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Chicago Bears Defensive End of Season Grades

The Chicago Bears were led by their strong defense this season. For the most part, the defense played well, but at times they did not play up to their full potential. They especially struggled to make impact plays, ranking 26th in takeaways and 17th in sacks. Here are the end of season defensive grades for the Chicago Bears.

Defensive Line: B

Midseason Grade: B

The defensive line was just average throughout the whole season. This is partially due to their lack of depth. When Eddie Goldman opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bilal Nichols was forced to switch to nose tackle. He performed well in that spot, but left a hole at defensive tackle upon changing positions.

Chicago’s defensive line getting set. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Star lineman Akiem Hicks did take up one of those spots, but for a Bears defense that used a lot of base defense, they regularly used another defensive tackle. This role was split between Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, John Jenkins and Mario Edwards Jr. These players, despite playing fairly well, are average at best. The carousel surrounding that second defensive tackle spot definitely hurt the Bears.

Another disappointment on the defensive line was defensive end Robert Quinn. Coming off of an 11.5 sack season with the Cowboys, general manager Ryan Pace signed him to a 5 year, $70 million deal. Instead of being Chicago’s second dominant pass rusher, he totaled 2 sacks, 6 quarterback hits and 20 tackles. Quinn was paid a whole lot of money just to drag down the Bears defensive line and the entire team with it.

Despite all their setbacks, Chicago’s defensive line managed to be average. They ranked middle in the pack with rushing yards allowed and 25th in rushing yards per attempt. Their main redeeming factor, however, was their effectiveness in the red zone as they allowed just 11 rushing touchdowns, third least in the NFL. Just like in the first half of the season, the Bears defensive line was average and stays at a B grade.

Linebackers: A-

Midseason Grade: A

Just like the Bears line, the linebacker corps played at a consistent rate throughout the season. It is has proven time and time again that it is one of the best in football.

At outside linebacker, Khalil Mack dominates as a pass rusher. In the 2020 NFL season, he ranked first in Pro Football Focus’ rating for edge rushers. He was only 16th in sacks, but his Pro Football Focus grade just shows how much of an impact player he is.

At inside linebacker, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan both had great years. Smith, a second team All-Pro and Pro Bowl snub, was second in the league in tackles for loss and sixth in total tackles. When thrown at, Smith only allowed a 59.6 passer rating, which is quite impressive for a linebacker and a drastic improvement from the first two years of his career. Meanwhile, Trevathan racked up 113 tackles as the second middle linebacker for the Bears.

Unfortunately, Roquan Smith got injured in the Bears Week 17 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. He was unable to play in the Bears playoff game against the Saints, greatly hurting Chicago’s defense. Backup middle linebackers Manti Te’o, Josh Woods and Joel Iyiegbuniwe had to step up to take Smith’s spot, and even though they played fairly well considering their situation, they are by no means at Smith’s level.

The Bears linebacking crew of Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan was dominant this season. Just like the defensive line, Chicago does not have much depth at the linebacker position. However, the Bears star trio is enough to earn them an A- grade for the 2020 NFL Season.

Cornerbacks: B

Midseason Grade: A-

If injuries were not a problem, the positional grade for cornerbacks would likely stay at an A- or potentially be even better. However, the position was unfortunately hit by the injury bug. Rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson, after starting out the season strong, suffered a shoulder injury in Week 14 against the Houston Texans. Meanwhile, starting nickel back Buster Skrine also sustained a concussion against the Packers in Week 12.

Kindle Vildor (22) tries to tackle Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) in the Wild Card Round. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Rookie cornerback Kindle Vildor and second year cornerback Duke Shelley ended up replacing the two starters. Vildor and Shelley, despite both being late round draft picks, played fairly well considering the situation. They showed potential to both be solid cornerbacks in the future. However, they are young, raw and inexperienced in the NFL, and the Bears defense suffered.

Meanwhile, star cornerback Kyle Fuller continued to play at a high caliber level. He allowed just a 55.4% completion percentage when thrown to and just 6.3 yards per target. 2020 was not his best year by any means, but he was solid throughout the season.

As the season went on, tougher matchups and injuries hit Chicago’s defense hard, especially at the cornerback position. Fuller’s slight decrease in productivity from years past and the unexpected entry of Vildor and Shelley into the lineup caused this Bears cornerback group to fall from an A- to a B.

Safeties: B-

Midseason Grade: B+

The safety position for the Bears was inconsistent throughout the season. The final half of the season was especially bad for Eddie Jackson, while Tashaun Gipson played well.

Eddie Jackson struggled in 2020, with 0 interceptions and just 5 pass deflections. He missed 13.7% of tackles and allowed a 110.4 passer rating when thrown to, and increase of 52.8 from the 2019 season. His big drop-off comes as a surprise, considering the fourth year safety was expected to continue developing after two straight Pro Bowl seasons.

Meanwhile, Tashaun Gipson ended the season strong. He led the Bears with 2 interceptions and had 66 tackles, only missing on 4.3% of tackles. Gipson was Chicago’s best player in the playoff game against the Saints, with 8 tackles and a key strip sack in the Saints territory.

Backup safeties Deon Bush and Deandre Houston-Carson did not get much playing time as neither Jackson nor Gipson missed any games due to injury. However, when called upon or when playing special teams, they performed as expected for backup defenders.

Despite Tashaun Gipson’s strong performance, Jackson’s decline in the second half of the season causes Chicago’s safeties grade to fall from a B+ to a B-.

 

 

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