Bears Takeaways – Week 14

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /
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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

3.) The Bears corners may be small, but played big Sunday

Once starting corner Tracy Porter left the game due to illness, the Bears had Bryce Callahan (5’10) and Cra’von LeBlanc (5’9) playing corner on the outside. I’m pretty sure that is the shortest first string corner combo in the league.

Despite both player’s lack of height, they played pretty well verse the Lions on Sunday. They were far from perfect with a couple crucial pass interferences calls on the Lions last drive, but overall played better than expected for undersized, undrafted free agents from the last two drafts.

Callahan had two key pass break ups, one on third and short and the other in the end zone which knocked the ball up in the air for Demontre Hurst to intercept. When on the field, Callahan has arguably been the Bears best corner this year. The problem is that his combination of aggressive playing style and small stature has put him on the sidelines with an injury almost as often as he’s available to play.

LeBlanc, signed off the Patriots after final cuts, led the team with four pass breakups despite spending most of the game matched up against Anquan Boldin, one of the strongest wide receivers in the league who had a three-inch, 40-pound size advantage. LeBlanc made one of the most important plays in the game, reading an out route by Boldin and taking an interception back for a touchdown, giving the Bears a 17-13 lead late in the fourth quarter.

Over the last two seasons, Callahan has proven that he can play in the league and has the potential to be an above-average slot corner if he can stay healthy. LeBlanc has been making plays in practice since the day the Bears signed him off the Patriots scrap heap. He’s reportedly the practice leader in interceptions by a wide margin and is starting to look more comfortable in actual games as well.

Next year the Bears will be looking for both an established corner and possibly a high draft pick at the position as well. It would be a huge risk going into the season with two sub-six-foot, injury-prone corners as starters outside, but Callahan and LeBlanc could still be important contributors next season.

The Bears still have former first-round pick Kyle Fuller and a couple of tall young corners in Deiondre Hall and Jonathan Banks, any of which would give the Bears a corner with prototype size, but Callahan and LeBlanc were the best two corners on the field for the Bears Sunday and both should be key parts of the secondary in 2017.

4.) Leonard Floyd is a force to be reckoned with

Floyd was good last week in his first game back from a concussion, but he was a beast this week against the Lions. He led the team with a season-high nine QB pressures. Floyd wasn’t able to convert any of those pressure into sacks, but came close so many times on Sunday. Once Floyd gets a little stronger, some of those pressures will turn into sacks. He could have easily had three or four against the Lions and has gotten better at getting to the QB every week.

Floyd already has seven sacks, despite missing three full games and being a part-time player early in the season. He could finish his rookie season with double-digit sacks if his strong play continues.

Imagining a stronger, healthier, more polished Floyd in 2017 is exciting. The sky is the limit for Floyd and with a potentially strong defense around him, he could end up with a sack per game type season as soon as next year.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

5.) Bears offensive line is making significant strides

One of the main bright spots in an awful Bears season is the play of the offensive line.

The addition of Josh Sitton, the continued improvement of Charles Leno Jr, the Pro Bowl caliber play of Kyle Long (when healthy), and the emergence of rookie Cody Whitehair, gives the Bears four above-average offensive lineman next year.

After a year of playing together, the o-line should be even stronger next season, especially if Leno Jr and Whitehair continue to improve.

Whitehair was named one the NFL’s top-ten players in week 14 by ProFootball Focus with an impressive 87.4 grade, the highest on offense for the Bears. Both Sitton (80.1) and Leno Jr (77.8) were among the Bear’s top five offensive grades as well.

The o-line could use an upgrade for Bobby Massie at right tackle, but they have four solid pieces in place for the future and could become one of the better units in the league next year (if they can stay healthy).

6.) Nick Kwiatkoski is earning snaps next season

The injury to ILB Danny Trevathan and suspension of ILB Jerrell Freeman has opened up playing time for rookie Nick Kwiatkoski. The former 4th round pick has started the last two weeks and looked like a future impact player at ILB verse the Lions.

I was a big fan of the Kwiatkoski pick and think his physical playing style is exactly what the Bears need inside. He made his share of mistakes on Sunday, but also flashed plenty of potential to be a force against the run.

Kwiatkoski led the team with eight total tackles and also added a sack. He was the Bears highest graded player overall (88.6) according to Pro Football Focus. Kwiatkoski has the speed to make big plays sideline-to-sideline, the strength to be an impact hitter inside, and the instincts to be in the right place consistently. There were multiple plays where

There were multiple plays where Kwiatkoski and Floyd converged on the ball carrier to make a stop near the line of scrimmage. Those plays were a glimpse of the Bears potential future.