Since the Chicago Bears acquired Montez Sweat in a trade with the Washington Commanders, he has been the story. And rightfully so given the draft capital that they surrendered to get him and the hefty contract extension they signed him to. But, lost in the shuffle a bit has been DeMarcus Walker whom the team signed in free agency this offseason.
Walker has gone from starter to rotation end. He even saw his snap counts dip before seeing more time at defensive tackle in Week 11.
In the Bears’ 31-26 loss to the Detroit Lions, however, Walker shined in his budding role.
DeMarcus Walker Earns Highest Grade of Bears’ Defenders vs Lions
Bears Pass Rush Takes Step Forward
The Bears pass rush earned its second-highest grade of the season, notching a 64.7 from Pro Football Focus. That is behind only their 69.4 mark set in Week 6 versus the Minnesota Vikings whom they will face on Monday Night Football in Week 12.
Walker led the EDGE rushers in pass-rush grade with a 74.6. Only defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. checked in higher, earning a 79.3 in his 19 snaps on passing plays.
Walker – who also led all Bears defenders with an 83.4 grade in this game – did not record a sack. But he did record a team-high four hurries, had two tackles. He also had one of the Bears’ six hits on Lions quarterback Jared Goff. It was a strong showing under difficult circumstances for one of the team’s leaders.
Walker has kept a positive outlook through it all.
The Bears like to rotate their defensive lineman. So there should be plenty of reps left for the versatile Walker.
Montez Sweat Falls Short in Surprising Area
There was plenty to celebrate in the moment after Sweat recorded his first sack in a Bears uniform this week. The fifth-year EDGE defender posted a higher pass-rushing grade than the previous game for the second consecutive week.
His run defense lagged, though. The Bears let the Lions rack up 72 of their 115 rushing yards in the second half of a game in which they trailed by two scores.
Sweat earned a 39.6 run defense grade, ahead of only Dexter and linebacker Jack Sanborn.
.@_sweat9 gets to Goff 👊
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 19, 2023
The mark was the worst of the season so far for Sweat. It was also the second-worst run grade he has received since entering the league with the Commanders in 2019. That could be an ominous sign as the Lions are one of the better teams in the NFL this season.
It could also suggest that it was an aberration as much as anything and the Bears’ $98 million man gets back to his two-phase ways in the weeks to come. He still posted a respectable 69.6 tackling grade.
Aggressive QBs Attacking Eddie Jackson
Veteran safety Eddie Jackson posted his lowest grade of the season on Sunday. Perhaps even more disturbing is what it might suggest about a vulnerability in the Bears’ defense.
Jackson’s three lowest grades this season have come against quarterbacks all in the top 16 of air yards per attempt, per Pro Football Reference. That is Goff, Baker Mayfield of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – who is arguably the most aggressive of the group but has the lowest AY/A among them – and Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, though Jackson played just 14 snaps that game.
An All-Pro in 2018, Jackson has not graded out as high as he did last season so far.
He is, however, grading out stronger than he did in either of the two seasons before last year which was cut short due to injury. Injuries also interrupted this season, forcing Jackson to miss five games in six weeks.
How well he bounces back from what were his worst marks of the season outside of run defense is key.
Jackson is heading into the final year of a four-year, $58.4 million contract. The Bears are hardly hurting for cap space, projecting to be one of if not the top team in the category for the second year in a row. But they can save up to $14.1 million by cutting Jackson after this season, assuming they feel they can adequately replace him.
Cornering the Market
Speaking of contracts, Jaylon Johnson is playing out the final year of his rookie deal. It had gotten to be a very public situation, similar to that of former teammate and now Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith minus the outside interference.
But, on Sunday Johnson had several chances to cement himself as part of the Bears’ future if he has not already done so in their eyes.
Johnson had a pair of interception opportunities fall right out of his hands.
To make matters worse, one looked as though he could have taken it quite some way if not the distance for a score. And, on the very next play, the Lions crossed the goal line. Wide receiver Jameson Williamson also beat Johnson on what appeared to be a miscommunication with Jackson and committed a 34-yard pass interference penalty. T.J. Edwards intercepted Goff two plays later, negating the damage done on the field.
Do you think this TD on Jaylon Johnson or Eddie Jackson?
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) November 21, 2023
Whether or not the overall performance had any impact on Johnson’s standing with the Bears is unknown. His future in Chicago remains uncertain. Johnson still finished fourth on the team in overall grade and had the second-highest coverage grade behind only rookie Tyrique Stevenson who had a standout performance.