Secret Superstars: Chicago Bears
It’s no secret that the Chicago Bears’ biggest weakness last season was their secondary. A unit that that could be summed up in what was one of the worst six quarter stretch by any secondary in recent memory when they allowed Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to throw for 669 yards, 11 touchdowns and only 11 incompletions. To combat that, the Bears went out and signed safety Antrel Rolle and corner Alan Ball, with the hopes that they could bring not only some skill but some veteran leadership to a relatively young Bears secondary.
While Rolle struggled at times last season for the New York Giants, he’ll almost certainly be an opening day starter, barring an injury. But it’s his safety counterpart that we’re looking at to make an impact next season. Thanks to a strong finish to a season in which he started all 16 games for the Bears, six-year veteran Ryan Mundy is our Secret Superstar.
Mundy, a 2008 sixth-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has stayed patient in his journey to becoming a full-time starter in the NFL. In four seasons with the Steelers he started a mere six games, used mostly as a backup to both Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. After the 2012 season, the Steelers elected to not bring Mundy back and he began looking for a new team.
The New York Giants were looking for safety depth in the event that they lost starter Kenny Phillips to free agency. The Giants signed Mundy and a few days later Phillips left for the Philadelphia Eagles. In camp, Mundy showed enough that he earned the starting strong safety position for the Giants.
He started the first seven games of the season, allowing only three passing touchdowns and earning a coverage grade of 0.1. He was better against the run (+3.2 run defense grade) but his +3.2 overall grade over that span was 19th–best among safeties in that same span. Injuries derailed the rest of his season and he only managed to start two more games late in the year. However, he showed enough promise that the Bears signed him to a two-year, $3 million contract in the offseason.
First Half Struggles
Mundy once again earned a starting job for the opening game. In the third game of the season, against the Jets on Monday Night Football, he made his most memorable play of the year. Mundy jumped in front of Geno Smith’s first pass of the game and took it 45 yards to the house. After that, Mundy wasn’t argeted again and suffered an injury early in the third quarter.
Through the first eight games of the season Mundy was not playing nearly as well as the Bears had hoped. He had been targeted 23 times and allowed 17 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Despite making 33 solo tackles in that span (10 for defensive stops), he added three missed tackles, including a passive attempt on Rob Gronkowski that saw him stiff armed out of the way almost effortlessly, and the Bears had to be wondering if they made the right choice with Mundy.
It seemed that the bye week sparked something in Mundy. In the Packers debacle, he was the only member of the secondary to post a positive grade, both overall and in coverage. He also made eight tackles and five stops, both team highs. He followed that up with his highest-graded game of the year. Against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11, Mundy picked off Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone with under a minute left to seal a win for the Bears. It was the only target Mundy saw all game, and he finished with a +2.1 overall grade.
Aside from a poor game against the Detroit Lions in Week 13 that saw Mundy allow six receptions on seven throws and also miss two tackles, leading to a season-low -3.4 overall grade, Mundy finished the year strong. Over the final eight games, he posted a positive grade both overall and in pass coverage in six of them. That included a revenge game against the Lions in Week 16 in which he was targeted five times, but only allowed one reception. He also made a great break on a Matt Stafford throw to intercept it on the goal line, preventing a touchdown and 14-point lead for the Lions.
The difference between Mundy through the first half and the second half of the season was huge. In those final eight games, he made 49 solo tackles, 22 of them considered stops. Those marks are far more beyond totals he put up in the first half of the season. Despite being targeted more times (27), he allowed the same amount of receptions (17) and for only 166 yards. He also collected three interceptions, compared to one touchdown allowed.
Mundy’s second half overall grade of +5.4 showed his quality as a safety in the NFL. While he has struggled in the past, his first full season as a starter proved ultimately successful. While there are still questions about the Bears’ secondary for next season, Mundy has done enough that those questions should not include him.