To play sound defensive football in the NFL you need disciplined players adhering to a well-rounded scheme. To play great defensive football in the NFL you need not only discipline instilled in your players, you need them to be individually special, too. In comparison to most of their competition, it doesn’t get much better than the faces of the Bears’ defensive corps. They’re the envy of the rest of the league. They’re the apple of Chuck Pagano’s eye.
NFL analyst Bucky Brooks recently ranked the top defensive trios in pro football, maintaining that the best defenses are generally built around a star at each level: on the defensive line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. (Though that exact template isn’t always followed.) It’s a trend molded off of the NBA’s recent manic team-building model rooted in dynamic stars joining up together. Brooks ranked the Bears’ defensive “Big Three” of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson as the third-best in the NFL behind the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch, and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James.
Brooks’ assessment of the Bears’ top defensive studs couldn’t be more glowing:
Credit Chicago general manager Ryan Pace for going all in to acquire a dominant edge player who elevates the defense to elite status. Mack crushed opponents with his “bull in a china shop” playing style and dominant rush skills. In his first year with the Bears, Mack piled up 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pick-six as the unit’s designated playmaker. Hicks is Mack’s Pro Bowl sidekick, with seven-plus sacks in each of the past three seasons. He is the perfect complement to Mack, as a destructive interior rusher with outstanding hands and combat skills. Jackson is a ball magnet in the secondary with superb instincts, awareness and range. He has eight interceptions in his first two NFL seasons, with three pick-sixes and a pair of scoop-and-score touchdowns.
The accolades and production synchronize with Brooks’ argument.
The 28-year-old Mack is a reigning First-Team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler in the prime of his career. He’s one of the rare defensive talents who can change the complexion of individual games as he pleases. (He’s also just one of four NFL players to have a 99 overall rating in this year’s Madden, for you avid gamers.) Hicks, 29, is coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance and is one of the NFL’s premier defensive linemen. He, too, can often change the complexion of individual games as he pleases—just not as often as Mack. And the man with perhaps the brightest future of this group in Jackson can see his play improve in the days ahead. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that the first-time First-Team All-Pro is football’s top active free safety. Another year marked by a few pick-sixes combined with merciless terrorizing of inept quarterbacks should cement this label.
Whatever the case, the Bears can rest easy knowing they have this trio on their side. Any offensive coordinator and quarterback duo that has the misfortune of opposing them, can not.
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network, the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.