The Chicago Bears have always been known for a hard-hitting, smash-mouth style defense. But as many national analysts predicted, a slight regression took place last season as the defense wasn’t able to repeat from a spectacular 2018 campaign.
Despite key players missing multiple games, a lack of production off the edge and a drop in the number of takeaways, the 2019 Chicago Bears finished as a top-10 ranked defense.
With a healthier roster, increased production from the edge rusher position and a secondary with more playmaking opportunities, the 2020 Bears’ defense should take a step back in the right direction.
The 2019 Bears’ defense was without multiple key contributors for an extended period of time. First and foremost, an integral cog and team leader Akiem Hicks missed nine games due to an elbow injury sustained against the Raiders in the Bears’ overseas trip to London. Defensive line building block Bilal Nichols also missed three games early with a broken hand.
Late in the season, both starting linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith suffered season-ending injuries. Trevathan missed the final seven games, and Smith missed the final three. With so many players missing in action, there was hardly any continuity among the Bears’ front seven.
The unit was forced into “next-man-up” mode with several second-string players rising to the occasion and playing valuable first-team reps. Nick Williams, Nick Kwiatkoski, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brent Urban all contributed throughout the season. But 2020 will be different for the Bears as they don’t have the luxury of a deep roster at these positions. Williams, Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis all left during free agency.
Some say availability is a player’s strongest attribute. The Bears are hoping that a long offseason will provide ample amounts of healing time for Hicks, Trevathan and Smith, especially with a thin second line behind them.
Although Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher wasn’t a fan of the Robert Quinn signing, the Bears acquired a much-needed pass-rush specialist to replace former first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd.
Quinn, 30, had a renaissance year in 2019 playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Lining up opposite of Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence, Quinn was able to sack opposing quarterbacks 11.5 times, while adding another 22 quarterback pressures to his resume. Quinn is a proven pass rusher in the NFL, having totaled 80.5 sacks since entering the league in 2011.
The plan is that the Bears’ front seven will produce more quarterback pressures, and this should result in quarterbacks making more mistakes. After a drop in the total number of sacks from 2018 to 2019, the Bears are hoping this is a recipe for havoc. Simply put, you can’t double team them all.
With more pressure on the quarterback, comes more playmaking opportunities in the secondary. While the secondary didn’t miss as much time on the field, the takeaways weren’t there. The defense only had 19 takeaways in 2019, compared to the 36 takeaways in 2018.
The Bears’ secondary will have fresh faces lining up on that side of the ball. Chicago selected former Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the 50th overall pick, and he is slated to take over the vacancy left by Prince Amukamara. Johnson showed a knack for locating the football, having totaled seven interceptions over his career as a Ute.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix moved on from his one-year stint in Chicago to Dallas. With Clinton-Dix leaving, journeyman safety Tashaun Gipson was brought in to fill the gap. Gipson has been around the league having played with Cleveland, Jacksonville and Houston before landing in Chicago.
Not known as much as an in-the-box safety, Gipson has shown that he is an opportunistic player, having recorded 23 career interceptions. What he brings is also reliability since he has only missed two games over the last four seasons. Between playmaking and dependability, the Bears should see an uptick in takeaway opportunities with Gipson on the field.
With health, pressure, and new faces looking for playmaking opportunities, the Bears can use this formula to propel themselves back to being one of the league’s best.