Hey Bears’ fans, welcome to part 2 of my breakdown of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Adrian Amos. In part one I analyzed each players’ play individually before concluding that Amos was the better player. That said, I also mentioned that I couldn’t evaluate which of them would play better without looking at how they fit into their new defenses.
So let’s do just that, starting off with...
Adrian Amos and the Packers
Here are a few stills of the defense Green Bay employed against Seattle (after Clinton-Dix was traded). Take a look at how they line up.
As you can see, Green Bay employed a lot of single-high concepts while occasionally using two deep safeties. I would’ve thought they’d switch to more two-deep concepts once Clinton-Dix left, but Pettine kept his defense relatively consistent. I think this means that we can expect the Packers’ defense to continue using plenty of single-high looks going forward.
This actually makes me worry a bit for Amos — I think that Amos, while a very talented safety, plays his worst football in single-high coverage. As discussed in part one, his lack of instinct makes him slow to react to deeper throws and ultimately keeps him from reaching the ball soon enough to stop long gains. Amos theoretically has the speed to play the position, but that speed doesn’t translate into enough range to properly defend the edges (which you need out of a single-high safety).
I think the best path to forming a great Packer secondary would be to draft a FS-type to pair with Amos. From there, count on corner development, set aside Amos’s high contract value, and leave him to work in the box where he’s at his best. This would allow him to continue supporting the run and forcing plays deep, which the drafted safety could capitalize on. I say this because they need a ball hawk badly; the Packers were tied for 2nd worst in the NFL last year with 7 INTs. Of those 7 INTs, Green Bay’s safeties only caught 3 of them. Who caught those 3? Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Bottom line, the Packers shouldn’t make Adrian Amos something he’s not or they’ll regret it. But enough about Green Bay, let’s talk about...
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the Bears
Here are a few stills I took from various games throughout the year — note the pre/post snap looks against Seattle.
While no one knows what exactly the Bears’ D will look like (due to the departure of Vic Fangio), almost every Bears defensive play involved two safeties of varied depth. They’d work to disguise FS/SS responsibility and often ended up in a high-low formation during the play. This left one safety deep (usually Jackson) and one safety closer to the line of scrimmage (usually Amos).
The trouble here is that I’m not sure where Clinton-Dix fits — while you’d obviously think he’d do well as the high safety, Eddie Jackson’s emergence as one of the league’s best deep safeties could push Clinton-Dix into a more box-oriented role. As we’ve discussed, that’s not his forte.
This has led me to believe that the Bears may have more faith in Deon Bush more than we realize — Bush is, for those who don’t know, a hard-hitting 4th year S that impressed in camp before starting our final 3 games of the season. He is, as a colleague of mine coined him, “a poor man’s Adrian Amos”. Take a look at how well he comes downfield to hit in the following video package.
Bush’s first three starts displayed much of the same range, tenacity, and hitting prowess that made Adrian Amos so successful. It may sound simple, but I was especially impressed with how Bush’s tackling rarely gave up extra yardage to runners. He seemed to struggle a bit in his first start (SF), but by the playoff game looked as if he felt much more comfortable attacking downhill.
Bush also showed better coverage capabilities than I expected, especially considering I’d heard he was terrible while defending the pass. Note how on 3rd and Goal in the playoffs Foles looks for Ertz first — Bush has him covered, forcing Foles to Jeffery instead. Regardless of his assignment’s simplicity, it’s good to see Bush hold up under pressure with the stakes as high as they were. While his coverage skills aren’t above average, he doesn’t come across as an outright liability.
But remember, Deon Bush is not a man without flaws. Throughout his first 3 starts he missed a tackle, took a bad angle, and allowed underneath gains through the air. Were these new-starter mistakes? We’d hope so, but 3 years of failing to break into the defensive rotation suggests Bush might “just not have it”. 3 mistakes don’t define a player, of course, but I want to be clear that Bush’s tape shows plenty of room for improvement.
Overall I won’t be shocked to see Pagano use Bush as a hitter in dime/big nickel packages in 2019. With Clinton-Dix and Jackson back deep, Bush would support the defense against the runs and short passes that Clinton-Dix struggles against. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if we see Bush sub in for Clinton-Dix against run-heavy formations either.
I say all this because scouting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Deon Bush made one thing crystal clear to me: the Bears signed Clinton-Dix to ensure they have depth at Free Safety in case Eddie Jackson gets hurt again. Philadelphia victimized Amos (not Bush) throughout the playoff game, so Ryan Pace responded by ensuring the Bears’ safety room includes more than one deep playmaker. Put another way, the safety tandems of Jackson+Clinton-Dix, Jackson+Bush, and Clinton-Dix+Bush are all better than the pair of Bush+Amos, and I don’t think that’s by accident.
Adrian Amos’s success in Green Bay will all depend on how he’s used. Amos can provide plenty of stability to the Packers’ secondary so long as he’s not asked to be “the star ball hawk”. If he’s asked to be play deep too often, I think he’ll fail. But if they let him play his game, if they let him clean up short passes while offering his brand of run support, I think he’ll be the leader they paid 36 million dollars for. Draft a safety that plays the ball in the air well and Green Bay will have a defensive backfield worth paying attention to.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, on the other hand, has plenty of upside to bring to the Bears so long as his deficiencies are covered for. Because of his struggles tackling downfield, Ha Ha requires the support of a true tackler beside him — I think Deon Bush could serviceably play that role in 2019. The departure of Vic Fangio makes the defense impossible to predict, but Pagano’s love of defensive backs makes me comfortable thinking that we could see more DB-heavy formations than we have in the past.
I also don’t think that the Clinton-Dix signing rules out the Bears drafting a safety this year etiher — both Bush and Clinton-Dix’s contracts end after 2019, so drafting a safety now would give him a year to learn the defense before taking over full-time next to Jackson in 2020. Considering how cap-constrained the Bears’ future looks, I would imagine that’s the plan they have in mind.
Adrian Amos and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are both good players with unusual fits in their new teams’ defenses. Each has clear strengths and weaknesses that they bring to their new clubs and it’s up to those clubs to use them well. I believe that Amos can be a leader in the Packers’ secondary so long as his deep weakness is covered for, and I believe that Clinton-Dix can make the most of his ball-hawking ability given the defensive talent that’ll surround him. I don’t think there’s a clear winner in the 2019 Bears-Packers Safety Swap just yet, but I am pretty sure of one thing: September 5th, 2019 will tell us a lot about both players, and I can’t wait to see what happens.