Big plays by Bears S Eddie Jackson have become so commonplace in his two seasons that they’re almost expected.
Before missing the final two regular-season games and the playoff loss to the Eagles with an ankle injury, Jackson had an interception in four of the last five games he played in 2018, including a pick-six in back-to-back weeks. He also brought back a fumble 65 yards for another touchdown.
Jackson finished third in the NFL with six interceptions, and his five defensive touchdowns (three on interceptions and two on fumbles) are tied for the most in NFL history in a player’s first two seasons. Former Jets S Erik McMillan also scored five defensive touchdowns in his first two seasons (1988-89).
Jackson’s development will have to continue under new DB coach Deshea Townsend, who had a 13-year NFL career as a cornerback. Townsend succeeds Ed Donatell, who left the Bears to join Vic Fangio’s staff as defensive coordinator in Denver, but he was impressed by the progress Jackson made in 2018.
“He’s growing as a pro and his preparation is improving,” Donatell said of Jackson late in the season. “He has an ability where in rapid cognition, which means when everything’s going on, (to know) where the quarterback’s looking, the receivers are running their routes, he can see everything. That’s what gets him close to the ball. He can process it all. He’s an unusual processor, and that’s what makes him have that production.”
While Jackson made his first All-Pro team and first Pro Bowl in 2018, the Bears’ other safety, Adrian Amos, didn’t produce nearly the fanfare that Jackson did. But he has been a consistent performer since starting all 16 games as a rookie in 2015, and he produced two of his three career interceptions last year.
Amos, who has started 56 games in his four seasons, is a willing tackler and better equipped to play near the line of scrimmage. That makes him a perfect complement to Jackson, whose nose for the ball makes him the perfect center fielder.
When it comes to value, there is no S tandem in the NFL that can match the Bears. Amos was a fifth-round pick out of Penn State, and Jackson fell to the fourth round after he suffered a fractured leg in his final season at Alabama. So both players had cap hits well under $1 million last year. But Amos is eligible for free agency in March and, if he leaves, he might be one of those underrated players whose contributions aren’t fully appreciated until he’s gone.
Deon Bush, a fourth-round pick out of Miami in 2016, came to the Bears with a reputation as a big hitter with a physical nature. He got six starts as a rookie and showed some promise, but his playing time has been limited since Jackson came aboard.
DeAndre Houston-Carson was drafted two rounds after Bush the same year, and he has rarely played on defense, although he did see some limited action in the final two games when Jackson was sidelined. Houston-Carson is a restricted free agent who’s unlikely to be tendered, although he has carved out a niche on special teams, where he tied for the team lead with six tackles in 2018 and was third in 2017 with 10.
Most improved: Jackson.
Best play: The logical choice would be one of Jackson’s three defensive touchdowns, but that’s not it. The most significant play came in Week 15, even though it resulted in Jackson’s sprained ankle. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had thrown 402 passes without an interception, the longest stretch in NFL history, and the Bears hadn’t picked him off in more than three years. But Jackson put an end to both those streaks, when he pilfered a Rodgers pass in the end zone that preserved a 14-14 tie and led to the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown.
Key stat: Jackson has scored more defensive touchdowns (five) than anyone in the NFL since 2015, even though he’s only been in the league since 2017.
Room for improvement: If Amos isn’t re-signed, Bush will have to step up after two years of virtual inactivity that followed an impressive rookie season in 2016.