2014 all over again? Not quite — this Bears team has a defense
This has been a miserable Bears season. But let’s not get carried away.
This is not even close to the demise of the Bears under Marc Trestman in 2014. With all due respect to Trestman’s best intentions, that team was crying out for an intervention. In one six-game stretch it fell behind 24-7, 45-7, 45-0, 35-7 and 24-0; The one time in that span it took a lead, the Bears were outscored 31-3 in the final three quarters in a 34-17 loss to the Lions.
The Bears have had some dysfunctional moments since winning the Super Bowl, but that was the epitome of a rudderless, out-of-control team. Brandon Marshall’s locker-room rant after a loss to the Dolphins was followed by embarrassing losses to the Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14). Jeremiah Ratliff went berserk at practice prior to the season finale against the Vikings and not only wasn’t disciplined, but was named a team captain for that game. Marshall had an altercation with assistant coach Chris Harris that went unpunished — causing an irreparable fracture of team morale. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer contributed to the folly of that season by anonymously ripping Jay Cutler to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport— then tearfully apologizing to the team when the story caused a stir.
That Bears team lost eight of its last 10 games to finish 5-11. This team will have to hustle to win that many. The difference? The 2014 team was broken beyond repair. This team is just broken.
No doubt, if the Bears don’t have any better luck with injuries in Year 3 than they’ve had in the first two seasons under John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace, they will fail — a story for another day. But if the Bears ever find a way to get healthy and stay healthy, they have hope where the 2014 team did not — mainly, the foundation of a defense.
The 2014 Bears defense hit rock bottom as Lovie Era players faded or were let go — Julius Peppers for Jared Allen was a step in the wrong direction. The Bears were fifth in total defense and third in scoring defense in Lovie Smith’s final season of 2012. They plummeted to 30th in yards and points in 2013 and 30th in yards and 31st in points in 2014.
Less than two years into a tear-down and rebuild under Pace, Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears are 10th in the NFL in total yards, 10th in yards per play, seventh in rushing yards per attempt and 19th in points allowed.
And those numbers might be better if the defense didn’t have to support an offense that ranks 17th in yards and 31st in scoring. The Bears’ defense is fourth in yards per play (5.0) and tied for first in fewest touchdowns allowed (seven) in the first half of games this season. It is 18th in yards per play (5.4) and 27th in touchdowns allowed (16) in the second half.
“Roster-wise, we’ve made progress over the last year-and-a-half on that side of the ball,” Fox said. “It isn’t indicated by our record — and I know that can be frustrating for everybody, including myself and everybody in that locker room. I think our guys compete. I like our work ethic. I like our attitude. I like our locker room, to be honest with you. But everybody is evaluated on that record.”
Compared to the disastrous final year under Trestman and Emery, this team has actual building blocks on defense. The promising rookie in 2014 was cornerback Kyle Fuller. On this team it’s outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Asked for evidence of player development among young players, Fox pointed to veterans as well as rookies who have provided upgrades — defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Cre’Von LeBlanc, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, “our young safeties” — and of course, Floyd.
Fangio did not seem as impressed as Fox, sounding cautiously optimistic about the progress of the defense. It’s better than when he got here, but there’s still a long way to go.
“We’ve got six games left. Things can change quickly,” Fangio said. “We’ve done OK. But when you have our record, everybody’s fingerprints are on it. We need to keep improving — as individuals and as a unit. And hopefully we’ll keep doing that.”
The 2016 Bears have not been very good. They need a strong finish just to provide evidence the arrow is pointing up — the bare-minimum measurement of success in Fox’s second season. But they do have the foundation of a defense, and that gives any team hope. The 2014 Bears had neither of those.