Dismantling of Bears Secondary Threatens Defensive Stability
One of the great accomplishments of the Ryan Pace era will go unacknowledged, partly due to his own salary cap cuts in 2020 free agency.
What Pace and the Bears did in free agency in 2019 will never be fully appreciated because the Bears went 8-8.
They replaced two starters in the secondary of the five positions without a real disaster, and they did it without much help from the pass rush while under the direction of a new coordinator.
It's easy to look at the decline in interceptions from 27 to 10 and say the secondary failed, but so much of pass coverage depends on whether they can also accomplish some sort of a pass rush.
The Bears had very little of this going for them, with 32 sacks. Yet the defense's passer rating against was 85.2, good for eighth in the league. The year before they led the league at a phenomenal 72.9 passer rating against and had 50 sacks, the third most.
Pace brought in Buster Skrine as Bryce Callahan's replacement and took the most heat for this because of Skrine's 78 career penalties. One penalty was walked off against Skrine last year, a 5-yard illegal use of hands. He also had a holding penalty when the Bears were making a return and it was declined.
Skrine didn't have the year Bryce Callahan had in 2018, but then again Callahan's health always made it difficult to count on his abilities to be available. And last year that came back to burn the Broncos when they signed him in free agency. Callahan had a 79.9 passer rating against with two interceptions. Skrine's 91.8 passer rating against was not poor compared to most slot corners in the league, and he missed fewer tackles than Callahan did.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix came in for Adrian Amos and his play will go largely unnoticed because he's left now for Dallas. Clinton-Dix had a better passer rating against than Adrian Amos had the previous season (67.0 to 73.0), the same number of interceptions (2). Amos allowed on 61.1% completions when targeted, an outstanding total. Yet Clinton-Dix allowed only 59.1% completions.
Eddie Jackson's interception total went down this past season from six to two, while his passer rating against climbed but was still an outstanding 57.0. In 2018 it was a ridiculous 40.5.
The only real change was at the outside cornerback spots, where Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller had their passer rating when targeted climb drastically. Amukamara went from 75.3 to 105.2 and Fuller from 63.7 to 102. Outside cornerback is tied even more to pass rush and without the pressure the corners were exposed more often.
The problem with all of this in relation to the 2020 Bears is another 40% turnover in the secondary. Except this time the Bears are not replacing Amos with Clinton-Dix, a former Pro Bowl player. They're not counting on another fundamentally sound, proven right cornerback because Amukamara was cut.
Instead, it's looking like the best option at both positions is going to be a rookie.
Even Pro Football Focus noticed the danger the Bears were leaving themselves open to with these salary cap moves to trim Amukamara and let Clinton-Dix leave. They labeled it the Bears' "Worst move: Letting the secondary go from one of the team’s strengths to a glaring weakness"
It's been argued they let Clinton-Dix leave because he was basically the same player as Eddie Jackson but not as good. Still, the Dallas Cowboys paid only about $1 million more for Clinton-Dix this season than the Bears paid him last year and they could have made it easier on themselves by retaining a proven, experienced player.
Now they have to come up with a gem in the draft or turn it over to unproven Deon Bush.
The defensive secondary turnover threatens to totally disrupt the defense if the pass rush doesn't rise from 32 sacks to a total similar to what the Bears had in 2018. With Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack all back, they could get this accomplished. Then again, injuries always occur and last year they decimated the pass rush.
They'll need the rush because if the rookies fail in coverage, then the Bears are putting Deon Bush or Artie Burns on the field to defend receivers like Davante Adams and Kenny Golladay.
Good luck with that.