That headline may seem a little obvious if you remember watching the opposition's tight ends wreak havoc on the Bears defense. So much of the offseason has focused on the offense and how it should/will improve and all the new additions over there. Less talked about is the defense, and for good reason. However, this is one area where the defense needs to improve if the Bears want to get to where they should be.
The Bears defense doesn't always get as much talk time on here sometimes because it's just been so consistent under Lovie Smith. Same scheme, a few new faces (but we're only looking at maybe 3-4 new starters on that side of the ball) and same coaches. Since Smith handed over defensive playcalling to Rod Marinelli in 2010, the unit has just been solid all around, not much to see or talk about.
But this was one of the defense's worst areas last season and I thought it would be worth it to delve into it a bit and see what could be done about it this year.
This is the break down of touchdowns caught by opponents:
Wide Receivers - 13
Tight Ends - 9
Running Backs - 1
The Bears improved against TEs towards the end of the season, but opposing TEs were ahead of opposing WRs in TD catches until Week 16 when Jordy Nelson and James Jones caught a combined 4 TDs.
There were six games last year where an opponents TE was its second leading receiver (weeks 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 11), there was one game where the opponents TE was it's leading receiver (Tony Gonzalez in week 1). In week 15 against Seattle, the Seahawk with the second-most receptions and third most yards was their TE.
Now when you step back and think about it, giving up yards to an opponents TE might not be that big of a deal...when you're winning. The defensive system the Bears use is predicated on giving up short-yardage in the middle of the field and not giving up big plays. Generally speaking, this means that a TE might end up with a lot of yards, they work the middle of the field and find soft spots in the zones. OK that's fine, as long as the defense is getting off the field on third downs and keeping the opponent out of the endzone.
But the Bears weren't doing that. Look back at the first set of numbers, the Bears were clearly not shutting down TEs in the endzone. Furthermore, even when the Bears were winning and not giving up as many yards to TEs they still did damage. Kellen Winslow Jr., Jermichael Finley in week 16 and Tony Scheffler in the second Lions game, all caught TDs against the Bears despite not doing much else.
So what can the Bears do to improve this? Well for starters, I think the team looked at this problem and recognized that in their own division they have Brandon Pettigrew, Jermichael Finley and Kyle Rudolph and across the NFC, where they'll want to make noise in the playoffs they have to deal with Jimmy Graham, Brent Celek and Tony Gonzalez.
Enter Brandon Hardin the cornerback-turned-safety from Oregon State. Even if he does not make much impact as a rookie, in my opinion he is the new breed of DB in the league and will be groomed with the idea to help defend against the big fast guys at TE. Hardin is 6'3" and has 4.48 speed. With NFL offenses looking for guys like 6'5" speed freaks like Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson it makes sense for defenses to look for bigger cover guys.
Hardin is just one step in what the Bears need to help slow down opponents' TEs.