This was originally intended to be a very different article, focusing mostly on the Bears' pass rush. However, the more I looked into last year's defense, the more I realized exactly how far Chicago needs to go before it gets back to respectability. I was left wondering what I was most discouraged by, and so I wanted to check in with the rest of the community.
Last year, the Bears were 23rd in terms of total sacks and 19th in terms of sack yards. They had 35 sacks for -237 yards. Meanwhile, the Broncos (52), Patriots (49), Steelers (48), Chiefs (47), and Texans (45) were in the top five for the first category; the Patriots (-358), Broncos (-351), Steelers (-311), Texans (-311), and Panthers (-302) made up the top five of the second category. With the exception of the extraordinary Panthers campaign in 2013 (60 sacks for -424 yards), these general ranges hold up well over the last few seasons.
Meanwhile, the Bears haven't hit 40 sacks or at least -250 yards since 2012, their last winning season (41 sacks and -289 yards). In order to catch the average of the leaders, they would need an extra 13 sacks over their 2015 totals. If the defense managed one extra sack per game next season, they would probably be toward the top of the league in this category.
On the other hand, the 2015 Bears managed 8 interceptions, only good for 30st in the league; they also defensed 52 passes, the lowest total recorded. In terms of interceptions, the Panthers led the way last year with 24, and the top five were rounded out by the Chiefs (22), the Bengals (21), the Cardinals (19), and the Jets (18). The Bills had the most defensed passes (93), with the Chiefs (92), Raiders (90), Texans (90), and Giants (87) putting in solid showings. Once again, these totals would be to the top of the list most years (though once again, a 2013 team showed a blip, and that was the 28 interceptions recorded by the Seahawks.
For the Bears to match the average of the leaders in this set of abilities, they would need an extra 13 interceptions and another 38 defensed passes. So, once again, if the defense managed an extra interception per game they would move toward the top of the league (especially if they managed an extra two defensed passes per game, too).
Finally, the 2015 Chicago Bears were the absolute worst in the league when it came to stopping run plays at or before the line of scrimmage, both in terms of raw total (24 stuffs) and in terms of the percentage of rushing attempts stuffed (5.5%). The St. Louis Rams (yes, they were still the St. Louis Rams back then) managed 66 stuffed runs last year. That led the NFL in raw total and also as a percentage. The Dolphins (64), Cowboys (55), Jaguars (55), and Cardinals (54) were the top in the NFL in terms of total stuffed runs. In total stuff percentage, the Rams (14.6%), Cardinals (14.5%), Dolphins (12.9%), Packers (12.6%), and Lions (12.4%) were the best in terms of percentage of runs stuffed.
In order to catch the average of the top five in this category, the Bears would need an extra 35 run stuffs next season (that increase in totals would also more them into the middle on a percentage basis). In order to move into the discussion of top run-stuffing defenses, the Bears would need to manage at least two more stuffed rush attempts per game.
Obviously, collective metrics like points allowed and total yards capture most of these elements, but I want to know which of these "individual pieces" is the most important to fans. Assume that by some small miracle the offense holds together despite all of the changeover. Assume Robbie Gould comes through with his personal improvement goals and one of the UDFAs works wonders as a returner. Next, imagine that the defense gets only a little bit better across the board but sees monumental improvement in one of these categories—which one would you want to see more? If the defense can take one big step forward, what step matters most to you?