Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Chicago Bears’ Defense Is Beginning To Show Signs Of 2018 Form


The Chicago Bears are riding high after a convincing 20-9 upset victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. It was the third win this season in which Chicago’s defense held their opponent to 17 points or less. With the Bears’ record at 3-2, the team has built an identity around their defense, which is starting to perform at a similar rate that was seen during their 2018 NFC North Championship season three years ago.

It Has Been Two Years Since The Bears’ Defense Performed At This Level

The way the Bears defense has played this season has not been seen since the early part of the 2019 season. During the first quarter of the 2019 season, the Bears defense had only allowed 45 points through four games while registering 17 sacks. Chicago’s 2019 defense appeared to leave off where their 2018 defense had finished as they were creating constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and forcing turnovers.

Unfortunately, the high level of defense seen by the 2019 Bears was short-lived as the decline in quality play started in week five. Chicago traveled to London to take on the Raiders, in which the Raiders won 24-21 after rushing for over 150 yards and didn’t allow quarterback Derek Carr to be sacked at all. This game was also significant as Pro Bowl defensive end Akiem Hicks missed a majority of the rest of the season due to a dislocated elbow.

Hicks’ injury would prove to be costly as opposing offenses were able to adjust their pass-blocking schemes to neutralize Bears’ All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack. Following Chicago’s week five loss to the Raiders, the team would finish with 15 sacks for the remainder of the 2019 season. Chicago’s defense had no secondary pass-rusher to capitalize on the attention given to Mack. Due to the lack of a pass-rush, the Bears’ ability to force turnovers significantly decreased as the team only recorded ten interceptions in 2019.

Following the 2019 season, general manager Ryan Pace attempted to address the issue of a weak supporting cast pass-rush behind Mack by signing Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn. Although Quinn had four double-digit sack seasons before joining the Bears, he could only record two sacks in 2020. The Bears’ 2020 defense did perform slightly better as they recorded three more sacks than they did in 2019 but still finished with the same record of 8-8. Again, the recurring theme seen in 2020 was the lack of a pass rush behind Mack.

The 2021 Bears Pass Rush Has Been The Best Aspect Of the Team

Through the first five games of the 2021 season, the Bears’ defense has been able to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Following an embarrassing defensive performance to start the season against Los Angeles, Chicago’s defense has recorded 17 sacks and forced six turnovers. The Bears’ defense has recorded four sacks or more in three games this season and has had two games with multiple takeaways.

The biggest reason for the Bears’ renewed pass-rush hasn’t been because of Mack, but because of the supporting cast around, especially Quinn. The former All-Pro defensive end has forced four and a half sacks, which has, in turn, freeing up Chicago’s All-Pro linebacker, who has recorded five sacks. It isn’t just Quinn and Mack alone, as the Bears are getting pressure from fellow linebackers in Roquan Smith and Trevis Gibson. Both Gibson and Smith have two sacks through the Bears’ five games.

The revitalized Bears’ pass rush is leading to more takeaways, including interceptions. Through the first five games of the 2020 season, Chicago’s defense had forced only three interceptions. In the Bears’ week two victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow was picked off three times as it was the first time since week three of the 2019 season that Chicago’s defense had a three-interception game.

Chicago’s pass rush will be tested the next three weeks as the Bears will face future Hall Of Fame quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks, followed by a very mobile rookie in Trey Lance. The Bears will host quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this week before playing Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week. If there is any chance of the Bears’ winning either game, they will need to attack Rodgers and Brady with a consistent and effective pass rush.

The Chicago Bears have a legitimate chance to have a 5-4 record heading into their bye week in week 10. If Chicago is to have a winning record at the season’s halfway point, the defensive pass-rush will need to continue to provide relentless pressure. Since 2018, Bears’ fans have yearned for a return to the elite pass-rush that led to a division championship. Three years later, the Bears’ defense may be on the verge of recapturing that level of play.

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