Who would you point as the most valuable player to the Bears defense? Khalil Mack? Akiem Hicks? Roquan Smith? All of these answers could be correct, but it isn’t hart to mention one more name. A player so illustrious during this season, that his absence during Wild Card game might have directly lead to the Eagles upsetting Chicago. And you all know about who I am bringing up right now – Eddie Jackson.
I understand the point how important is Khalil Mack. How his presence changes the approach of the rival team. How his disruption is, possibly, second to none. And this is true, every single word. But he wasn’t in a place to do anything during his encounter with Philadelphia. He couldn’t do anything. He was taken out of game with astute playcalling and sole absence. The absence of Eddie Jackson.
Hardly ever is the free safety mentioned as a most important position, being overshadowed by quarterback, tackle, edge rusher, lockdown corner or inside linebacker. Yet, there are exceptions, and Jackson is one of them. To fully understand the extent to which Eddie is invaluable you have to delve in few Bears game tapes, as well as mentioned Wild Card showdown. This immense range he presents offers numerous opportunities to other players, especially the cornerbacks. Caveat is, that the two of Bears’ corners do play in a vastly different approach, despite having the same responsibilities fair amount of time. While Prince Amukamara plays aggressive press coverage, rerouting his receiver to the inside & protecting his outside shoulder, Kyle Fuller plays off the receiver, patiently waiting for the right moment to jump the route or make the quick tackle. The notion is that both play very aggressive, yet in opposite ways, thanks to Eddie Jackson. Amukamara reroutes his receivers to Jackson’s side, knowing, he has a trusted person behind his back, even if his technique fails. The same thing happens with Fuller, regardless whether Jackson is playing under/over Fuller’s zone. There’s no coincidence that his best season happened with Jackson behind his back.
Now, exclude Eddie. And watch what happens. Watch the Wild Card game. Eddie Jackson was active, but Vic Fangio didn’t force him to play. So he didn’t play, even a single snap. And the defense played good all in all. But not great and that’s why they have lost this game. One throw after another, Nick Foles torched Bears defense with quick passes to his first reads. When they where covered, Foles was very vulnerable. But for the most time, he picked up his reads. First he successfully attacked Kyle Fuller, who without Jackson had to play more conversative. His routes & passes were well-timed, playing with the mind of Fuller’s. How about Amukamara? After solid beginning, during the second half he was the biggest liability of this Bears team. He gave up few inside routes, but there was a shortage of Eddie Jackson’s influence, so you can well judge how it ended. Also, he gave up one release to the outside shoulder, resulting in costly DPI.
So overall, what was the result of Jackson’s absence? Enormous downfall of Bears’ cornerbacks confidence. They wanted to play the same game they did whole year, but when it mattered the most, this backfired. Even though Adrian Amos played very nice game, his presence was not as dominant as Eddie ever was. And that’s how the chain reaction began. What does this all mean to the Saints, though? Let me finally present you with the last of my few words – the key to stop the aerial attack of Nick Foles is Marcus Williams.
Of course, the Saints are not as dependent on Williams as the Bears are on Jackson. This does not mean he isn’t essential to the team. Is it really circumstantial that Saints’ defense clicked on from the same moment Marcus has regained his form. Granted, the whole Saints defense has played phenomenally, but they will be playing against the team that confined Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack. Nick Foles is immaculate when he throws under 2.5 seconds, being an extremely formidable QB to face. When this time expires? We live in a different world. But no pass rush on earth can generate consistent pressure in that short spell of time per play. Every second is of the essence, so coverage has to step up and force Foles to process the things that happened in front of his eyes, and this isn’t his best ability. You can trust your cornerbacks to stop Alshon Jeffery & co., but this does not ensure you that at least few bombs will not break your barriers. Bears tried that and failed. Barely, but failed.
Hence, once again, Marcus is the key. Saints’ defensive resurgence relied on the ability to limit and even, at times, eradicate opposing team’s big plays. But with the one asterisk. He has to be unpredictable. He has to be a stealth ball-hawk, feigning his intentions to Foles’ eyes. This requires thorough preparation from Marcus, Aaron Glenn & Dennis Allen, as well as ever-changing attitude in their coverages. Bears shot themselves in the foot with depending on the same scheme & good execution. The Saints need to be consistent, yet unpredictable, and they won’t do this without Williams. Doesn’t matter if Doug Pederson will scheme the first read down the seam or out-breaking to the sideline – Marcus Williams has to be adjacent to the ball. He has the range to roam around and double whatever is needed to be doubled. In other words, he just has to be himself.
Therefore, this game of chess will be one of the most essential factors to the result of the game. And if Williams wins it, he’ll be the Saints Most Valuable Player.