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State of Bears Nation – 10 Things to Watch in 2021

Part One

Eddie Jackson picks off a pass

10 Things to watch this season

In this two-part series, I will share 10 things I am watching for in this upcoming Chicago Bears season. This article will detail 10 through 6, and the second article will finish with five through one.

What’s happening good people? We made it! The NFL season is here. Our beloved Bears will take on the LA Rams this Sunday Night on NBC. This is a tough draw for them. I’ll have a game preview coming out this week but before that, every season has interesting storylines and this year is no different. With so many moving pieces, they seem like a team in transition. Here are 10 things to watch this season as the Bears look to make another playoff run.

10. Sean Desai

They call him the professor. Sean Desai has broken barriers and is now the first Indian-American to be a defensive coordinator in the national football league. I loved this move and I am fascinated to see how Desai brings back Vic Fangio principles and maximizes the talent on this Bears roster. Desai is a smart dude, he has a doctorate degree and the players love his creativity. Being smart is one thing, communicating and coordinating a defense is another.

The best Defensive Coordinators use creative looks in the secondary these days to set themselves apart from the rest of the field. We will soon see how good the pass rush and run defense actually are, but this secondary can give QB’s fits if executed correctly.

9. Pass Rush

The Bears pass rushers simply did not get their hands on opposing QB’s in 2020. We all know about Robert Quinn’s disastrous 2020 season… He was paid to be dominant, he wasn’t, he was bad. Quinn battled an ankle injury early in camp and never recovered. this season I’m looking for him to harass the opposing QB.

Khalil Mack deserves some heat too. Mack again was not dominant. He was okay but is paid to be a game-changer. It’s not just sacks (Mack had 9 sacks), he isn’t getting to the QB. Pressure rate is as important as getting home and Mack’s pressure rate dropped last year. There were reports he had a bad back, but these are lame excuses. Khalil just needs to produce.

The interior of the D-Line needs to create pressure as well. Bilal Nichols had a solid 2020 campaign. He will need to continue to ascend and take pressure off of an aging Akiem Hicks. The Bear’s pass rush wasn’t good enough last year. It will need to improve in order for them to have a successful campaign.

8. Thin Secondary

A solid pass rush will help out the Bears’ thin secondary. They also have a secondary problem… Kyle Fuller has taken his talents to Denver after the baffling decision to keep Jimmy Graham and drop him. I know many decisions go into cuts. With the salary cap dropping for the first time since its inception, the Bears had limited choices, but cutting Fuller and keeping Graham is a head-scratcher.

Jaylon Johnson will now take over CB1 duties, meaning he will face the top-level receivers in the NFL. Johnson had a strong 2020 year but it was up and down. Rookies often face the trials and tribulations of an up and down season. He showed flashes of greatness but was also burned a few times. He has the skills to be elite, but the question with Johnson will be if he can stay healthy. Given the lack of depth in the secondary, If he does stay healthy, he should become one of the top-five most valuable players on the Bears’ defense.

Kindle Vildor will be the CB2 for the Bears and he has shown flashes, but he’s raw. I’m worried about the Bears’ secondary with Kindle. If the pass rush doesn’t improve Vildors’ inexperience will get exposed when playing the likes of Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson twice per year. Vildor will have his hands full.

Duke Shelley will be the slot corner and he is another concerting player for the Bears. My eyes are drawn to this lacking secondary. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel this is the reason the Bears’ defense slides to the bottom third in the league.

7. Eddie Jackson

EJax needs to be an all-pro again. The play of the Bears starting safeties in Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson will greatly help the inexperienced corners on the outside. If Bears’ DC Sean Desai is able to maximize Eddie’s talents, the secondary can remain stable. However, if Eddie continues to get exposed for taking bad angles toward the ball carrier, his poor tackling, or his lack of picks or pass breakups, it will be a long year for him.

I love Eddie, I think he is a true wildcard, with great playmaking ability. His aforementioned weaknesses however have been exposed the last few years. Coming off of an extremely impressive rookie year in 2017 and a more impressive 2018, Eddie’s weaknesses have shown up more than his strengths over the past two seasons. This needs to change if the Bears are going to make noise in NFC North.

6. The Bears offensive line

If the secondary is the main concern on this Bears team, then the offensive line is the second most area of concern. The stakes are so much higher now that the Bears have a franchise quarterback in Justin Fields. It feels to me like every year the Bears offensive line is an area of concern though. I am not as worried as the Bears fanbase is about the O-Line but I do believe they are a weakness… Especially on the outside.

I don’t mind letting Charles Leno and Bobbie Massie walk; I really don’t as they weren’t that good. Massie was a big-money contract and he was just okay; not horrible, but not good either. Charles Leno, on the other hand, was actually a great story. A 7th round draft pick in 2014, he was the starting Left Tackle for five years and played on a team-friendly contract. Good job becoming the starter but he was not a very good Tackle. Leno and Massie were both very average replacement-level players. I don’t mind that they are gone. I do worry about the plan to replace them, however.

Tevin Jenkins had a bad back and many NFL teams knew it. That is why he slid in the draft. I loved the pick at the time but as fans, we are not privy to inside information. Either the Bear’s health team was wrong about his back or they didn’t know how bad his back was but either way, Ryan Pace once again traded up to get his guy. This is why GMs should trade back if they trade and only trade up for quarterbacks. Trading up leads to disaster. Giving away assets only to see the player you love get hurt and more than likely be out the entire year is never a good strategy.

This is the end…Come back tomorrow

Well, folks, those are the first five things to watch this year. Check back tomorrow for part two where I will count down the top five things to watch for this season.

Only four days until game 1. Let’s go! (Consider putting this at the end of the second/final article instead of this one.)

You can check out of my work on SportsObsessive.com

Written by Keith James

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