The Bears’ defense isn’t broken, but it has been cracking recently.
The damage: The last two opponents totaled 75 points, turnovers and sacks have been scarce and six consecutive quarterbacks have posted 100-plus passer ratings against them — believed to be the longest streak in franchise history. That’s an alarming backdrop as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks arrives at Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Texans aren’t good, but Deshaun Watson is.
“Unfortunately, we don’t get to play with 13 players,” joked defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. “We’d love to this week. That would be really nice to always have somebody just assigned to him, or two guys besides the other 11, but they’re not going to allow us to do that.”
In his fourth season, amid an absolute disaster for his 4-8 team, Watson is at his best. He throws for nearly 300 yards per game, adds nearly 30 as a runner and has the Texans averaging 24 points.
That’s slightly below the league average for scoring, but it’s usually enough to beat the Bears.
Their biggest problem lately — one that Watson will be eager to take advantage of — is that they aren’t doing much to make life difficult for quarterbacks. The pass rush was central to everything the Bears hoped to accomplish this season and it has been modest at best.
As they’ve been lit up by six quarterbacks in a row, the Bears have managed just eight sacks. Three of those came against Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford dropped back a total of 110 times, and the Bears got three sacks.
Collectively, the last six quarterbacks the Bears faced averaged 260.5 yards, completed 68% of their passes, posted a 110.2 passer rating and had 15 touchdown passes against two interceptions. If a single quarterback kept that pace for the season, he’d be an MVP candidate.
Watson’s numbers aren’t far off. His 110.0 rating is tied for third in the NFL, he is completing 69% of his passes and leads the league at 8.8 yards per pass. His 24 touchdowns rank ninth, and he has thrown six interceptions. He has thrown a pick on 1.5% of his passes, which ranks eighth.
“Top-two or top-three player in this league as far as I’m concerned — could arguably say he’s the best player,” Pagano said. “And right when you think you’ve got him dead to rights in the pocket and you’re hanging on him and you think you’ve got him sacked, you don’t. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and you guys have seen him step out of harm’s way multiple times.”
Seeing the Bears’ defense get sliced up by quarterbacks is jarring. They allowed just four 100-plus ratings over the 2018 and ’19 seasons combined. In 2018, with 50 sacks and an NFL-best 27 interceptions, the Bears led the league with a 72.9 opponent passer rating. That was the best mark by any defense since 2010.
It has been a precipitous fall. And it could get worse.
Not that his motivation was ever in question, but Watson will be highly incentivized against the Bears. There likely some lingering inclination to remind them how badly mistaken they were to take Mitch Trubisky instead of him at No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft, plus he’s coming off a rare meltdown of his own.
As Trubisky was coughing up a fumble, and the game, against the Lions, Watson lost the ball on a bad snap against the Colts to blow it on second-and-goal at the 2-yard line with 1:28 left. The Texans were on verge of a game-winning touchdown, but lost 26-20.
That doesn’t happen often to Watson, so the Bears shouldn’t count on benefiting from those types of miscues. Instead, although Pagano often veers into hyperbole when describing opposing players, they should be ready for exactly what he described: an elite talent who can beat them a hundred different ways.