The prevailing sentiment this past off-season was that the Bears’ defense would regress past a point of respectability and competence. Losing Vic Fangio—Chicago’s illustrious defensive coordinator of four seasons—was too much to overlook in maintaining the Bears’ reign of terror on the less favored side of the ball. The more likely drop off was always something more along the lines of being a top-five unit, rather than the statistically special and historic group of 2018. A regression by technical definition nonetheless, but one the Bears would be able to stomach. At this rate, any allusions and discussions of a reversion or step back for the current iteration of Chicago’s defense should probably be tabled, never to be touched again.
After a strikingly impressive performance on Monday night where the Bears managed to aggressively carve Case Keenum into the pumpkin he’s been for the length of his journeyman career, Chicago’s defense has steadied at No. 5 overall in defensive DVOA. To this juncture of the season, almost of a fourth of the way through a lengthy journey, only the Patriots and Packers have surrendered fewer points than the Bears (13 points allowed a game). After using Keenum as a quarterback piñata to the tune of five takeaways, only the leading Packers with eight, followed by the Bills, Jets, Steelers, and 49ers with seven each, have forced more turnovers than the Bears’ six. Not to be outdone, the inarguable best part of the Bears’ defense—their front seven—has helped Chicago accrue 11 sacks through three games, as once more, a mere four NFL teams are only barely ahead of their relentless pass rushing efforts.
If recent history is any sound indication, having unblockable forces of nature such as Khalil Mack and a ball-hawking secondary as support might mean the Bears’ defense possesses more staying power than their counterparts. It also indicates that Chicago’s rise back to the upper echelon of defenses last season was more about having Mack and his other supremely talented teammates together, rather than Fangio casting any magical coaching spells. For clearer evidence of this distinction, look no further than the now surly head coach’s Broncos becoming the first team in NFL history to produce zero sacks and zero takeaways in the first three weeks of a season. This lackluster production happened despite possessing Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris Jr. In other words, it shouldn’t have happened.
Some of Fangio’s group’s foibles are misfortune, and some of it is not having eight or nine superstars and complementary pieces working as one synchronous amoeba like the Bears. Where Denver’s defense sits is more akin to the average, if competent units the Bears had from 2015-2017.
I’m no football mathematician, but it would appear having a future Hall of Fame pass rusher in his prime work in conjunction with a host of All-Pro defensive backs and bright linebackers is the reason the Bears defense was stellar last year, and remains stellar this season. I’m well aware it’s a confounding thought to consider; especially if you believe coordinators riding on the coattails of their players deserve more credit than the excess, undeserving praise they already receive. In that case, you might need to sit down to process this harrowing information.
Elsewhere in the mystical land of DVOA, Chicago’s offense continues to take the most meager of baby steps forward. After a listless debut performance against the Packers in Week 1, Chicago’s offense ranked No. 29 overall. After surviving Mile High Stadium, the Bears’ attack jumped up to No. 26 overall. And after tearing Washington asunder, Chicago’s offense has inched up to No. 24 overall. Almost finding their way out of the bottom third of the league is progress! There’s no need to sugarcoat it.
At this entirely maintainable snail’s pace, and by using multiples of two—with no competition in account—the Bears will have the NFL’s No. 0 offense by the time they visit the Vikings in Week 17. That’s how much of an offensive guru Matt Nagy is, and when you’ll see Mitchell Trubisky make his anticipated leap: they’ll be quite literally off the charts.
What assisted the Bears’ offense in their improvements this week was Nagy having an affectionate conversation with his prodigy of a quarterback.
The reigning Coach of the Year need only inject more frank profanity into his weekly game-plans to speed up this accelerating offensive process. I’ve seen more than enough to make such a definitive conclusion on this coach-quarterback relationship. Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here. Please disperse.
In the third phase, Chris Tabor’s special teams players were assuredly reading my glowing praise of them last week. So much so, that they let me inflate their heads to the point of complacency amidst a jarring performance against Washington. Never mind that Pat O’Donnell was forced to handle kickoffs because of Eddy Pineiro’s pinched nerve—which failed to mask the Bears’ poor coverage units. As Jeremy Grey would agree: Rule No. 76, no excuses, play like a champion. I prefer to live in a realm of where I possessed this much influence on what remains a middling unit occasionally capable of eye-opening play. Know that I would rather it not continue. (A finger on the monkey’s paw curls.)
By now, Tabor and his players understand these kinds of lapses on the very few plays they receive every week will cost the Bears in tight matchups against better teams and in more important interdivisional slates. Oh, what’s that? The Vikings are coming to town? What impeccable timing!
Robert knows that in an alternate universe the Bears never traded for Khalil Mack. He’s currently shuddering with rampant anxiety at the Fangio storylines he would’ve had to contend with in this hypothetical and horrifying dimension of reheated food.
Find Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.