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Could the Bears Switch Back to a 4-3 Defense?

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With the impending coaching changes, let’s explore if the Bears have the personnel to hire a defensive coordinator with a 4-3 background.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears
Leonard Floyd
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A coaching change seems imminent at this point. The popular opinion is that Ryan Pace will look towards an offensive-minded candidate to work with his young quarterback. I can’t say that I disagree with this line of thinking either.

Traditionally, the Bears have pegged defensive coordinators for the head coaching jobs. The problem with this has always been that the head coach was focused on the defense, while the offense severely suffered. Given what we know about Pace, it would appear that he is setting this team up to be run by a young, dynamic offensive mind.

The point here is not to get into coaching candidates, I will save that for another time and place. But what if an offensive guy wants to bring in a defensive coordinator who would prefer to run a 4-3 defense? Would that spell doom for the Bears or could they survive, or even thrive in a 40-front?

Well, the answer to that question depends on the style of defense you want to run. Could this Bears personnel run the Tampa-2 style of defense that Lovie Smith ran? Probably not. But what about a scheme similar to what Greg Blache ran under Dick Jauron?

Remember Ted Washington and Keith Traylor? It seems to me that Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman could easily occupy the kind of space that those two did. The Bears have an interesting toolbox up-front. Jonathan Bullard looks like a prototypical 3-technique for rushing downs. Roy Robertson-Harris was a 4-3 defensive end in college and has the height, length, and speed to play the strong-side defensive end.

But that isn’t necessarily where I would go with this defense. The Bears have some other pieces that need to be considered, namely Leonard Floyd. Many would argue that Floyd can only play as a stand-up, 3-4 outside linebacker. I would counter that with some recent success that other similarly sized players have had in a 4-3 schemes.

The first is Von Miller. Under Jack Del Rio, Miller was used in a similar role to how Roosevelt Colvin was used under Blache. He was mainly a pass-rushing weak-side linebacker. Same thing with Bruce Irvin and Vic Beasley under Dan Quinn. Both 40-fronts with a pass-rushing outside linebacker. We know that Floyd does an admirable job in coverage as well. Keep in mind that Floyd was used mainly as an inside linebacker in college.

The Bears also have Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski, who both have experience in a 4-3. Trevathan has played under Del Rio, so he is familiar with this style of defense already. The biggest challenge is not the front, that actually lines up pretty nicely. Assuming, of course, that you can sign a defensive end like Ziggy Ansah or draft a guy like Arden Key or Nick Chubb. Personally, I would do both. Pass-rushers are like Coors Banquet, no matter how many you have on hand, you can always use more!

The real question boils down to the secondary for me and what type of coverage style they want to play. For this exercise, let’s assume that Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan are re-signed by the Bears. That leaves you with basically the same secondary that you have now, minus Prince Amukamara. In this scenario, I am also going to look towards Dan Quinn and his Seahawks defenses.

While the Bears are obviously lacking some of the transcendent talent of those teams, they do posses players with the type of skill-sets required to play that style. The Seahawks played mainly Cover-3 and Cover-1 (man free) coverage. Here are a few images to help visualize the team and how it could look:

Man/Zone Combo Coverage
30-Front Cover-3
40-Front Cover-3

Getting back to the personnel. I have always believed that Fuller was at his best in zone coverage. Now that he has played quite a bit of man, I think he would be able to excel in this defense. Fuller struggles with his jam at the line of scrimmage, but in the “bail” technique, he has the recovery speed to make plays on the ball. Of course, any time you play primarily zone coverage, your defensive backs must be able to tackle. This has historically been one of his strong suits.

On the other side, there aren’t many options on the roster. So a free agent signing might be the way to attack this. If the Bears are running short on resources, Deiondre’ Hall is an intriguing fit here. He has the size and length to play the role that Richard Sherman has. Please understand that I am NOT saying that Hall is in the same category as a player, he isn’t, but he has an intriguing amount of height and length for that spot.

While Adrian Amos doesn’t come close to striking the kind of fear that Kam Chancellor does, he certainly can lay the wood. This is an important part of zone defense. There needs to be a guy who can make the middle of the defense tough to navigate for fear of the big hit. Amos has played at his best closer to the line of scrimmage, much in the same way that Chancellor has.

Eddie Jackson is the wildcard here. His talent and instincts are obvious on tape. Again, Jackson is NOT Earl Thomas, but he has the instincts and skills to be a ball hawk in the middle of the defense. For Jackson, it is about getting more experience and knowing what he is seeing out there. That comes from reps. I do, however, believe that he would be a natural fit in this type of scheme as well.

I really like Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc as well. Those would end up as your nickel and dime corners, and they excel in that role. The secondary wouldn’t need more than a tweak either, depending on which coverage style you wanted to play.

The point of going through this exercise is that I do not believe that the Bears are beholden to a particular style of defense. Personally, I think they could — and should — make the transition back to a 4-3 defense. There are some really interesting players on defense that would be better utilized in a different system.

When the Bears ultimately make the switch at head coach, to what I assume will be an offensive-minded coach, I implore him to look into Dan Quinn disciples. The defense doesn’t need sweeping changes. The pieces are mainly in-place. The question will be: can an offensive-minded head coach not fall into the same traps as their counterparts and find the right defensive coordinator to run a ready-made defense?

This will be almost as important of a hire as the head coach...almost.