January 20, 2022

Bears News

Bear Down, Nerd Up: Roquan Smith is a tackling machine, Jakeem Grant creates space

Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith (58) defends against Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray during the first half Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Chicago

Andy Dalton became the first Bears quarterback to throw four interceptions since Matt Barkley threw five in a December 2016 loss to Washington at Soldier Field.

It was the fifth four-interception game of Dalton’s career, and his first since 2019. Four of Dalton’s five four-interception games have come since 2017. In addition to those five games, he has seven games where he threw three interceptions. All came with Cincinnati.

As Dalton pointed out after the game, he had two tackles. That’s never a good thing for a quarterback.

Dalton’s four interceptions marked the big stat of the day, but there was plenty more worth noting this week.

Roquan’s on a roll: Roquan Smith led the Bears with eight combined tackles Sunday, and that was a ho-hum performance by the inside linebacker. The 24-year-old former first-round draft pick has reached double digit tackles in eight games this season. He posted a career high with 17 a few weeks ago against Baltimore.

With five games remaining, he will most likely blow past his career-high 139-tackle mark set last season. He currently sits at 121. He could realistically pass 139 with two more good games.

Smith is once again making a strong case for himself as a Pro Bowl inside linebacker, and potentially even All-Pro. His numbers are among the best in football at his position.

Smith’s 121 tackles ranks fifth in the NFL. Seattle’s Bobby Wagner tops the list with 137. Nobody else in the top five can match Smith’s three sacks. He has one interception and three passes defended. As far as solo tackles, he ranks third in the NFL with 74, behind only Las Vegas’ Denzel Perryman (85) and Wagner (77).

For comparison, Brian Urlacher recorded a career-high 153 combined tackles in 2002. Tackle statistics were not consistently kept across the NFL until 1994. They did not become an official stat until 2001.

Top speed: After snagging an interception that left the hands of Bears tight end Cole Kmet, Cardinals safety Budda Baker had one of the fastest runs of the week in the NFL. He reaching 20.97 miles per hour on his 77-yard interception return, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, before he was slowed by Dalton and tackled by David Montgomery.

The play completely flipped the field position and set up the Cardinals to go up by two scores, which they did shortly after.

Grant’s separation: Jakeem Grant had his best game as a Bear, catching five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. He benefitted from the absence of receivers Allen Robinson and Marquise Goodwin, who are both nursing injuries.

Per Next Gen Stats, Grant had the best average separation of any Bears receiver on Sunday. He averaged four yards of separation in the game. The league average is at 2.9 yards. Bears receiver Damiere Byrd (3.06 yards) and Darnell Mooney (3.03) yards were about even, but nearly a full yard shy of Grant’s mark.

The Bears traded a 2023 sixth-round draft pick to Miami in exchange for Grant back in October. At the time, they needed a return specialist, and Grant has served in that role most of the season since his arrival. But shortly after joining the Bears, Grant spoke confidently about his desire to be a part of the offense.

He finally had an opportunity to show what he can do. He was easily the top pass-catching threat on the Bears’ offense on a day when Mooney went quiet.

“The biggest thing is his attitude,” Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “He feels that he’s quicker than everybody on that field, which he is. He’s pretty electric, but he also knows that he’s got a great feel, when he gets that ball in his hands, to allow his ability and his speed and his quickness, with the vision that he has with the ball in his hands.”

Grant also surpassed 100 career receptions in the game.

Hopkins’ return: Speaking of separation, Cardinals star receiver DeAndre Hopkins averaged 4.39 yards of separation on Sunday, per Next Gen Stats. There was very little separation on his touchdown grab, during which he beat Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson by a step.

But Hopkins’ ability to create space Sunday on his 39 snaps of action might say more about the Bears secondary than it does about Hopkins – who obviously is one of the most talented receivers in the game.

For the season, Hopkins is averaging three yards of separation. The Bears allowed him to add nearly two full yards to that Sunday. He caught only two passes for 32 yards, but Hopkins showed why he’s elite.

The Cardinals passing attack didn’t have to do a whole lot. Nobody caught more than two passes. Running back James Conner led the way with two catches for 36 yards.

Snap observations: Bears defensive tackle Eddie Goldman played only 14 snaps for the defense. That marked his season low since he returned to the field in Week 4. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Khyiris Tonga (17 snaps) and veteran backup Margus Hunt (18 snaps) both out-snapped Goldman.

Defensive line coach Chris Rumph said that was more a reflection on what the Cardinals were doing than anything.

“It’s back to a situation where they were throwing the ball,” Rumph said. “You want the guys out there that can rush it. If the guys broke the pocket, you want some guys out there that will have a shot to chase them down.”

Elsewhere, recent free agent signing Bruce Irvin played 17 snaps in his Bears debut. The Bears signed the veteran outside linebacker the same week the team announced that Khalil Mack was going on injured reserve.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.