Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Joniak: Bears Boast 5 Pro Bowlers, Impressive League Stats

The Bears (10-4) are on the road to face the 49ers (4-10) on Sunday.

Jeff Joniak
December 18, 2018 - 5:00 pm

(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (10-4) are on the road to face the 49ers (4-10) on Sunday afternoon as they look to improve upon their playoff seeding after clinching the NFC North last weekend. Here are the observations and notes of the day Tuesday.

First Impression

Individual recognition comes with winning and elite performance. The front office should feel very good about what it has put together and what Matt Nagy’s coaching staff is doing to get the best out of this roster. The 10-win, division champion Bears have a decorated defense, are tops in 10 significant categories and are tied for first in red-zone takeaways (6) and fewest rushing plays of 10 yards or more (25). They take the ball away better than any team in the league (35), topping out in turnover margin for the first time since the 1985 Bears. They are tied for third in forced fumbles (16) and fourth in sacks (45). They have permitted only 17.3 points per game, taking out defensive and special teams return touchdowns. Kahlil Mack, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson are starters and Akiem Hicks named as a backup after Pro Bowl voting. On offense, second year running back and punt return specialist Tarik Cohen is the lone representative.

“I feel like it is more of a compliment to the whole team, not just me,” said Cohen. “All things have to go well to be a good punt return team.”

Cohen leads the league in punt return yardage. He is the only player with more than 400 yards with a long of 44 set against the Packers Sunday. He is fourth in average return, at 13.3. Among running backs, Cohen is second in the league with 710 receiving yards. He leads all backs with seven catches of at least 25 yards. He has scored seven total touchdowns and has thrown for an eighth.

Second thought

If Akiem Hicks did not make the Pro Bowl in 2018, he might have blown a gasket. He is a force inside collapsing the pocket with six sacks. He leads the Bears with 15 tackles-for-loss, consistently helping set a new line of scrimmage, and he has three forced fumbles. Hicks is a big reason for the confidence and swagger of the defense. 

“Defense is all attitude,” Hicks said. “It’s all bravado. It’s all about how you attack the offense.” 

Hicks has been an immovable force with his bull rush, stunt games, and ability to destroy blockers and get to where he needs to go to make a big play. It is his first Pro Bowl.

Third degree

A Very good to excellent defense became elite and dangerous with the preseason acquisition of outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Expectations changed. This superstar defender is not just a premier and skilled edge rusher -- he is a game wrecker. He is an underrated run defender. He brings lunch bucket hustle to practice and games. He is an ideal scheme fit for coordinator Vic Fangio. He commands double and triple team blocks, and constant attention opening the door for other defenders to make plays. He is the most significant acquisition of 2018 in the league and a candidate for defensive player of the year. His 12.5 sacks tie for third all-time on the Bears single season list with Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent in 1993 and 1987. They are the only two Bears with at least 12.5 sacks in franchise history. He is tied for first in the league with six forced fumbles.

It made your heart skip a beat when safety Eddie Jackson went down with an ankle injury against the Packers. Jackson is expected to be okay for a playoff return, and the Bears need his play-making ability and instincts on the back end. 

“I wanted to come here and dominate,” Jackson said. “I would not want to be anywhere but here with the type of guys and teammates I have. I feel like being on the same team with them makes me better and make me step my game up.”

His six interceptions tie for sixth in the league and he will go down in history as the man who snapped Aaron Rodgers’ NFL record interception-free streak of 402 consecutive pass attempts with his swipe on Sunday. Jackson has scored three of the Bears’ six return touchdowns. He is a valuable player now and in the future.

Kyle Fuller is a success story.  Clearing hurdles that put his future here in question, a healthy and completely dialed in Fuller is playing at an All-Pro level.  He leads the NFC with seven interceptions, and leads the NFL with 21 pass break ups.  He locks down one half of the field with his aggressive and physical play and throws in his direction have a quarterback rating below 65.0.  He gave up two touchdowns in the first two games, and just two in the last 12 games.

Fourth and short

Seven Bears are Pro Bowl alternates available in the event a player pulls out of the game due to injury or disinterest or if his team advances to the Super Bowl. TE Trey Burton, OLB Leonard Floyd, LT Charles Leno, ILB Roquan Smith, ILB Danny Trevathan, QB Mitch Trubisky, and C Cody Whitehair are all alternates.  All have made their presence felt in a significant way. Five of the alternates are home-grown draft picks, with Burton and Trevathan signed from Super Bowl winning teams in free agency by General Manager Ryan Pace. They represent a big part of the core of the present and future of the organization. 

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.​​​