The Chicago Bears invented the inside linebacker position in 1954, when Hall of Famer Bill George began dropping back from his nose guard position, thus inadvertently creating the first 4-3 defense.
Since then, the Monsters of the Midway have been historically linked to some of the greatest linebackers in the game. Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher and George have set the bar high in Chicago.
With the addition of Jerrell Freeman this year, the Bears ILB torch has been passed to a veteran worthy of wearing jersey No. 50.
Coming off the team's Week 9 bye, Freeman is now ranked 10th in the NFL in total tackles and is on pace for 144 tackles this season. He's been a solid downhill run defender, demonstrating a consistent high level of awareness, toughness and field vision.
Freeman is one of the main reasons the Bears, whose front seven has been dealt numerous injuries this season, is now ranked 14th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (100.8) and 10th in yards allowed per rush (3.9).
Yet Freeman has been just in good in coverage, an area in which he doesn't get enough credit. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeman is the top rated coverage linebacker in the entire league. Here's why:
On our first snap, Freeman (blue) is showing blitz off the left side of the Vikings offense. TE Zach Rudolph (yellow) is lined up in the left slot.
Freeman does not blitz and drops into the left flat at the snap. Rudolph takes an angle route toward the sideline.
At this frame, QB Sam Bradford is releasing the pass. Rudolph is coming out of his break toward the sideline. Notice that Freeman is right in his back hip.
Rudolph catches the pass at the 44-yard line but Freeman is on him immediately.
Freeman takes Rudolph down at the 44, which is 3 yards short of the 1st down. This was a 3rd-down snap, so the Vikings are forced to punt. The lack of Yards After Contact (YAC) on this play will be a common theme throughout this All-22 study.
This is a 3rd-down bubble screen to WR Cardarrelle Patterson (yellow). The Vikings sprint two offensive linemen in front of the play. Freeman (blue) will be manned up against OL Jake Long (white).
At the point of contact, Freeman drives his inside shoulder into Long and gains immediate leverage, while anchoring his body with his back foot.
Freeman plants his outside foot and extends his inside arm to create separation from Long. He then dives underneath the block and makes the tackle, once again short of the first down. Vikings punt.
This is another 3rd-down play. Freeman drops into zone coverage just outside the right seam. Vikings WR Stefon Diggs run a shallow cross. Notice the open space down the middle of the field. If Diggs can break a tackle, this play will go for a 1st down and more.
Freeman reads the crossing route, breaks hard on the throw and hits Diggs immediately after the catch. There is no YAC on the play, which forces the Vikings to kick a field goal.
At the snap, Jaguars RB Chris Ivory (yellow) begins his route through the left B gap. He'll break across the field, toward the right hash. Freeman (blue), is looking toward the left hash, where a slant is being run by the slot receiver. If QB Blake Bortles throws to the quick slant, Freeman will be able to make a play on the ball.
Bortles doesn't throw to the quick slant, so Freeman shifts his attention to Ivory, shadowing him behind the crossing route.
Ivory stops his route and Bortles hits him underneath. Again, notice the open space available to Ivory if he can just break a tackle. Freeman breaks hard on the pass in front of him and spreads his legs, putting him in the perfect position to attack the runner in either direction.
Ivory cuts toward the sideline but Freeman wraps up his legs and takes him down well short of the 1st down. Again, no YAC.