"Fox ball" - a trademark of Chicago Bears head coach John Fox that aims to run the ball, limit your passing game to game management, and rely primarily on your defense can be an infuriating concept for many to grasp in the NFL 2017. For this year's Bears, it's likely the best possible strategy at achieving any possible success. After six weeks, with a defense raising it's level of play week by week, there's a light at the end of the tunnel to this philosophy for Chicago.
In the Bears' 27-24 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, noted defensive guru Vic Fangio had his unit enjoy it's best performance of his entire Chicago tenure. The Bears defense allowed no touchdowns, took the ball away three times - one of which became a pick-six - sacked quarterback Joe Flacco three times, and effectively suffocated a Ravens attack to a paltry 16 percent conversion rate on third downs.
With a team performance of that magnitude, many highlight players can manifest to amplify a heavy defensive strategy. Playmakers at every level are required to have that kind of success.
No one made more of an impression in that light than embattled fourth-year cornerback, Kyle Fuller. He looked every bit the part of a former No. 14 overall pick. The player the Phil Emery-Bears originally envisioned when drafting him back in 2014.
Fuller, who had his fifth-year option on his rookie contract denied in the off-season, played out of his mind on Sunday. He was targeted 15 times, allowed just five receptions, and defensed three passes. On both of Chicago's interceptions, Fuller was in coverage locking his man down to create deflections that landed into the hands of Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos.
Of best note, on a late two-minute sequence to close the first half, Fuller was targeted three consecutive times with the Ravens at the Bears' nine-yard line.
Ravens field goal.
And none of the passes were particularly close. That's what happens when you test, a yes, lockdown cornerback.
It was almost as if Fuller was daring Flacco and the Ravens to go directly at him. As if he was saying to all of his critics, "Aaron Donald who?" in reference to the transcendent Rams defensive tackle that some lament the Bears could've taken instead of Fuller back in 2014 had they been more aggressive. If Fuller continues to play like this, that thought will undoubtedly go on the back burner.
No hyperbole intended: Fuller had the game of his career on Sunday. The Bears can only hope it continues through the rest of the year as he fights for a new contract either in Chicago or of course, another destination.
Next to Fuller, it felt as if the Bears had found their own "No-Fly Zone" against Baltimore, thanks to the efforts of rookie Eddie Jackson and the also embattled Adrian Amos. Amos, who was actually demoted at the start of the season, has started to come on of late and in retrospect, enjoyed the best game of his career as well.
No better time for the Baltimore native to shine.
Amos had eight tackles to go with a late 90-yard interception return touchdown that should've sealed the game. A man put in position to succeed clearly won't waste his opportunities. After struggling in coverage most of his first two years, the Bears are letting the safety roam as more of a linebacker hybrid in run support next to a true free safety in Jackson, and he's thriving with 21 tackles in three starts.
Fox, proprietor of his infamous "Fox ball" has been impressed by the safety with a chip on his shoulder.
“I don’t really look at the demotion and where you are. At that time, there was a guy (Quintin Demps) playing better than him. And, at this time, he’s playing the best in the group. And that’s why he’s playing out there. He’s a good football player. He’s playing a lot of football for us. He had a good day today," said Fox.
Fox-speak translated: Amos has taken the all-too common next-man-up NFL philosophy to the next level. He has given the Bears the potential to possess their best safety duo since Mike Brown and "Insert Name Here." A position in safety that has haunted the Bears for over a decade have it's complete long-awaited answer.
Finally, there are your men on the front seven, where this Bears defense was originally thought to be built around in the preseason. Not a secondary that many had questions about coming into the year.
On Sunday, as it's been most of the season, mammoth Akiem Hicks stood at the forefront of this group, and is quickly turning into one of the greatest Bears' free agent signings of all time.
Hicks, who many thought could enjoy a Pro Bowl year in 2017, could be an All-Pro when it's said and done. Hicks tallied two sacks to make up a total of five on the year and was a consistent disruptive force throughout every Baltimore possession. An eye-opening number for a 3-4 defensive end of his stature. He is unequivocally Chicago's best individual player right now and even that feels like an understatement.
When you take into account that $12 million dollar average to go with $22 million guaranteed in the 27-year-old Hicks' contract extension signed on the eve of the regular season, it now looks like a tremendous bargain for the Bears. Like the team went shopping on Black Friday and came out with the best possible television available. Nobody could be happier than both the Bears and Hicks, quite obviously.
Overall, this Bears defense won't be able to play Flacco and the incredibly limited Ravens attack every week. Flacco, after all, might be the worst quarterback in the NFL at the moment.
But when was the last time you saw a Bears' defensive unit impose their will on an inferior offense in the fashion they did Sunday? One would have to go all the way back to 2012, the falling action of the Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman era. Given how the team as a whole has performed of late, what a throwback to call upon.
This Bears defense is well on it's way, even more than expected, and is playing with a swagger not seen around these parts since the Lovie Smith era. It's a defense with youthful talent at every level ready more than able to succeed.
Who would have thunk it?
That fact and thought alone should inspire a great deal of confidence as the Bears hunker down against more mediocre offensive teams such as the Lions, Bengals, and Aaron Rodgers-less Packers down the stretch of this season. That's a thought to get very excited about, as Pernell McPhee was himself lighting up in the post-game.
"I’m excited bro. I can’t even lie to you. I ain’t good at expressing my feelings, you know what I’m saying?", said McPhee.
This Bears defense will do all of it's proper feelings expression where it needs it most: on the field.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.