On Tuesday, I projected the Chicago Bears offensive numbers, which was a challenge with many unknowns.
Defensively, Chicago’s 2018 situation paints a clearer picture. The team will be returning all but one of their starters from last season.
The majority of the focus this off-season has centered on the offense and rightfully so. But could many be sleeping on a defense that ranked in the top 10 in most statistical categories last year? That same unit has it’s entire coaching staff led by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio returning. Don’t forget a handful of quality draft picks and free agent signings meshing together either.
The pass rush is the key for the Bears’ success and whether this defense takes the next step.
Defensive line and edge rushers
Akiem Hicks: 58 tackles, 9 sacks, 14 tackles for loss
Eddie Goldman: 41 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
Roy Robertson-Harris: 39 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 tackles for loss
Leonard Floyd: 43 tackles, 10 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
Aaron Lynch: 33 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss
The Rest: 125 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss
Total: 339 tackles, 36 sacks, 41 tackles for loss
As a team last year, the Bears had a total of 42 sacks and 37 tackles for loss. In 2018, expect to see the sack total go down slightly.
The Bears simply don’t have a lot of depth and there’s no clear cut starting option opposite of Floyd. Speaking of the third-year pass rusher, this will finally be his “breakout” year. Meanwhile, look for Hicks to continue to be a top five defensive end.
Also worth noting, I expect Robertson-Harris to emerge as the team’s primary starting five-technique defensive end opposite Hicks.
Roquan Smith: 102 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
Danny Trevathan: 85 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss
Nick Kwiatkoski: 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss
The Rest: 30 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Total: 261 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss
Linebacker is going to be an interesting position to monitor for the Bears. Smith appeared to be more of a “luxury pick” in April, but he’s the type of player who can help the defense take their next step.
Trevathan is coming off a strong 2017 season but he continues to have trouble playing all 16 games. This could make for a predicament if he can’t stay on the field, which would leave the door open for Kwiatkoski to be this year’s Adrian Amos as a surprise late arrival. The former Bronco was once a marquee free agent addition, and if things don’t go his way, he’ll be skating on thin ice.
Regardless, this is a group with quality starting talent and an upside pick in Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe: who is likely to play a role on special teams in the upcoming months.
Kyle Fuller: 57 tackles, 4 interceptions, 17 pass breakups
Prince Amukamara: 46 tackles, 1 interception, 9 pass breakups
Bryce Callahan: 23 tackles, 3 interceptions, 7 pass breakups
The Rest: 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8 pass breakups
Total: 173 tackles, 10 interceptions, 41 pass breakups
If the Bears’ defense plans to take a sizable step forward, turnovers must become a more sizable factor.
You’ll notice each Chicago starting cornerback has a projected uptick in both interceptions and pass breakups, but less tackles. Less tackles are usually a sign of better coverage, so this would be a good thing. Turnovers will be a key for this secondary to continue to develop, and more importantly for this unit to rise into the top ranks.
Fuller is the big wildcard of this group. While he had a quality season in 2017, he must translate some of those 22 batted passes into turnovers. If he does that and continues his incline, the 2014 first rounder could see a Pro Bowl bid.
Eddie Jackson: 75 tackles, 6 interceptions, 9 pass breakups
Adrian Amos: 72 tackles, 3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups
The Rest: 24 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups
Total: 171 tackles, 10 interceptions, 16 pass breakups
2017 showed an ascending duo of young Bears’ safeties that ultimately led to the release of veteran Quintin Demps this off-season.
Jackson is proving to be a steal from the fourth round, but even for as good as his rookie season was, he has a chance to take a large step forward in his sophomore year. If his positioning improves, his instincts will lead to a surplus of interceptions.
Amos is heading into a contract year and while it’s possible Bears general manager Ryan Pace could reward him with a new contract in camp, it seems unlikely.
Meaning, Amos needs to play out this year and prove that he has worth in a 2019 free agent safety class that’s stacked with multiple big names. Some of those potential targets include Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Tyrann Mathieu. Needless to say, the former Penn State product has to have an impact year to stand a chance in these waters.
Overall, this is an ascending Chicago safety group. Don’t be surprised if 2016 draft pick Deon Bush gets a look in training camp and pushes to compete with Amos for playing time.
This Bears’ defensive is heading into it’s fourth year under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. That should only mean good things and players have said as much. Continuity means players should feel extremely comfortable in their roles and ultimately make more plays on the ball.
The other factor in this equation is the impact of their offense. Last year, the Bears offense ranked 28th (28:27) in time of possession. This means the defense saw the field for roughly two quarters more in 2017. Conversely, head coach Matt Nagy’s Chiefs offense ranked 10th (30:28), averaging over two minutes more per game. A fresher defense should lead to more opportunistic plays, in turn providing needed rest for key players such as Hicks and Floyd, among others.
The biggest question surrounding Fangio’s group is the pass rush.
Despite their 42 sacks in 2017, this was a spot where Chicago struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Sacks alone do not equal consistent pressure. With the departure of Willie Young, Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston, there’s a void to fill that doesn’t have a set solution yet.
If a consistent pass rush is present and the offense performs at these projected levels, this Bears’ team could be a surprise playoff contender.
Find Aaron on Twitter @AaronLemingNFL.