One thing we thought we knew about the Bears coming into the 2018 season was that they had a chance to be pretty good on defense.
After all, they were 10th in total defense, ninth in points allowed, sixth in sack percentage and a decent 15th in turnover differential in spite of only eight interceptions last season.
There was concern where the pass rush would come from after the departures of Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, but Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks offered enough promise to believe they’d be OK in that department.
Then came the drafting of Roquan Smith, trading for Khalil Mack and the 41-plus-minute shutout they pitched at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, and the question became, “Wait a minute, are these the ’85 Bears?”
Yes, the final 19 minutes against the Packers were a disaster, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and no, there will never be another team like the ’85 Bears.
When you throw out the emotion and whatever happened Sunday and just evaluate the talent, this defense can be very, very good.
I’ve been doing this a really long time, and I can’t remember 30 minutes of dominance like we saw from Mack against the Packers, but we already knew he was a defensive MVP at age 25.
What might be more important is the effect he has on the rest of the defense.
Consider the impression he made on second-year safety Eddie Jackson.
“It was exciting to see, man,” Jackson said. “So, we knew what he was capable of, and for him to come out here and do it on the field with us, it was amazing to see.”
Hicks might never be an MVP, but he should have been a Pro Bowler last year. He’s one of the best five-techniques in football, and he is as motivated by Mack as the youngster, Jackson.
“Did you see Khalil’s ... where he just snatches the ball from him?” Hicks said. “Who does that? You dream about that type of play, you know? Pretty cool.”
When the Bears drafted Floyd at No. 9 overall in 2016 and Smith eighth this past April, it was because they believed each has Mack-type ability.
Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development, bu coach Matt Nagy is pleased with where the young edge rusher is at in spite of him playing hurt right now.
“For the most part, we love where he’s at,” Nagy said. “He’s playing fast. He feels good. I think he’s doing everything he can right now to be the best player.”
Although we don’t know yet exactly how Smith will project at the next level, résumé pieces don’t come much better than SEC Defensive MVP.
As I wrote recently, who can remember a team that had three top-10 picks – Mack, Floyd and Smith – in a four-man linebacker group? As badly as they’ve drafted over the past decade, when was the last time the Bears had five first-round picks (Kyle Fuller, No. 14 overall and Prince Amukamara, No. 19 in 2011) starting on defense, plus a
second-rounder in Eddie Goldman and third-rounders in Jonathan Bullard and Hicks?
The natural talent on this defense still gets better when you realize that most analysts agree Jackson could have been a first-round pick, and at worst a second, were it not for his injury history at Alabama, and there is great depth with Roy Robertson-Harris, Sam Acho, Nick Kwiatkoski, Aaron Lynch and Bryce Callahan all having documented big-play ability.
Beyond all that, Vic Fangio clearly knows what to do with his wealth of weapons, and because of the tremendous athleticism of almost every one of these kids, most of them can be used in a number of ways.
Of course, they are kids – one of the youngest groups in the league.
Clearly, the proof will have to come on the field, but there is every reason to believe this defense is going to be truly special.