On Friday, The Chicago Bears filled their defensive coordinator position as they promoted safeties coach Sean Desai to the role. Desai has served as the Bears’ safeties coach for the past two seasons while being with the organization since 2013. Although the Bears defense has been respectable the last few seasons, they failed to create the same impact plays that they generated in 2018 when they won the NFC North Division title. It will now be up to Desai to return to the defense to that prestige in a make it or break it 2021 season.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 23, 2021
Bears Have Lacked Impact Plays Since 2018
What made the 2018 Bears season so memorable was how dominant their defense was under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The reason for Chicago’s defensive domination was because of the team’s ability to generate sacks and turnovers at will. In 2018, the Bears registered 50 sacks and 27 turnovers, including six defensive touchdowns. The impact plays were something to behold due to the increase of quarterback pressures and sacks, which led to the increased number of turnovers.
Since 2018, the Bears have failed to generate the same level of pressure along with the turnovers. Chicago has only averaged 33.5 sacks while they only have generated 20 interceptions over the last two seasons. In those two seasons, the Bears defense has only been able to generate two defensive touchdowns also.
The Chicago Bears led the league in scoring defense in 2018 with 17.7 points Allowed per game which is the 6th best since 2015.
Can they get better this season?
IMO with their current schedule, it may be tough but a sub 17 points allowed per game season is reachable
— Austin F (@PodGuyFuges) July 10, 2019
There are several reasons why the Bears’ defense has struggled to return to their 2018 form. One of the main reasons why has been the lack of a secondary pass rusher. When general manager Ryan Pace traded for Khalil Mack a week before the 2018 season started, and already quality defense added arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL. Mack immediately proved to be a matchup problem as he registered five sacks, four forced fumbles, and an interception in his first four games with the team.
With all the attention paid to Mack, others on the Bears’ defense got to opposing quarterbacks easier as Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and Roquan Smith combined for 16 sacks. Following 2018, opposing offenses were able to block Mack more efficiently, forcing others to step up, which they haven’t. Floyd failed to do so in 2019, while Pace signed Robert Quinn in 2020. Quinn was limited by a significant foot injury throughout the season, as he only recorded two sacks. Without a second or third pass rusher, Chicago’s defense has struggled to generate sacks, which has led to the decline in turnovers.
There’s no containing our guys when they’re on the hunt.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 15, 2020
Desai Needs To Get The Secondary Corrected
One of the more concerning aspects of the Bears’ defense over the last two seasons has been the lack of plays from the team’s secondary. In 2018, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson combined for 13 interceptions while being named All-Pros and to the Pro Bowl. Both players were great at jumping routes. Of the 13 interceptions, four were the result of overthrows by the opposing quarterback or tipped passes. Unfortunately, over the last two seasons, Fuller and Jackson have only combined for seven interceptions.
— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) January 22, 2021
Other than the decline in impact plays from Jackson, Desai has overseen a safety position played pretty well over the last few seasons. The Bears have started a new safety next to Jackson each of the previous two seasons while being successful. In 2019, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played well, as, despite a small number of interceptions, the Bears secondary was rarely beat deep. In 2020, safeties Deon Bush and veteran Tashaun Gibson combined for three interceptions.
Desai will need to find a way to make the top players in the Bears’ secondary productive again, as if they can disguise their coverage, the rate of interceptions should increase again. Chicago’s secondary, despite the lack of turnovers, played extremely well up until week 12 in 2020.
The other task for Desai is to find a way to create more pressure on the opposing quarterback, whether it be blitzing more or finding someone to capitalize on the attention paid to Mack. Unless there are wholesale changes, the Bears defense should have their core of Mack, Jackson, Fuller, Hicks, Quinn, and Eddie Goldman in 2021. There is a good chance with Goldman back and a possibly healthy Quinn, Chicago might be able to generate the same level of pressure they had in 2018.
There are significant ramifications If Desai fails to improve the Bears defense and the team has a disappointing 2021 campaign. A dismal performance will lead to the general manager and coaching staff firing and the Bears entering a complete rebuild. Chicago’s newest defensive coordinator, who has been apart of three different coaching regimes since 2013, now must return the defense to the heights they reached with Fangio.