This offseason I was very adamant that there wouldn’t be a regression out of the defense from the 2019 Chicago Bears after their fantastic 2018 campaign. The countering opinion said that getting turnovers wasn’t sustainable because through the years we’ve seen plenty of teams decline after getting a bunch of takeaways one year to the next. But historical data also suggested that good defenses, and this Bears defense was and is good, can sustain that aspect of their game.
But we flash forward to week 11 of this year and the Bears' defense hasn’t come close to their takeaway pace of a year ago. The defensive names are all still generally the same, although this Bears team has suffered a few more injuries, but they aren’t playing as aggressively as I expected, especially with defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano being known for his aggressiveness.
And therein lies the problem for this Bears team.
Can they afford to be aggressive defensively when their offense has been so lethargic?
It doesn’t seem that way.
I think Pagano has been calling a more ‘bend but don’t break’ style on defense because he and head coach Matt Nagy know they can’t risk giving up the big play. Pagano’s cautious, slow down the game approach to his defensive play calling is to keep the score close enough so the offense doesn’t need to play from too far behind.
If Nagy’s offense can somehow break out of its funk and score some points — they currently score 18 per game which is 6th worst in the league and that includes a kickoff and interception return for a touchdown — then I think we’ll finally see what Pagano wants to do defensively. His unit has been gassed at times due to the offense’s inability to sustain drives, and that has led to some late game breakdowns.
It’s easy to pin all Chicago’s offensive struggles on quarterback Mitchell Trubiksy, but the offensive line has had snafus, the playcalling has been all over the place, and the Bears lead the league in dropped passes. While it’s true that good quarterback play can mask some offensive problems, it’s also true that the Bears haven’t received good quarterback play. Trubisky needs to turn his season around if the Bears have any hope of a winning record.
Trubisky is capable of playing better, but so far he and the offense aren’t getting the job done and the numbers support that. The Bears are 29th in yards per game, 28th in time of possession, 30th in yards per play, 28th in first downs per game, 29th in third down efficiency, and I already mentioned 27th in points per game.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, that bend but don’t break philosophy is evidenced by the stats. They are 9th in yards allowed per game at 327.3 after being 3rd a year ago at 299.7, but in yards per play there is only a difference of a tenth of a point. They were at 4.8 (1st) in 2018 compared to 4.9 this season (3rd). Also, they are 11th in stopping third downs at 36% after being fourth at 34% last year.
But here’s the stat that shows just how much tighter Pagano’s D gets once teams make it into scoring position. This year they are 4th in points allowed after leading the league in 2018, but did you realize they are allowing fewer points in 2019 (17.4) as opposed to a year ago (17.7)?
How much would a better offense help these numbers?
It’s numbers like these that are giving Bears fans so much angst this season because we realize it wouldn’t have taken much offensively for the Bears to have more than their current four wins. At 4-5 this team still has a mathematical shot at the playoffs, but that makes this Sunday Nighter against the 5-4 Los Angeles Rams a must win.
Last year when the Bears met the Rams on Sunday Night Football they got their signature win of the season and put the league on notice they were for real, but a win this year could give a struggling group confidence for the stretch run.