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Dominant defense a comfort for Bears and a source of major stress for opponents

So coach Matt Nagy worry? No. He has the best defense in the NFL, led by Khalil Mack, a linebacker who is perhaps the best player in the league. And he has Akiem Hicks, a people-mover who collapses pockets and game plans.

The Bears defense is one thing coach Matt Nagy won’t have to worry about.
Robert Reiners/Getty


omeone asked coach Matt Nagy the other day if the Bears would be dealing with extra pressure this season, what with all the Super Bowl talk buzzing around his team.

Nagy dismissed it like a horse tail swishes aside a fly, saying that the Bears had their own goals and weren’t paying attention to whatever expectations others were piling on them. He sounded like every other coach trying to control what can’t be controlled.

Or maybe not. Maybe, upon hearing the question about pressure, he started taking a mental roll call: Khalil Mack. Akiem Hicks. Eddie Goldman. Roquan Smith. Danny Trevathan. Eddie Jackson. Kyle Fuller. Leonard Floyd. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

When you have a defense filled with those names, you might be in possession of the best stress reliever known to man. With one side of the ball so stacked with talent, you really shouldn’t have a care in the world, outside of the possibility of injuries, and why did I have to go and bring that up? Pretend I didn’t.

So, Nagy worry? No. He has the best defense in the NFL, led by Mack, a linebacker who is perhaps the best player in the league. He has Hicks, a people-mover who collapses pockets and game plans. He has Smith, who had a very good rookie season without a training camp, leading to the presumption that he’ll be a better linebacker in 2019 with a camp under his belt. And Nagy has Jackson, maker of big plays.

On and on it goes.

Taking over for Vic Fangio, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has made it clear that his biggest goal is to get out of the way of all that talent. Roll your eyes and say “duh’’ at the obviousness of that sentiment, but humans’ capacity to outthink themselves knows no limitations. Let’s hope Pagano doesn’t get any big ideas.

There is speed, power and hunger here. The entire team felt the sting of Cody Parkey’s missed field goal in the playoff loss to the Eagles last season, but it must have been particularly painful for the defense, which had carried the team most of the season and definitely in that particular game. So some of the talk among the defensive players surely has to do with not wanting to feel that heartbreak again.

Where the Bears end up this season will inevitably depend on Mitch Trubisky. Any conversation about the Bears eventually leads to their quarterback. The line we’re hearing over and over again is that the Bears’ defense is so good that it’s doing to Trubisky in camp what it does to every quarterback. So he looks like a college kid going up against pros. He’ll get a hall pass until his first interception of the preseason, at which time Nagy might feel some of the pressure that he says doesn’t exist.

Trubisky has a role to play in making the Bears’ defense better in 2019. If he can lead long drives that eat up the clock and give rest to his defensive teammates, it would be a huge plus for the team. The thought of Mack, his legs rested, running into the backfield makes offensive coordinators break into a cold sweat.

If the offense is so-so, as it was last season, then the burden will be on the defense to be better than it was last season. Hicks, et al., will accept that challenge. But for the Bears to win a Super Bowl, the offense has to do its part. At some point, somebody else has to be the MVP of the offense besides Nagy, the innovative play-caller.

If the offense can make the defense proud, then the Bears really have something. While we wait to find out, let’s remember Mack’s first game with the Bears, the season opener in Green Bay last year. He was so disruptive to the Packers’ offense, you would have thought he was a rolling grenade. The result was a forced fumble and a pick-six for Mack. Oh, and he looked out of shape.

It’s easy to understand why so much optimism surrounds the Bears this season. Opponents, no matter how high-octane their offense, know a great defense when they get hit by one.

This defense has a chance to be part of the conversation about best defenses of all time, but that’s for down the road. For now, it needs to be better than last year’s unit, which was excellent.

That sounds like pressure. It’s not. It’s the truth, and the Bears know it.