The 2019 NFL season is still in its infancy, but so far it looks like the Chicago Bears defense is picking up right where they left off a year ago when they finished as the top D in the league. After a dominating, and ferocious performance in Washington, where they had four sacks and five takeaways, the Bears are back on track for another big season defensively. Their eleven sacks are tied for fifth most this year, their four interceptions are tied for third, and their four forced fumbles are tied for fifth in the league behind four teams that have five apiece.
Chicago's defense is in the top ten of several relevant defensive categories through three games and they show no signs of slowing down.
So about that expected regression from the Bears' defense...
I just never saw a drop coming into this year by going from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano at defensive coordinator. That's not to say that Fangio wasn't (and still is) a knowledgeable and experienced defensive mind, it's just that others were overvaluing the impact Fangio had in Chicago. Like most play callers, you're going to look better with better talent, and no defense in the league is as talented as the Bears were and still are. During Fangio's four years in Chicago he definitely had a hand in developing the talent, but the defensive's overall effectiveness went up each year he was in Chicago as the young players improved and as general manager Ryan Pace added fresh faces. So as the players got better, their numbers got better, until they culminated as the top defense in the NFL last year.
But since ‘it’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, and not the X’s and O’s,' I knew the 2019 version of the defense would be just fine. With All Pros and Pro Bowlers at each level of the defense, plus everyone either young and ascending or in their prime, told me the Bears wouldn’t miss a beat this season.
Pagano isn't some first year defensive coach, he's a 58 year old coach that has been coaching longer than the players on his defense have been alive. He's also a little more aggressive than Fangio is, so the players were sure to enjoy their new scheme.
There's still a long way to go to know for sure if the Bears will drop off from their top DVOA spot a year ago, but check out some of these other rankings from Chicago right now.
Chicago has the third best scoring defense at just 13 points per game. They only allow 3.1 yards per run (4th), 6.7 yards per pass (10th), and 4.7 yards per play (4th). They've only allowed 23% of third downs to be converted against them (3rd). They've allowed a 83.6 passer rating against (9th), but on third downs that rating plummets to 26.6 (2nd).
The intimidation factor of Chicago's defense is real. With Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks bullying offensive linemen up front, Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack wreaking havoc from outside linebacker, and Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan doing a little bit of everything from inside linebacker, Chicago’s front terrorizes offenses.
All Pros Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller lead the secondary, and with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix settling into his role at safety, Chicago’s back end is a no fly zone.
They’ll need their defense to be on point this Sunday afternoon as they take on 2-1 Minnesota Vikings, because Chicago’s offense, even though they looked better in Washington, is still looking for their 2019 identity.
There’s simply too much talent on head coach Matt Nagy’s offense to be struggling as bad as they have been so far this year. Mitchell Trubiksy and the offense started slow last year too (something I chronicled last week), before getting things going as the season progressed. They were just starting to hum in 2018 when Trubisky went down with the shoulder injury, but then after he came back and worked out some rust, he ended the season on a four-game stretch where he played some really efficient football.
In the last three games of the regular season, plus their lone playoff game, Trubisky had a passer rating of 102.8. He completed 70.6% of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while averaging 237 passing yards per game. Those aren’t eye popping stats, but it is exactly the kind of play the 2019 Bears need to make a run in the playoffs. Some good, smart, efficient offense will make their defense that much better because it will keep them fresher.
The Chicago Bears have a Super Bowl caliber defense, now it's up to the offense to show enough to strides to give them a real shot at the postseason. Making a statement on Sunday against a tough Minnesota defense could erase the angst fans felt after their sluggish start to the season.