Arguably the biggest storyline coming into the 2019 season for the Bears other than the kicking situation, which has been addressed with Eddy Pineiro, was the possible regression that was supposed to happen to the defense.
When Vic Fangio left to become the head coach in Denver, many people claimed that under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano the defense wouldn’t be as dominant as the one that finished No. 1 overall in 2018. How could they? The defense lost Fangio, the evil mastermind behind the vaunted unit that lead the league in takeaways a season ago.
Well, not only were all those people completely wrong, but Pagano’s defense is actually playing better than last season’s. And this isn’t a knock on Fangio, who did exceptionally well with his time in Chicago.
Here is how Pagano’s defense compares to Fangio’s through the first four games.
What makes the 2019 Bears’ defense so impressive is that despite having three fewer turnovers and facing 28 more offensive snaps, the unit has given up fewer total yards, fewer yards per play and more importantly fewer points than last year’s team.
The current defense doesn’t need to create turnovers in order to get off the field. Don’t get me wrong, though, this Bears defense, by all means, should continue creating takeaways as it has, but Pagano’s unit doesn’t rely on turnovers to get the job done.
Pagano’s coaching style has also played an integral part in the defense’s early success. Whether it is Buster Skrine coming off the edge on a blitz or Danny Trevathan blitzing up the A gap, Pagano will not hesitate to bring more guys than the offense can handle. And so far, that has worked to perfection for the defense.
The Play of Individual Players
Although it is still early in the season and the defense has played exceptionally well as a unit, there are individuals throughout the defense that have raised their level of play from a season ago.
Khalil Mack was a dominant force in his first season with the Bears there is no doubting that, and rightfully so he entered the 2019 season ranked as the No. 3 overall player by his peers in the NFL Top 100 List. After the first four games, he hasn’t just played like the best defensive player in football but more like the best player in the entire league.
Mack has completely wrecked opposing offenses to start this season and currently has 12 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. According to NFL Matchup on ESPN, he also has the second most QB Pressures with 23.
Since the trade…
Khalil Mack: 18 games played, 17 sacks (.94 per game), 10 forced fumbles, 1 TD.
Raiders: 20 games played, 18 sacks (.90 per game), 8 forced fumbles, 2 TD.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 2, 2019
It honestly wouldn’t surprise me, and probably most Bears fans, if 2019 is Mack’s best statistical season of his career. His career-high in sacks is 15 and his most forced fumbles is six. Who knows where Mack will finish in both those categories when this season is over.
For Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 2018 was an up and down year. After making seven starts with the Packers, he was traded to the Redskins where he played the remaining nine games. Not too long after Adrian Amos signed with the Packers, the Bears signed Clinton-Dix to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.
When the two safeties swapped spots, arguing about which safety was better became the prominent discussion between Bears and Packers fans.
Only four games into his Bears career, and Clinton-Dix only trails Amos, who spent four seasons with Chicago, by one interception (3-2). Clinton-Dix has proven to be another playmaker at the backend of an already dangerous secondary. The six-year pro has range and instincts that Amos can only dream of and that is the reality of the situation.
If you were to have said that Roy Robertson-Harris and Nick Williams would have combined for 6.5 sacks through the first four games this season, I would have called you crazy. But that is exactly the impact these two backups have brought to this already established defense.
Last season, Robertson-Harris made some flash players occasionally, but he wasn’t consistent. Even though it’s a small sample size, Robertson-Harris has made some plays in each of the four games. As for Williams, he only played 44 snaps and had two total tackles all last season. Now, he has more sacks (4) than he did tackles in 2018 and has proven to the coaching staff that he deserves playing time in the defensive rotation.
There is quality depth on this Bears defensive line and credit should be given defensive line coach Jay Rodgers for making Robertson-Harris and Williams not just role players but key defensive pieces.
Of course, there are plenty of other players like Leonard Floyd, Roquan Smith, Eddie Goldman and Kyle Fuller who should be recognized for their play so far in 2019. I didn’t want to leave them out, but the point is that a majority of these guys are playing at a high level for Pagano. And there are still some players like Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson who haven’t had that breakout game — yet. So, it’s only a matter of time before the defense becomes even better.
Super Bowl Potential
There is no telling what the 2018 team and specifically its defense could’ve done had Cody Parkey’s kick went through the uprights against the Eagles. But knowing that the Bears would’ve played the Rams in the second round, most likely gave Bears fans confidence that a run in the playoffs may have been possible.
That is in the past, though, but still, the current defense has the same potential to be special and the ability to carry this team to the Super Bowl. And if Chicago can get to the big game, last season proves that a great defense can win it all. The Patriots defeated the Rams 13-3. Right now, that is a type of game that favors the Bears.
Would it be nice if the offense can somewhat get things together, maybe by simply establishing a running game? Yeah, no question. Still, Pagano’s defense is more than capable of winning games on its own regardless if it’s Mitch Trubisky or Chase Daniel at quarterback.
But for the Bears to have the best chance to finally win a championship and to avoid being just another great defense that fell short of expectations, the offense will have to get better.
Until that happens, the Bears can and should rely on the best defense in the league to win them games.