We already discussed the Chicago Bears offense, so it is time to turn the attention to the other side of the ball. Defense is the calling card in Chicago and 2018 was no different. They ended the regular season ranked third in points allowed and fourth in total yards allowed. Still, there were areas where improvement is needed. Reading the Bears defense shows cracks existed against the pass, against concerted efforts to run, and opponents scoring late.
A Review of the Chicago Bears Defense in 2018
Run D Ran Down
Chicago was 2-3 when opponents ran the ball more than 20 times. Their only two victories were against the Detroit Lions. The Bears were stout against the run in 2018. They were second allowing 81.1 rushing yards per game for the season and finished allowing 62.3 over the final three weeks, tops in the NFL. They also faced the second-fewest carries per game and tied for third-lowest yards per carry allowed.
Against the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, in particular, they allowed 100-yard rushers. The Dolphins needed overtime to get the win, while the Giants faced backup quarterback Chase Daniel. But in both games, the inability to take the run away led to long drives causing the defense to get gassed and miss tackles. The New England Patriots did not have a runner hit the century-mark but as Bucky Brooks said attempts matter more than yards.
The Bears were at their worst against runs at the right side but faced more runs in that direction than any other team. Incoming defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano‘s Baltimore Ravens allowed the second-fewest rushing yards in 2011; his lone season in the same position. His more-aggressive style could mean more run blitzes designed to improve on the Bears stuff-rate, putting teams behind the chains. The improvement of second-year middle linebacker Roquan Smith will also be key.
Pass D Aired Out
A cursory glance shows Chicago ranking eighth in passing yards allowed. They also gave up the second-lowest completion percentage and tied for third-lowest yards per completion allowed. But they were below average across the middle of the field, on both short and long throws. They also were just inside the top-10 against pass-catchers out of the backfield. Not surprising when looking at the opponents in the three aforementioned losses and how they won.
That latter point especially hurt the Bears against the Patriots where James White recorded an 8-57-2 line through the air. Smith will also be expected to grow in this aspect; not to pile on the second-year man who did not have a camp last season. They might be looking elsewhere at nickel back and safety with Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos set for free agency. Both performed well but Callahan cannot stay healthy and Amos, while steady, only has three career interceptions in four seasons.
Pagano is said to be keeping the defense mostly as-is, save for the increased blitz frequency. Also look for more blitzing from the safeties, something Vic Fangio was less likely to do. He also could take Akiem Hicks game to another level by moving him around more. Khalil Mack will likely line up with his hand in the ground more under Pagano. The defense is also expected to run more defensive backs and man-coverage. The clear theme is that Fangio favors a system while Pagano relies on his stud players.
Too Little Too Late
The toughest area to judge was the late game scoring against the Bears. The offense’s shortcomings late in games certainly impacted the defense. But the numbers do not look good. They rank second and first in points allowed in the first and second quarters, respectively. But in the third quarter, they tied for seventh and in the fourth, they dropped all the way down to a tie for 20th with the Seattle Seahawks. That cannot be entirely explained away by offense not controlling the ball.
The Bears allowed most of their rushing and passing yardage in the fourth quarter. They also gave up 14 passing touchdowns compared to eight in quarters 1-3. Their 85.2 passer rating allowed in the fourth is second to the 88.6 they allow in the first. To put it into perspective they allowed 1,875 passing yards through the first three quarters this season. They gave up 1,568 in just the fourth quarters of games in 2018.
Chicago did have 11 of 27 interceptions and record 16 sacks in the fourth quarter. And the rush defense doesn’t fall off a cliff. But it is troubling that opponents offenses average their highest yards per attempt and second-highest completion percentage against the Bears late. It is also a problem that they average their highest yards per carry in the fourth. As stated, the offense’s progression will help, but Pagano’s impact should be felt most late in games.
The best thing going for this defense is the front seven, who should be better with a year together under their belt, albeit trying to learn a new scheme. By no means is this to discredit the remarkable job Fangio did in undoing what happened under Marc Trestman. But Jerrell Freeman – who played for both Fangio and Pagano – says expect more aggressive playcalling and blitzes. If that means more stops, especially late in games and tightening up in the middle of the field, so be it.