Since Matt Nagy became the 16th head coach in Bears history, the talk of the town has been about the potential of the new offense – as it should be. In 2018, fans will see Mitch Trubisky playing in an offense that caters to his strengths, which should lead to him making a significant jump in year 2.
That’s definitely something to be excited about, but the strength of this Bears’ team is in their defense, and with the Eagles, Vikings, Patriots and Jaguars playing in the championship games this season proved that defenses reigned supreme.
In this past weekend’s phenomenal divisional games, each of the four winning teams’ defenses were ranked in the top five with the least amount of points given up per game in the regular season: the Vikings first (15.8), the Jaguars were second (16.8), the Eagles finished fourth (18.4) and the Patriots fifth (18.5).
That regular season success, for the most part, translated in the playoffs. On Saturday, the Eagles held the Falcons to 10 points, 281 total yards and last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan, to 195 yards passing in their home playoff win. Later that night, the Patriots gave up only 14 points, sacked Marcus Mariota eight times and kept the Titans’ running game to 65 total yards in their victory.
In Sunday’s game, the Jaguars uncharacteristically gave up 42 points in their win, but the defense did shut the Steelers out in the first quarter, intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and the previous week held the Bills to three points. Then in the Vikings’ victory over the Saints, the defense completely shutdown Drew Brees and the offense in the first half, the unit didn’t allow a single point and intercepted Brees twice.
Regardless of who wins in their respective championship game, a great defense will be in Super Bowl LII.
Now, if the Bears ever want to get to the Super Bowl (or more realistically) have a winning season, they need to continue making strides on defense. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace helped put the unit in the right direction by retaining defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Under Fangio in 2017, the defense finished ninth in points given up per game (20), tied for seventh in sacks (42) and 13th in total takeaways (22). The defense accomplished these feats despite having defensive starters go down throughout the season: Leonard Floyd, Willie Young, Jerrell Freeman and Quintin Demps.
With Fangio under contract for three more years, the continuity that has been established with his group will continue and so will the unit’s chemistry. That chemistry is what the Bears will rely on when it’s a close game in the fourth quarter and there must be a stop to seal the victory or to give the offense one last opportunity to score.
But the defense does need to add some pieces and address some questions. It starts with adding another pass rusher and that could be done with the No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft. The organization also must make a decision on cornerback Kyle Fuller, whose rookie contract has expired. Personally, I would franchise tag Fuller and have him earn that extension.
Fellow cornerback Prince Amukamara’s one-year contract is also up and the Bears will have to decide if they want to bring him back. And there could be more depth added at inside and outside linebacker.
There’s work to be done to make the Bears a top-five defensive unit but it’s possible.
Hopefully in 2018, the Bears new look offense provides a much needed boost on that side of the ball, but it will be the defense that helps bring Chicago out of the bottom tier of the league and one step closer to playing football in the postseason.