On 3rd & 9 with the Arizona Cardinals at their own 28-yard line and up 14 to 3 over the Bears, they decided to go for the throat feeling themselves and attempt to throw a strike downfield. As Sam Bradford receives the snap out of the pistol 3 yards behind center he drops back four steps and plants at the 19-yard line and lets it go to his intended target J.J. Nelson. Nelson is covered step for step by Prince Amukamara until he pulls up lame after straining his hamstring just as the ball was about to arrive for what looked like a big gain and another Touchdown to take a commanding lead 21-3 over the Bears. Just than, like a superhero flying through the sky to save a damsel in distress the very second she was about to experience her doom, in a white and navy blue streak the Bears Free Safety Eddie Jackson comes out of nowhere from his single high landmark and crosses in front of the bewildered Nelson and picks the pass off.
Showing off the range of an NFL Free safety the Bears have not seen in quite some time the league had to have taken notice. Jackson is having himself quite a sophomore season that if sustained will not only get him into the pro bowl but likely a vote unto the first-team All-Pro safety list. Through 4 games his numbers are eye-popping. With 11 tackles (10 of them solo), 1 sack, 3 passes defended, 2 interceptions and a Forced Fumble you’d be hard pressed to find better production from any safety in the NFL. That’s a season worth of playmaking for most Safeties in the league. Jackson is one of the reasons the Bears may very well have the best secondary in the league.
Had Kyle Fuller held on to a Rodgers pass attempt for a game-winning pick six there would be little argument that thus far through 5 weeks in the 2018 season the Bears are playing the best. That play and a couple deep touchdowns were given up against him that if thrown an inch to the left or the right would have resulted in passes defended rather than touchdowns are pretty much the only reason to even question whether the Bears secondary has played the best to this point of the season in the entire NFL. There were also a couple of plays Amukamara might have wanted back as well. Considering the prodigious passing numbers being thrown through the first five games of the season league-wide this is the ultimate in picking nits. Both touchdowns versus Fuller were perfect throws by two of the best Quarterbacks in the league and great catches. No shame in that game.
Thus far Fuller has not filled up the stat sheet like he did a year ago with 10 solo tackles and 1 pass defended, however he has been a presence on run defense and has teams going away from him based off last season’s pro bowl worthy performance. So even though the gaudy stats aren’t there yet it does not mean he hasn’t been a contributor to this unit.
Fuller’s counterpart Amukamara is having a pretty good statistical season. Thus far he has 11 tackles 9 of them of the solo variety. He also has 2 passes defended and 1 interception he returned 49 yards for a pick 6 against Seattle’s Quarterback Russell Wilson. He’s also rated in the top 5 of all Cornerback’s in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. This, while missing a game with a hamstring pull and a huge chunk of the Cardinals game where he sustained the hamstring injury on the play I opened the article describing and posting the link to. If he remains healthy there’s another player who can find his way unto the pro bowl list.
Then there are the leagues best Nickle Corner according to Pro Football Focus Bryce Callahan. Whether you agree with PFF or not the fact that he is and has been one of the best and most productive Nickle Corners in the league since becoming a Bear as an undrafted free agent find is undeniable. All the kid does is make plays. Vic Fangio uses him in a variety of roles including in one of the blitz packages that he rarely uses. His stat sheet isn’t exactly full but he has a pass defense and an interception thus far to go along with 14 solo tackles. However, the most impressive thing about the season he has had thus far is his area is a no man’s land when Quarterbacks try to go his way.
The player lost among this group is having another solid season himself and that’s Bears Strong safety Adrian Amos last season’s breakout player for the Bears and PFF’s second-rated overall Safety just behind All-Pro Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings. Thus far he has 17 tackles 16 of which are solo. Amos has never filled out a stat sheet other than tackles but that is not how he contributes to this team. He’s a hard-hitting Safety who fills holes into walls in the run game and intimidates receivers in the middle of the field making them think twice about stretching out for high passes or passes leading them straight into the path of the thumping Amos.
Then there is the depth. Thus far, the Bears have shown they are a deep team in the secondary. Veteran Cornerback Sherrick McManis who has been all special teams no Cornerback throughout his career has become a pretty good playmaker in the secondary when put in there. Last season he was a favorite of Fangio’s when he decided to pull the trigger on a Cornerback blitz. This season in a very limited role on defense he has 6 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defended, and one spectacular diving interception. This aside from captaining one of the best special teams units (number one according to PFF rankings) in the NFL and a strong candidate to make the pro bowl as a special teamer on the coverage unit.
There’s also the work the Bears have done in developing the extremely talented and troubled former LSU Cornerback Kevin Tolliver II. He was off to a great start in camp but had a very rough pre-season. So much so, I and most had him on the cut list but the Bears stuck with him and the traits he brings to the position thinking they had his off-field issues in check and thus far it looks like a great move. It has been one of the most surprising roster moves of the season. When he subbed for Amukamara in the Tampa Bay game he showed the ability to provide blanket coverage doing an excellent job when he was matched up against Mike Evans who was virtually shut down by the Bears.
Another surprise keeper was Marcus Cooper Sr. He had as rough a free agent season as any player in recent years and the Bears still kept him. He does have size and physicality and apparently the trust of the Bears defensive staff. He has played in only 2 games and limited snaps due to injury issues this season and has yet to scratch the stat sheet being used more as a special teamer than a corner.
DeAndre Houston-Carson had an incredible season on special teams last year and was showing some skill as a safety before breaking a bone in his forearm in game one and being out since then. The other depth safety Deon Bush is highly regarded by this defensive staff particularly Fangio who was singled out unsolicited in Fangio’s first press conference of the pre-season in regards to the progress he has made in his development. His contributions have been primarily as a special teamer contributing only 1 tackle on defense in his first 4 games, but that’s not a slight considering the two starters the Bears have. None of the backups will get too many snaps so long as those two stay healthy.
Yesterday, I wrote about the impact Harry Heistand had made with the Offensive Line but I would be remiss in not mentioning the equally impressive job Ed Donatell has done for this secondary this season and since he has been added to this staff under Fangio. That is yet another factor in my asking the question, is this the best secondary in football. Of course, a lot of it is the unbelievable job the Bears front seven has done to create pressure helping the secondary out but plays still have to be made and they have. I’m not sure if they are the best or even the most talented. There are some super secondaries out there, but one thing for certain, they are in the team photo without a doubt.