While the Chicago Bears’ offense improved enough to help the team make the playoffs, the defense struggled the past few months. It’s now time for the unit to make up for their recent struggles and play like the elite defense they’ve been.
It is Wild Card weekend and the Chicago Bears are preparing for their matchup against the New Orleans Saints. This is a statement I never envisioned making about a month ago. The Bears, in the midst of a six-game losing streak and the offense struggling to make first downs let alone score points, looked dead. The fans called for the firing of everyone involved, including Halas Hall’s janitor.
Now, however, Chicago accomplished something incredible. They rose from the dead and are now one of the 14 standing for the playoffs. Are they Super Bowl contenders? They are not, but they could make some noise. They played the Saints back in Week 8 and actually had a 10-point lead. They then fell down by 10 points but came back to send the game into overtime, where the Saints ultimately won, 26-23.
The Bears did that despite playing with a struggling offensive line. The starting quarterback at the time, Nick Foles, had to deal with constant pressure. While the running game was better in that game, the 96 yards it amassed still wasn’t too good.
Now, though, the Bears face the Saints with an improved offensive line, which, in turn, helped improve the passing and running games. In addition, the Saints have a history of choking away playoff games. The chances of a victory are still low, but the Chicago Bears could keep it close and ultimately shock the NFL world.
The offense needs some help
In order to see a Bears victory, the offense needs help from the defense. That is the second statement unthinkable a couple of months ago. The defense spent years shouldering the pressure of getting victories. While the team struggled offensively, the defense held the opposition down, keeping the Bears in a lot of games.
Last season, the offense ranked 29th in both scoring and yards gained. This season, the offense spent most of the season ranking 30th in both categories. It was amazing, then, that the offense finished 18th in scoring this season. The four-game stretch in which the team scored 30 or more points helped their rise in the rankings.
While the offense got better, the defense took a step back. In 2018, the defense was a turnover machine, and gaining yards was a chore for opposing offenses. Against the run, the front line was basically a brick wall. The unit recorded 47 turnovers (27 of them interceptions), and ranked 7th and 8th in passing yards and touchdowns allowed, respectively. The unit ranked number one and two in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed.
The defense took a slight step back in 2019 but was still a stingy unit. It ranked 4th in points allowed overall. It ranked 9th and 4th in passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed. Against the run, it ranked 9th in yards but took a precipitous drop in rushing touchdowns allowed, ranking just 26th.
Latest Bears News
This season, the defense ranks 9th in points allowed but ranks just 24th in turnovers (after dropping to 22nd the previous season). It ranked 13th in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards. It turned from a stingy defense stopping opposing offenses cold to a “bend-don’t-break” unit.
When former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left after the 2018 season, Chuck Pagano took over. He came with the thought of being a more aggressive coordinator than Fangio, but that hasn’t happened. In 2018, the Bears recorded 50 sacks. In Pagano’s two seasons in Chicago, the defense combined for 64. He’s gotten outcoached in some games, especially against the hated Green Bay Packers. In the past two seasons, the Packers schemed their top receivers into favorable matchups. In the last two games, somehow Danny Trevathan ended up covering Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling regularly. Trevathan could cover them on his best day, so that is a clear win for Green Bay.
All this has to change this week. Whatever Pagano can do to mix things up he needs to do it. This is the playoffs so he has to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Saints.
The big guys on defense need to come through
The Chicago Bears defense has some big names playing on it. They have Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, AKiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson. Additionally, they have Roquan Smith, the linebacker who was playing at an All-Pro level, but he suffered an elbow injury and might not play this week. Still, this should be a very strong defense.
Mack, Hicks, and Quinn should lead the way. When they put pressure on quarterbacks it is difficult for any offense to move, let alone score. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 5, the Bears pressured Tom Brady on 43.2 percent of his dropbacks. That was the highest against him since 2017. The pressure was so great that Brady was very frustrated. So frustrated, in fact, that he lost track of the downs on his final drive. To get to a future Hall of Fame quarterback like him is incredible.
The big guys need to do that to Drew Brees. If Brees is allowed to sit in the pocket too long, he’ll absolutely carve up the defense. If the Bears pressure him, he’ll give them a chance at turnovers. He’s made some big mistakes during his playoff career.
Of course, if the Bears front puts a lot of pressure on Brees, the secondary needs to take advantage of turnover opportunities. Last week, Aaron Rodgers gave the Bears three opportunities for interceptions. Bears defenders had their hands on the passes but weren’t able to hold onto the ball. Rodgers made them pay for missing those opportunities. That cannot happen again.
If the secondary can pick some passes, it gives the Bears a better chance at an upset. The offense will try to use the running game to control the clock. It did that last week and it worked, as the Bears had the ball for 11 minutes longer than the Packers. They weren’t able to score touchdowns, however, and field goals weren’t enough. Hopefully, if the defense gets turnovers, giving the offense a short field, the offense can score a few more touchdowns this week. If that happens, then Chicago Bears fans will have an enormous victory to celebrate.