The last time the Bears played at the Rams, in Week 7 last year, safety Eddie Jackson picked up a Robert Woods fumble and ran it in for an eight-yard touchdown.
A flag was on the SoFi Stadium turf when he crossed the goal line. Of course, it was — Jackson had two defensive touchdowns come back earlier last season because of Bears penalties. He has had three defensive touchdowns wiped out by flags in his four-year career — a number, he’ll quickly point out, that leads all NFL players.
The flag last October, though, was against the Rams. Jackson’s touchdown counted — and brought his career total to six, the most in the NFL since 2017. That’s three short of a record he wants to break: former cornerback Charles Tillman’s franchise-best nine career defensive touchdowns.
“Not just to try to make it all about me,” Jackson said Monday, as the Bears prepared for their season opener at the Rams. “You just want to get the ball. I feel like our team fuels off of that.”
In 2018, the Bears had the league’s best defense — and the most takeaways. In 2019, they were tied for 22nd in takeaways. Last year, they were tied for 25th. If they’re going to dominate again — and with an aging roster, that’s far from inevitable — Jackson will have to return to the way he played his first two seasons, when he totaled 12 takeaways.
“We don’t want this to go to waste with this type of group of guys we have in the locker room,” he said. “So we’ve gotta take advantage, and it starts with every single player by themselves. I’ve gotta work hard. I’ve gotta do my job to the best of my ability for the team to do theirs. That’s just the mindset.”
After making the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019, the Bears signed Jackson to a four-year, $58.4 million extension in January 2020. He then had the worst season of his short career. Pro Football Focus listed him as the league’s 23rd-best safety entering this season. Jackson joked that his agent sends him rankings, and he takes it personally.
“I hold myself to a higher standard,” he said. “Everyone here does the same. So I’m just going to go with [saying I had] a bad year. It was down. Even though they took away the touchdowns, I feel like there were some things I could have done better [rather] than just sitting up here trippin’ over two touchdowns that got called back. I’ve got to tackle, still break on the ball, break up passes and stuff like that.”
Jackson isn’t just worried about the flashy plays. He repeatedly criticized his tackling last year, saying he needed to finish rather than presuming his teammate would make the hit.
“The type of player I am, that shouldn’t have to be said,” Jackson said. “That’s supposed to be an instinctive thing. Just trying to get back to it.”
Defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said the tackling issue had nothing to do with a lack of desire — “I don’t think you’d be here if you don’t wanna tackle,” he said — but, rather, technique and focus.
“He understands that those are the things that make his part of the game more complete,” Townsend said.
Teammate Khalil Mack repeated a mantra of one of his own mentors, Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, to Jackson.
“If you’re a great one,” Mack told Jackson, “you’re going to find a way to make a play.”
This season will go a long way toward determining whether Jackson is, in fact, a great one.
“You can cry, say, ‘He wasn’t in the right position,’ ’’ Jackson said. “As a player, you still have to make plays no matter what.”