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Who Are Pace’s Defensive Playmakers?

It’s not enough to slow down an offense. The other team needs to be defeated, soundly. Which Bears defenders are actually stopping the other side from staying on the field?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Pace, when asked about his vision for the Bears, said that he wanted playmakers. In Chicago, traditionally, there is a fondness for playmakers on one side of the ball in particular. The city of Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher wants to see other teams get suffocated by defense, and that is one reason why Football Outsiders is the home to my favorite stat in football, the “Defeat.” As they explain:

We have lots of statistics to measure quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, even kickers, but our numbers for individual defensive players are a lot more limited. Defeats are one way to account for defenders who make frequent appearances on highlight reels.

In order to qualify as a defeat, a play must be: “A tackle that results in a loss of yardage, including sacks; any play that results in a turnover, including tipped passes which are then intercepted; or any tackle or tipped pass that leads to a stop on third or fourth down.”

The 2017 numbers are out, and Chicago fans probably want a little more production, here. They should. All told, 48 players recorded at least 20 defeats last season, and not a single one of them played for the Chicago Bears. How rare is that? Well, 26 teams had at least one player on the leaderboard. Ugh.

However, it’s not all bad news. It’s worth pointing out that the New England Patriots also lacked a player on the overall leaderboard, as did the Buffalo Bills, a team that made the playoffs in large part on the strength of their defense.

The Bears did have some leaders in the positional groupings, at least. Akiem Hicks is closest to making the top, with 19. That actually places him as tied for second among Interior Linemen, next to Gerald McCoy. As we all know, Hicks could use some help, though. There were 17 edge rushers with at least 15 defeats in 2017, and none of them played for the Bears.

Meanwhile, can fans finally put to rest the idea that Adrian Amos just does his job and nothing more? He had 15 defeats, which tied him for 20th among safeties. Only nineteen teams had a safety with at least 15 defeats, and so that means that in terms of playmaking ability, Amos was not just in the middle of the pack for all starting safeties, he was in the middle of the pack for “starting, playmaking safeties.” He was in the top third for his position group at making the play for his team. It might be time to finally admit that Amos is not just a placeholder, the sort of sidekick that Bears fans seem to cast him as. Instead, he (and not Eddie Jackson) was one of the top impact players on the Bears last season.

Only one other Bear made any position board, and it was Kyle Fuller with 15 defeats, good to tie him for 15th among cornerbacks. That creates an interesting note about the team that Ryan Pace has assembled. For all the talk that he inherited nothing or that he has stripped the team and only put in “his” guys, the Bears defensive leaders have come from very different places. One was drafted by Ryan Pace (Adrian Amos) and one was retained by him after being drafted by Emery (Kyle Fuller). Finally, the closest thing to a true defensive leader (Akiem Hicks) was a free agent.

Ultimately, the Bears still need a defensive identity. Twenty-eight teams have a representative on the three-year leaderboard (the 53 players with at least 50 defeats across the last three seasons). Bears are one of the select four that do not make the cut. Still, it’s not all bleak. Twenty-six of those leaders (or half of the total group) were off-the-ball linebackers. The Bears just selected what might have been the best off-the-ball linebacker in the draft.

So, is Roquan Smith the piece that turns the Bears around? Does Leonard Floyd finally play enough games to show up in the 2018 list? Does Eddie Jackson catch up with the impact play of Adrian Amos? I know that many will be watching Trubisky’s development, but at least from my perspective, the Bears will truly be back when this list is filled with Chicago players.