The news of D.J. Williams' season-ending pectoral injury is a scary prospect. That's the team's middle linebacker, and one of the better pass-coverage linebackers, gone for the year with a rookie stepping into his place. And on a defense getting no push up the middle with piled-on injuries to defensive tackles, having the entire middle of the defense gutted doesn't sound like a fun proposition. It sounds intimidating.
For the Bears, it shouldn't mean much.
The Bears have won their four games this season with Williams making a total of 19 tackles, one forced fumble and two sacks. If that doesn't sound like much, that's because it isn't.
Now, that doesn't mean that everything on the defense is his fault - far from it, actually. Williams hasn't been on the field for some nickel packages and one can just as easily point to a defensive line that's called as such only by virtue of having to be named that and has played only by virtue of being on the field when the ball is snapped.
Williams' replacement will be Jon Bostic, seeing the field on Thursday for the first time. In all likelihood, he'll be pulled off the field in those nickel situations, and when he is on the field, he'll still have that defensive line in front of him. Bostic might not play the pass as well as Williams does (he certainly needs to learn how to read and react to NFL passing games), but he'll get that experience the hard way and a couple long weeks to learn between games, with another eight days before facing the Redskins and fourteen heading into the Packers.
I'm sure you'll recall the last time a Bears team lost its middle linebacker for the long-term, as Brian Urlacher missed nearly an entire season in 2009. That defense fell to the bottom third of the league in points, and coupled with an offense that was 19th in points and 23rd in yards, the team couldn't break through the .500 mark.
I'm sure you can see where this is going, because the two most important words now are "Bears offense."
Right now the Bears have the number 5 scoring offense and number 11 yardage offense to couple with a defense already ranking in at 22nd in points and 19th in yards. Defensive play has been bad in the front four and that's led to some really shaky defensive play period at times, but defense isn't what the current Bears' staff is hanging their hats on.
That's offense. Which unlike 2009, the Bears have in spades by comparison.
We knew coming into the season the defense wasn't going to be able to maintain its perennial top-5 status, simply due to personnel and coaching changes. We didn't think the defensive line would create a complete liability - as I wrote back in June, the defensive line would have to drive the defense, something it absolutely has failed to do this year. We can knock injuries all we want, but the line wasn't producing much even when Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea were fully healthy.
We expected the offense to compensate for the shortfall in defense if the Bears were going to make a playoff push. And to this point in the year, four wins to two losses would say they've done just enough to do that.
Now, they need to keep doing it, and do it just a little bit better. We figured the Bears' offense wouldn't start off on fire, but that they'd put it together, bit by bit as the season progressed. For the Bears to keep winning as the schedule starts getting tougher, the offense will need to continue to develop as they've had to (and will continue to have to) all along.