Unfinished business: Where does the Bears’ defense rank with Super Bowl winners?

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Khalil Mack reacts after the Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s too early to debate where this year’s Bears defense — the one that went from good to great with the addition of outside linebacker Khalil Mack — ranks among the best in recent history.

“You can’t really tell right now,” inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said.

No one at Halas Hall has a better perspective than Trevathan. He was a member of the last great defensive team to win a Super Bowl: the 2015 Denver Broncos.

“[The Bears are] shaking out to be one of the best ones, but it’s all about how you finish strong in the postseason,” Trevathan said. “You can play good right now, but teams that don’t finish well find themselves on the short end of the leash, and we don’t want to be that. We want to be one of the greats.”

With that in mind, we compared the Bears to Trevathan’s Broncos and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks — two recent teams that proved that defenses can still win championships in an era defined by quarterbacks, rules changes and offensive dominance.

2015 Broncos

The Broncos weren’t a well-rounded champion. They had holes. And quarterback Peyton Manning was well past his prime, too.

But that makes them similar to the Bears, who have won while Mitch Trubisky develops in his second season overall and first under coach Matt Nagy.

The Broncos defeated John Fox’s Bears 17-15 that season at Soldier Field. Brock Osweiler (20-for-27, 250 yards, two touchdown passes) outplayed Jay Cutler (18-for-32, 265 yards, one interception, one lost fumble).

There was nothing exceptional about the Broncos’ offense that season. Denver ranked 16th, 14th and 17th in total yards, passing and rushing, respectively. It’s the same story for the Bears, who rank 21st in total yards, 20th in passing and 14th in rushing.

But with one regular-season game left Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears’ defensive statistics are comparable to what the Broncos finished with that season before they went on to win Super Bowl 50.

The Bears and Broncos are quite similar in points allowed per game (18.2 to 18.5), third-down percentage (35.6 to 35.2), opposing quarterback passer rating (72.5 to 78.8), sacks (46 to 52) and rushing defense (81.1 yards to 88.4).

The Broncos ranked first in total yards, allowing 283.1 yards per game, whereas the Bears rank fourth at 308.7.

But the Bears are much better at taking the ball away, with 36 takeaways compared to the Broncos’ 27. The Bears also lead the NFL with 27 interceptions.

2013 Seahawks

This Seahawks team should be compared to the Bears more often. There are several parallels, starting with the quarterbacks.

In his second season, Russell Wilson completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,357 yards and had 27 total touchdowns (26 TD passes, one rushing TD) and nine interceptions in 16 games. He was sacked 44 times but had a passer rating of 101.2. He had a total QBR of 66.8.

Trubisky has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 3,060 yards and has 27 total touchdowns (24 TD passes, three rushing TDs) and 12 interceptions in 13 games. He has been sacked 24 times and has a 96.0 passer rating and 71.8 total QBR.

The Bears have running backs Jordan Howard (229 carries, 826 yards, seven touchdowns) and Tarik Cohen (94-420-two touchdowns), but the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (301-1,257-12) was better by himself on the ground.

Similar to the Seahawks, though, the Bears prefer to spread the ball around in their passing game, with Cohen (69 catches), Taylor Gabriel (63), Allen Robinson (55), Trey Burton (49) and Anthony Miller (33) leading the way.

The Seahawks were led by Golden Tate (64), Doug Baldwin (50), Lynch (36), Zach Miller (33) and Jermaine Kearse (22).


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But this is about defense, not offense.

In 2013, the Seahawks were in the middle of an exceptional defensive run that lasted several years, culminating with a victory in Super Bowl 48 that season.

Some of the Seahawks’ final defensive numbers are similar to the Bears’: interceptions (28 to 27), third-down percentage (35.2 to 35.6) and sacks (44 to 46).

The Seahawks rate an edge over the Bears in total yards (273.6 to 308.7), points allowed per game (14.4 to 18.2) and opposing quarterback passer rating (63.4 to 72.5). But the Bears have a better rushing defense (81.1 to 101.6).

What does it all mean?

It might be too early to book flights to Atlanta for the Super Bowl, but it’s OK for Bears fans to think big.

The numbers suggest that good things can still happen for teams that are led by their defenses.

And that includes advanced statistics.

The Bears have the NFL’s best defense by a wide margin, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average measurement, which “breaks down every play of the NFL season, assigning each play a value based on total yards and yards toward a first down.”

The same can be said about the 2013 Seahawks and, to a lesser extent, the 2015 Broncos.

But that’s not the case for the 2006 Bears.

They were second-best in defensive DVOA that season, and they finished second, too, losing to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 41.


Next man up?

With one more catch, tight end Trey Burton will become the fourth Bear to reach 50 this season. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has spread the wealth in coach Matt Nagy’s system.

“That speaks a lot about the type of guys we have on this team, just the unselfish nature of every single guy and how everyone does their job,” Trubisky said. “And when you do your job, then certain things will open up.”

Trubisky explained the distribution in three ways:

1. “Teams will try to take away a certain guy.”

2. “We’ll get a certain matchup on the field.”

3. “We have our game plans that some guys might have more designed plays than others.”

But the goal is to be efficient offensively.

“I know if we do that, and I just do my job and go through the right reads,” Trubisky said, “then the ball will be spread around, and everybody will get their fair share of touches and catches. It’s all about just doing your job for the team and being unselfish, which I’ve come to appreciate about the guys we have on our offense.”

Seeing is believing

The Bears’ 14-9 victory against the 49ers provided another opportunity for Trubisky to learn while he adjusts to certain coverages and looks throughout the course of a game.

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said the 49ers “drastically” changed the approach to their base defense. But Trubisky responded to it well.

“It’s huge,” Helfrich said. “It’s that fine line: We never want to react; we always want to attack. And we always want to have that mindset. You can be caught off-guard by something, but it’s not in a bad way. We’re still dictating the terms. We’re still attacking.”

Helfrich said the 49ers’ defense “highly varied” from previous games. But other teams have done the same to challenge and confuse Trubisky this season. It’s part of the chess match.

“But that’s part of this time of year,” Helfrich said. “They’re watching themselves and watching us, and they’re trying to do the square peg in the round hole.”


Why does [Taquan] Mizzell continue to get playing time? I feel it takes away from [Jordan] Howard and [Tarik] Cohen when he’s in. His stats are bleh at best. — @bearsfan480

A: Here’s my hypothesis: Mizzell is filling a role for a running back who is not on the roster. I understand that folks are confused by Mizzell’s usage. He has only gained 16 yards on nine carries. But coach Matt Nagy likes him. He sees a pass catcher and a mismatch for linebackers. Cohen, of course, is that. But Nagy wants more options out of his backfield and in space, and Howard has yet to really provide that for him. At this point, I doubt that he will. Mizzell is a better route runner than Howard. Overall, he’s another player that defenses have to prepare for when they look at the Bears’ offense.

What facet of the team do you think [Ryan] Pace is looking to improve on most going forward? — @InExcelsisDale

A: To go off the first question, I think the Bears will look at adding a running back. That doesn’t mean Howard’s time is up, though. As we explained above, the Bears clearly want pass-catching backs — and more than one, too. It’s what the best offenses have and/or want in today’s NFL. Beyond another back, bolstering the pass rush, secondary and offensive line come next. Pace has said before that you can never have enough pass rushers. The Bears’ leading receivers are Cohen (69 catches) and Taylor Gabriel (63). They’re fast but small. Some more size might help the receiving corps.

How would you rate [Isaiah] Irving in limited snaps? — @scottbears85

A: Irving hasn’t exactly played much in Aaron Lynch’s absence. He was on the field for seven snaps in the Bears’ 14-9 victory against the 49ers and nine in their 24-17 win against the Packers. His one sack came in the Bears’ 41-9 blowout of the Bills. Let’s not forget that the Bills cut quarterback Nathan Peterman a week after that game, too. Earning playing time for Vic Fangio can be difficult. Clearly, Irving still has much to prove.

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