthy for several weeks now. His play against the run has improved by being stout at the point of attack, but he has to pick up his pass rush.

Free-agent signee Aaron Lynch has received ample playing time and been a force. He isn’t nearly as athletic as Mack or Floyd, but he's powerful. He has 11 total tackles, three sacks and an interception.

Isaiah Irving has receiving some playing time in in the past two weeks and produced with five total tackles and a sack. He's also productive on special teams.

Grade: A

Cornerback

The Bears invested heavily at this position in re-signing Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. With that came high expectations, and they've played up to those standards. Fuller is playing at a Pro Bowl level and giving the Bears their best cornerback play since Charles Tillman was roaming the field. Fuller has four interceptions and 10 pass breakups while being consistent in run support.

Amukamara played well in 2017 and is has been better this year. Opponents don’t target him that much, as his coverage is so tight. Slot corner Bryce Callahan is having his best season, making plays week after week.

The surprise of this group is rookie Kevin Toliver, who has played in seven games and started one because of an injury to Amukamara. An undrafted rookie, Toliver has played well as opponents have targeted him with less success than they envisioned. Toliver's play has kept veteran Marcus Cooper off the active list.

Sherrick McManis is mainly a special teams player and has risen to the occasion when asked to do more on defense.

Grade: A

Safety

This group is young, with Eddie Jackson in his second year and Adrian Amos in his fourth. 

Jackson has a knack for making big plays and does so on a consistent basis. He has two interceptions and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. If he has a weak point, it’s that he isn't always a consistent tackler and will have some whiffs.

Amos is one of the more improved players on the team. His coverage skills have become quite good, and he's excellent in run support. He's third on the team with 40 total tackles.

Backups Deandre Houston-Carson and Deon Bush haven’t received much playing time at safety but are core special teams players.

Grade: A-

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​​​