Bears safety Eddie Jackson seeks balance between ball-hawking, being dependable

Jackson has missed five tackles this season, but it’s partly because he’s trying to make the plays that made him one of the NFL’s best and richest safeties.

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Safety Eddie Jackson has missed five tackles this season, second-highest on the Bears.

Safety Eddie Jackson has missed five tackles this season, second-highest on the Bears.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Give Bears safety Eddie Jackson credit for this: Amid all the criticism and frustration over his shortcomings as a tackler, he has acknowledged the issue at every turn.

He echoed what all his detractors pointed out and vowed to fix it in August and was honest about it again Tuesday, admitting that he has been inconsistent.

“I’m doing pretty solid; I just have to limit the open-field [missed] tackles,” Jackson said. “I’m giving everything I’ve got. I’ve just got to continue to work on the little things, taking angles and wrapping and things like that.”

Identifying the problem is the first step toward fixing it, so that’s a good step, but Jackson shouldn’t still be shaky on fundamentals in his fifth season and after landing one of the richest safety contracts in NFL history. Teams must be good in the places they spend money, and the Bears signed Jackson for $58.4 million over four years. As they save money at other positions to afford that contract, Jackson can’t be a liability.

Opening night was as ugly as could be after Jackson pledged to tackle more reliably. He ran past Rams receiver Van Jefferson, who had fallen, and allowed him to run 11 more yards for a touchdown.

Pro Football Reference charted Jackson at five missed tackles this season, exceeded on the Bears only by linebacker Alec Ogletree’s six. Ten NFL safeties have more.

Jackson also had a close call against the Packers when he went for a big hit on Davante Adams rather than taking him down, and Adams barely stepped out of bounds at the 21-yard line — otherwise it would’ve been a touchdown.

That prompted former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs to say on NBC Sports Chicago’s postgame show, “His name keeps coming up for the wrong reasons You have to make that play. Get him down by any means necessary. Don’t care how you do it.”

Jackson responded by digging up a Pro Football Focus tweet from 2011 noting Briggs’ missed tackles and quote-tweeted it with a thinking face emoji. He explained that he interpreted Briggs’ comments as accusing him of not trying hard enough.

“You should never question my effort,” Jackson said. “I know I have to make that tackle. Don’t nobody go out there and want to miss a tackle. But when it comes to questioning effort and playing ability. You go out there laying everything on the line trying to be aggressive [and] things like that are going to happen.”

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai said last week there are “some issues” with Jackson’s tackling, but argued that he’s having a good season because he has “great command” of the defense from the back end and is a constant deterrent to quarterbacks because he has “history in this league.”

Desai was referring to Jackson’s being a turnover machine with 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries in his first three seasons. That reputation might be part of the tackling problem, though. Jackson wants to make game-changing plays, and that ability is what compelled the Bears to pay him so much.

“You want to go and [put] a big hit on the guy, try to knock the ball out or strip at the ball, but you have to get the guy on the ground,” he said. “That’s something you have to put into your mind when you’re going into a tackle: ‘OK, just remember to wrap.’

“Sometimes when you’re going out there, you’re just flying around trying to make plays, [and] all of that stuff kind of leaves you. You’re just going out there trying to be aggressive. Sometimes it can pay off, but sometimes it can hurt you.”

And Jackson must learn just the right balance between being a ballhawk and being dependable as the defense’s last man protecting the end zone if he’s going to be the great safety the Bears envisioned.

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