First test for ‘new’ Bears defense: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon

The Bears made big moves in the offseason to fortify their 31st-ranked run defense. Facing the Packers’ backfield duo of Jones and Dillon — who averaged 156 rushing yards per game vs. the Bears last season — will be the first indicator of how well they did.

SHARE First test for ‘new’ Bears defense: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon
Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers

Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) had 15 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown against the Bears in Week 2 at Lambeau Field last season.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As much as Aaron Rodgers was a thorn to the Bears, running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon did the damage that really illustrated all that went wrong with the Bears’ defense last year — it couldn’t stop the run.

Jones and Dillon combined for 193 of the Packers’ 203 rushing yards in a 27-10 victory at Lambeau Field, with one touchdown. They combined for 119 of the Packers’ 175 rushing yards in a 28-19 victory at Soldier Field, with one touchdown.

And while Rodgers is gone, Jones and Dillon are still there.

“They are a good running team. I’m sure they will be a good running team this year,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “You have a guy [Dillon] who can get on the edge. You have a guy in 33 [Jones] who can get on the edge. He can get outside of you. He can run between the tackles.”

Jones and Dillon present an early litmus test for a revamped Bears defense that is thinking big after allowing more points than any team in the league last year. They were 31st in the NFL in rushing defense last season (157.3 yards per game).

“We were hurt a lot last year,” Justin Jones said. “We had a different lineup every game. I don’t think we had our full 11 on the field at all. We’re starting the game with our full 11 [now], I believe. We’ve got chemistry built up. We’ve got some new additions that’s going to help us out a lot.”

Indeed, personnel changes were made. Of the top 12 players in the front seven from that team, only three remain — defensive tackle Jones, second-year defensive end Dominique Robinson and second-year linebacker Jack Sanborn.

They invested heavily in run defense in the draft and free agency. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds led the Bills with 102 tackles. Linebacker T.J. Edwards led the NFC-champion Eagles with 159. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker is as good of a run defender as he is a pass rusher. The Bears believe defensive end Yannick Ngakoue will be a better run defender than his reputation. They also drafted defensive tackles Gervon Dexter (second round) and Zacch Pickens (third round) to fortify the interior front.

“We got better,” Jones said. “We’ve got different guys in the room. I’m not gonna say better players. We’ve got better talent in this room. Better guys that know more about football. They know run fits. They know gap schemes. They know everything. We’re communicating to each other amongst people who know a lot about the game. It’s cool to see.”

The Bears believe they are better equipped this year to stop the run. And if rookies Dexter and Pickens develop throughout the season as expected, the run defense might get better instead of getting worn down.

“We’re a little bigger, stronger, faster up front and in the middle,” Williams said. “We have more experience and guys that have one year under their belt, so they are setting the edge better.

“They are getting off the ball better. We need to control the line of scrimmage better. We need to play on their side of the line of scrimmage, and it’s not just our front four. Our ’backers need to play a little bit more downhill, read our keys. If you add all those things up, I think that means stopping the run better.”

Walker, Ngakoue and Edmunds did not play that much in the preseason or in training camp. Tackling can be dicey in the early going. So the biggest challenge is starting fast.

“I take comfort in the fact that there’s nobody that practices harder or works harder than us in the league,” Jones said. “When it comes to this run-game story, I [am] confident that we’ll be able to knock it out just off the strength in how we work to get better at it.”

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