First off, check out Jerry Angelo’s comments of the Bears defense from his season ending press conference here from the Bears website.
If you think the arrow is pointing up for the Bears’ offense, the once-heralded defense is another story. Long gone is the defense that carried the Bears to Super Bowl XLI. The defense that ranked 5th overall in the NFL in 2006 has been in steady decline in the two seasons since. The team that ranked 3rd in scoring defense in 2006, slid down to 16th the last two seasons. In fact, last year the team’s average PPG was 21.8 compared to 21.9 this season. That’s a far cry from the 15.9 PPG in the Super Bowl season of 2006. Many will point to schemes and coaching. I’ll dedicate a separate post just to address those issues. In the meantime, let’s break it down:
The Bears ranked 5th against the run, allowing an average of 93.5 yards per game. That did not come without a price, by finishing 30th in the league against the pass, giving up over 240 yards per game to opposing offenses. As is often said, it begins up front. The D line did not live up to expectations this year. Alex Brown led the Bears with 6.0 sacks. Yes, you read that right, 6 sacks. By way of comparison, John Abraham led all NFL defensive lineman with 16.5 sacks, while DeMarcus Ware tallied 20 sacks from the linebacker spot for Dallas. Brown came up clutch down the stretch, but I’d like to see that effort throughout the season.
Tommie Harris still didn’t look right for the better part of the season. I’ve heard reports of some personal problems that plagued him early in the season, but when you’re the top paid player on the Bears, I don’t want to hear any excuses. If you’re physically capable, you need to perform. Don’t bring your home life with you to the office, Tommie.
Adewale Ogunleye has been never been spectacular. He’s been more of an all-around end than a true pass rusher. As one of the highest paid Bears with only a year left on his deal, he might be a good candidate for a shakeup. If I were Adewale, I might start looking for a realtor.
The other linemen were adequate, but not spectacular. Dusty Dvoracek ended another season on the disabled list and did not live up to the facepainting and supposed “high motor” label when he was healthy. Anthony Adams excelled when he moved into a starting role later in the season. Israel Idonije was good in the mix and his contributions on special teams make him a valuable contributor in the future. Rookie Marcus Harrison showed glimpses of potential in the defensive tackle rotation. Finally, if anyone has seen Mark Anderson since 2006, please notify the Lake Forest Police. After bursting onto the scene with 12 sacks as a rookie, Anderson has 6 sacks in the last 2 seasons. Yikes!
Thank goodness Lance Briggs decided to return in 2008. Can you imagine this defense without Briggs, who led the team with 110 tackles. He has emerged as the leader of the Defense and will be the Bears lone starter in the 2009 Pro Bowl.
Brian Urlacher has clearly lost a step, but at least he didn’t need Jay Glazer as his mouthpiece this season. I don’t know if Brian’s neck and back problems from last season have led to the decline, but whatever the case, he has shown he can’t consistently cover the deep middle in the Cover 2 defense and still can’t shed blockers. He had 2 INT and zero, yes zero sacks in 2008. In the past, his speed negated some of his deficiencies, but that’s not the case any more. If the Bears plan to continue with the Cover 2 defense, they would be well served to move Urlacher to the strong side or “Sam” linebacker spot and get some speed at the “Mike” LB spot. This way, he doesn’t have to try to cover the entire middle of the field. Play action passes killed the Bears this year and Urlacher was the main victim over the deep middle.
Nick Roach slid into the strong side linebacker spot in place of Hunter Hillenmeyer when he sustained an injury midseason. I can’t really comment on Nick because he never really did anything to draw my attention. Jamar Williams and Joey LaRocque filled roles on special teams, but never stood out.
The Bears finished 30th against the pass, giving up 241.2 yards per game. That is inexcusable!!! The Bears were awful on third down, especially 3rd and long. Was it just me, or did teams consistently convert on 3rd and long?!? The longer the better it seemed. There is plenty of blame to go around, but that bottom line has to be with the secondary. Again, a lot will be made of the scheme and playing 10 yards off the receivers. Teams figured out that you could run a slant any time you needed 5-10 easy yards.
Charles Tillman seemed to be involved in many memorable 2008 plays, though not all were good. Remember the stupid penalty he committed in OT of the Tampa Bay game when the Bears had the Bucs pinned deep? Peanut has the uncanny ability to punch the ball out and force turnovers. He has taken the tough task of covering the other teams’ best receiver, but I don’t if he’s a lockdown corner. I’ve heard some folks suggest he move to safety. If you can draft a top cornerback, like Illinois’ Vontae Davis, maybe that’s an option. He battled should injuries most of the season, but I expect he’ll be back in ’09 as a starter in the secondary.
I can’t say the same for Nathan Vasher, who battled thumb and wrist injuries throughout the season, but was cleared passed on the depth chart by Corey Graham. Vasher is another guy that should keep his head on a swivel this offseason. “The Interceptor” was signed to a juicy extension prior to the 2007 season, but hasn’t lived up to his deal the last couple of seasons. Not sure if he has any trade value, but he’s too expensive to be a reserve or nickel back.
The safety position is in shambles yet again. The saga that is Mike Brown looks to be coming to a conclusion in Chicago as the on-field coach and unquestioned heart and soul of the Bears defense ended another season on IR. I hope the Bears can bring Brownie back, but clearly they need to address this position in the offseason.
Kevin Payne brings the pain, but his fundamentals and coverage skills are lacking. Danieal Manning has yo-yoed between nickel back and free safety and his best position seems to be returning kickoffs. He continues to make the same mistakes in coverage that he did in his rookie season. Did the Andre Johnson TD last week remind you of the Reggie Wayne TD from the Super Bowl? Craig Steltz showed a glimpse of potential with a key interception to help keep the Lions winless, but otherwise all I can say about Steltz is that I hope the team tapes him to goalpost in training camp next summer and shaves his head.
To summarize, here’s what I think the Bears need to do with their defensive personnel:
1. Get a safety. I’ve seen some mock drafts that have Taylor Mays from USC coming to the Bears. That would seem to be a nice fit, but I’m not sure I believe he’ll make it all the way to #18 where the Bears will be picking.
2. Move Urlacher to strong side linebacker. I think you extend Brian’s career and make the most of his current skill set by moving him from the middle.
3. Get a pass rusher. This is another spot that always seems to be a need since Richard Dent was in his prime. Mark Anderson looked the part in ’06, but has regressed over the last 2 years. If the Bears insist on keeping their defensive scheme, they need to get pressure with their line and not with blitzes.
I’ll get to the special teams and coaches later this week after. In the meantime…
Topics: 2008 Defensive Rankings, 2009 Draft, Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, Andre Johnson, Anthony Adams, Brian Urlacher, Corey Graham, Craig Steltz, Danieal Manning, Demarcus Ware, Dusty Dvoracek, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Illinois, Israel Idonije, Jamar Williams, Jerry Angelo, Joey Larocque, John Abraham, Lance Briggs, Marcus Harrison, Mark Anderson, Mike Brown, Nathan Vasher, Nick Roach, Reggie Wayne, Super Bowl XLI, Tommie Harris, Vontae Davis