Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games

Bryan Perez

The Bears secondary doesn't garner nearly the attention it deserves. Sure, safety Eddie Jackson emerged as a household name in 2018, but the cornerback duo of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara is rarely discussed as one of the better tandems in the NFL. Free-agent signee Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn't appearing on many lists as a top offseason bargain and most football fans probably don't even realize that Buster Skrine is the team's nickel cornerback.

But this underrated and underappreciated secondary has done its job through the first five games of 2019, led by Clinton-Dix, who's Chicago's highest-graded defensive back according to Pro Football Focus. His 79.9 is actually the second-best grade among the key starters on defense, behind only Khalil Mack. He's excelled in coverage (78.1) and has already proven to be a playmaking upgrade over Adrian Amos; Clinton-Dix's pick-six against the Redskins in Week 3 is one of the defensive highlights of the season so far.

No one would've guessed that Clinton-Dix would get off to a better start than Jackson in the defensive backfield, but that's the case so far. And it's not that Jackson is having a bad year; it just goes to show how good Ha Ha has been. 

Jackson's biggest (and only) issue this season has been unreliable tackling. One of his primary jobs as a last-line defender is to make sure he doesn't allow the ball-carrier to break away from his tackle. His 36.8 tackling grade from PFF is indicative of his failures in that area. Fortunately, his sloppy play hasn't resulted in an obvious game-changing mistake, but he's not quite on pace to match his ridiculous 2018 campaign. He has yet to register an interception this season after snagging six last year. Still, Jackson is the most talented Bears defender not named Mack, and if any player is poised for a monster 11 games to finish out the season, it's Jackson.

As for that cornerback duo of Fuller and Amukamara? They're off to a strong start, having given up only two touchdowns combined. Fuller is on pace for another good season statistically with two interceptions, which puts him on pace for six this year; he had seven in 2018. 

The bye week came at a good time for Fuller, who's fallen into a bit of a slump in the last two games. He's been targeted 13 times and has allowed 10 completions for 131 yards. 

Skrine, who was signed by Ryan Pace to replace fan-favorite Bryce Callahan in the nickel role, has fared well so far under Chuck Pagano. He's played 241 snaps and has a better coverage grade from Pro Football Focus than Fuller. He also leads the defense with the lowest percentage of targets caught by his receiver (63%). The Bears could do a lot worse than Skrine at this point in the season.

Overall, the primary five secondary players for the Bears have been above average. They have the potential to become an elite group down the stretch, but in order to make that shift, they'll have to take advantage of turnover opportunities and put the struggling offense in favorable field position situations.

Bears secondary grade at the bye: B

 

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Bears at the Bye: Secondary doing its part through first five games originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago