The 2009 Chicago Bears were a team full of should haves, would haves and could haves. Fans and blowhards alike instantly labeled them Super Bowl contenders based on the acquisition of Jay Cutler alone. But any logical football mind knows that even in a quarterback-driven league, one player cannot take you to the promise land.
Enter 2010, a season that involved much greater fortune for a much improved football team. By opening his pocketbook in the off-season Jerry Angelo (General Manager) proved that he was willing to spend big in hopes of achieving playoff glory. The high-risk hire of Mike Martz coupled with the high-dollar signing of Julius Peppers seemed to be steps in the right direction.
When you think of a Martz offense, you envision a relentless vertical passing game that has no desire to run the football. Well, Martz’s stubbornness must be wearing thin because the Bears deployed a much more balanced attack and finished in the bottom half of the league in terms of pass attempts. That being said, the offense finished with a bottom-of-the-barrel -135.5 cumulative PFF grade, making it clear that a majority of the praise should go to Lovie Smith’s defense that finished with a +93.5 mark and 9th in total yardage allowed.
Many thanks for the improvement will deservedly go to Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, but Secret Superstar Danieal Manning must be added to the mix as the player that shored up the back-end of a leaky secondary.
Stats Don’t Lie
Make no mistake about it, the Bears statistically were better against the pass in 2009 in terms of total yardage. However, that can be misleading: the Bears’ 2010 coverage grades were better and teams ran the ball 81 times fewer than in 2009. Opponents abandoned the run much earlier in hopes of picking up yards through the air.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Manning didn’t hold anything back. He finished the season as our No. 5 rated safety with a grade of +9.5. There was never really a drop-off in his play at any point of the season with some of his most impressive plays coming in pass coverage.
Manning’s gaudy pass defense numbers earned him Lovie Smith’s continuous praise throughout the season. Opposing QB’s success didn’t come easy; they saw a QB rating of 59.7 when throwing into Manning’s coverage, with only 55% of their passes being completed for an average of 9.7 yards – a Top 10 number for safeties.
Not necessarily a tackling machine, but Manning compiled a solid total of 64 tackles in 2010 and rarely faltered. He only had three missed tackles all the season, which tied him for the second lowest rate among all NFL safeties.
But, of course, I left the most impressive number for last. At no point last season did he surrender a touchdown. There were four other safeties that didn’t the same, but none of them were targeted more than Manning.
Did I forget to mention amidst all the defense talk that he is also a pretty good kick returner? Midway through the 2008 season, he took over full time kick return duties from one of the all-time great returners, Devon Hester. That year, he led the NFL in returns of 30 yards or more, return average, return touchdowns and was named to his first NFL All-Pro selection.
While playing a larger role in the defensive game plan in 2009, increased snaps at safety resulted in decreased special teams opportunities. The Bears deployed a two-man Abilene Christian return game that split up duties. Both players did well; Johnny Knox and Manning combined for 1,596 yards, placing them second overall in total kick return yards. A 27.4 average between the two placed them in the top 10.
2010 proved to be another productive season for the Bears returners, doing it this time with a different combination as Hester was instered back into action in Knox’s place. Hester and Manning averaged 30 yards per kickoff return together.
It’s fair to assume he gets overlooked at safety because of his sucess as a returner. Most special team standouts are automatically categorized as one-trick ponies, but if Manning can continue to build upon his productive 2010 campaign, there is no reason more people won’t take notice.
At 28 years young and coming into his prime as a defender, it’s hopeful at this time next year we can remove the “Secret” part of this label for Danieal Manning.