Ready for showtime: The Bears have a title-worthy defense again
By Robert Zeglinski
In the glory days of the Mike Ditka era, a Bears defense led by Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and Dan Hampton terrorized the NFL on a weekly basis. Offenses didn’t have an answer for a unit stacked with confident playmakers that knew it was better than all competitors.
In the hallowed peak days of Lovie Smith’s tenure, a Bears defense led by Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman frustrated the NFL on a weekly basis. A savvy group predicated on forcing turnovers in the most mind-numbing fashion regularly excelled at staying off the field. Offenses didn’t have an answer, try as they might.
Now, in the early goings of Matt Nagy’s stay in Chicago, the Bears again have a defense to be envious of. A unit led by Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Danny Trevathan is almost unparalleled by its peers. It also certainly fits in line with long-standing, established Bears tradition of defensive play.
Because if there’s one thing the Bears have gotten right about team-building in a 26-year stretch where they’ve made the postseason just five times, it’s a dominant defensive standard. The latest iteration with Mack at the forefront is merely a small example.
How good have the Nagy-Mack Bears been in only three games?
They lead the NFL in sacks with 14, despite blitzing on only 10 percent of plays. That’s what we call impeccable defensive integrity as the Bears can freely rush four and still disrupt quarterbacks.
Following a four-turnover performance in Arizona on Sunday, Chicago also has eight takeaways. When the ball is up for grabs and out in the open, only the best defenses force the issue. At their current pace, the Bears would have 40 takeaways by the end of the 2018 regular season. No NFL team with 40 takeaways has finished below .500 in the last decade.
Finally, in overall efficiency, the Bears are also in an exclusive club. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric has Chicago sitting at fourth in defensive play. That means Mack and friends are consistently in only the most advantageous spots against unfortunate offenses, and are routinely getting themselves out of tight binds. When you think you have them cornered, that’s when these Bears are at their best.
To put it lightly: this is a special Bears defense putting the rest of a current first place roster on its back. The offensive guru in Nagy wouldn’t shy away from that fact.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we’re winning games with our defense,” Nagy said of his Bears group.
When the schedule features the Packers’ elite star Aaron Rodgers, Seahawks’ elite playmaker Russell Wilson, and the anemic Sam Bradford of the Cardinals: no one could’ve expected the Bears to come out guns blazing on defense throughout an illuminating first month. Yet, if not for a Kyle Fuller dropped interception, this Chicago team sits at 3-0 with a two-game cushion over the rest of its divisional rivals.
What should be terrifying for offenses the Bears have yet to play in their remaining 13 games is that they likely haven’t even sniffed close to their defensive potential.
Mack, for one, played 100 percent of the snaps for the first time all season against the Cardinals. By far the front runner for the early Defensive Player of the Year, Mack is still working his way in to football shape and dominating away. Football’s Thanos has yet to gather all the Infinity Stones.
Meanwhile, third-year outside linebacker Leonard Floyd doesn’t have full use of his hands and won’t likely be at full strength until after the Bears’ Week 5 bye. If he’s unleashed as a pass rusher in addition to his Swiss Army Knife capabilities, offensive coordinators will lose even more sleep over the Bears than they already do.
That sentiment goes double for rookie Roquan Smith, but purely in experience. An instinctive and incredibly athletic specimen at linebacker, there are occasions you watch Smith overrun plays and miss tackles because he’s so green. That won’t be the case once the polished 21-year-old has a few more starts under his belt.
The sky is the limit for a Bears defense that clearly feels and is playing like its invincible. Like no matchup or scheme can outdo their raw talent and ability. Provided they maintain their current high output, there’s no reason to believe this unit can’t carry the Bears to the postseason for the first time in seven years. Maybe more.
The veteran Danny Trevathan echoes an idea that should send chills down the spine of every quarterback left on the Bears’ schedule. An idea many should start believing in.
”If we keep playing like this,” Trevathan said with a pause. “There’s no doubt in my mind, we’ll be the top defense ever.” R.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.