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Personnel Issues for Bears Defense

Analysis: Some blown assignments on defense were being blamed by the Bears for their troubles in a 34-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams but at the root of these problems are personnel issues, chiefly missing players.

The defense's plight in the Bears' season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams could best be summed up by five missing players.

They may or may not be able to address the issue this week against the Cincinnati Bengals, but it's certain they won't have all four back.

The Bears looked defensively like a team in disarray but they insist it had nothing to do with the game plan or coaching of defensive coordinator Sean Desai in his Chicago debut.

"There's not going to be a game where you call the perfect plays for every situation," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "But I think Sean put us in the best situations for consistently most of the game. A lot of the things that you'd seen were mental or technique errors, things that you could fix."

The defense insists it's a matter of going back to work to get the job done against Cincinnati.

"The guys we got on defense are prideful guys and they have, everybody has a sour taste in their mouth," defensive end Bilal Nichols said.

It could be more than this. It could simply be the manpower disadvantage and they might not have this solved.

Here are the four absent players who could have made a difference.

5. Danny Trevathan

Everyone loved Alec Ogletree in training camp and preseason, after he made interceptions in practice and had one solid preseason appearance against Miami. He'll be at inside linebacker until the Bears are convinced Trevathan's injured knee is healthy enough to all him to play. Trevathan is no longer the undisputed leader of the defense but he is one of the wise veterans who communicates well and knows the defensive scheme from playing in it in 2018 under Vic Fangio.

When the Bears had Ogletree trying to communicate in zone coverage with Marqui Christian, they had two players who really hadn't even figured into the mix before the season now playing with starters.

4. Desmond Trufant

He's no longer with the Bears. He signed with New Orleans after the Bears cut him at the end of camp when he had to be gone for personal reasons due to the death of his father. That's the point.

The Bears went with less experienced Kindle Vildor over a veteran like Trufant. When they cut Trufant, their option as a backup became either Duke Shelley, Artie Burns or Xavier Crawford. Shelley wasn't even active for the game.

They should have kept Trufant around as the backup and at least would have had an experienced player at the position when the players in the secondary seemed rattled and unable to cover. Trufant went to New Orleans, played a dozen snaps for the defense and made a tackle against Green Bay in the 38-3 win. The Bears made the wrong personnel call by cutting him with such inexperience on the field.

3. Duke Shelley

They can get Shelley back on the field this week at slot cornerback. Nagy remained mum about whether they're considering keeping Christian there again this week or starting Shelley.

"They're working through all that," Nagy said Thursday. "They're competing in practice and those guys for them, both those guys understand that. They know that. And now we'll just continue to work through that and see where it goes this week."

Last week, in a surprise move they made Shelley inactive after he had been with the starters through virtually all of training camp and preseason.

The Rams were very effective on third and fourth downs, which is when slot cornerbacks really make their money. L.A. went 7 of 12 getting first downs on those downs.

Christian had been a nickel cornerback with the Rams for a short time but really is better suited to safety. Shelley only played the spot for the Bears last year in the final three games and the playoffs due to an injury to former Bear Buster Skrine.

One of Shelley's strengths is his tackling ability in the open field. He might not be the best at coverage but gets players to the ground. Tackling in the secondary proved a major problem for the Bears in Sunday's loss.

The Bears simply are understaffed at this position and that goes back to the personnel department not supplying adequate backup help should Shelley not be able to handle it.

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2. Eddie Goldman

The return of the starting Bears nose tackle has been long-promised but has yet to happen. He hasn't played since 2019 and after his opt-out on 2020 an ankle injury kept him sidelined last week. Again, it kept him out of Thursday's practice.

"I say it time and time again: In my opinion, he's the best at his position in football," Bears defensive end Bilal Nichols said. "Just having a player like that, it's always gonna give you a boost."

Nichols worked in with rookie Khyiris Tonga at the nose. They weren't bad against the run until late in the game when the Rams started to eat clock.

However, they weren't Goldman. And Goldman is a strong combination player. He'll pass rush better than most nose tackles besides stuffing the run. The quick passing game doesn't work as easily if he's pushing back the pocket.

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1. Mario Edwards Jr.

The key to making the Bears secondary work this year with some experienced players gone from it was going to be pass rush pressure, especially early in the year. Besides not having Goldman on the field for early downs as a dual-threat to pass rush or stop the run, they were without possibly their best interior pass rusher.

Edwards is suspended for one more week due to a performance enhancing drug policy violation from last year. The Bears knew how effective a player he was when they paid him $11.5 million over three years to stick around after his one-year deal had expired.

Edwards plays a role no one else on the team can. Nichols can try to play it but is a bit bigger and not as quick. He's more of a traditional 5-technique end while Edwards is a 3-technique defensive tackle who is smaller and faster into gaps when he rushes. The Bears had insufficient pressure on Matthew Stafford all night, getting just four quarterback hits and one sack, half of it going to Akiem Hicks and half to Robert Quinn.

Last year Edwards made four sacks, six tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. He had a Pro Football Focus pass rush grade of 80.6 for 174 pass plays. He was on the field for only 80 rushing plays. He had an overall PFF grade of 88.6.

PFF graded Edwards as the third-best interior defensive lineman in the league last year, behind only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.

Week 2

Desai was not necessarily involved in a poor game plan or scheme but didn't have the right personnel available. 

Some was of his own doing, such as at slot cornerback and also at left cornerback, but the issues on the front seven were simply injury problems they can overcome with time.

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