No Easy Answers for Fixing Chicago Bears Defense

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Chicago Bears defenders during their 27-21 victory over the New York Giants (Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

Do not adjust your televisions, Chicago Bears fans.  This is not your father’s Chicago Bears defense.  This isn’t even your 2012 Chicago Bears defense.  What you’re witnessing is the window closing.  We all hoped that a group of aging veterans and a couple of free agents could pry it open just one more season, but it’s becoming clear that the Super Bowl caliber defense’s window has been slammed shut.

From years of bad drafting and season ending injuries to a lack of depth and aging veterans dropping off the performance cliff, the Bears defense is facing a crisis.  How do Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker go about fixing this unit midseason?  There are no easy answers, but we’ll ask the questions anyway…

“How about the Bears package Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and a chunk of Soldier Field sod for Haloti Ngata???”

Insert your selection of overpaid underachievers in a package with a high round draft selection and “Poof!” the Bears solve their defensive line dilema.

Reality: NFL GM’s are not your brother-in-law’s second cousin who is willing to trade you Peyton Manning for Marurice Jone-Drew and Tim Tebow in your fantasy leagues.  If a team has a serviceable player, they’re not just going to give him away for your existing players.  If a team is in a tailspin, maybe you could pry a veteran away for a draft pick, but Phil Emery will guard those draft picks with his football life, and rightfully so.

Why would he trade away the future for a a band-aide?  That’s largely how the Bears got into this mess in the first place, with a lack of draft picks.  Or at least quality draft picks.  Years of Jerry Angelo’s mis-evaluations and poor drafting have put the Bears in this mess in the first place.  If Phil Emery wants to make the Bears consistent winners, he’s not trading away draft picks.

“The Bears need to switch to a 3-4 defense.”

Oct 6, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin (99) during the second half at Soldier Field. The Saints beat the Bears 26-18. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone sees Shea McClellin’s struggles and thinks, if the Bears switch to a 3-4, Shea would do a lot better.  Maybe, maybe not.  But what about the other 10 guys?

Reality: This comes from “friend of the program” Dan Durkin, who’s The Score’s football blogger.

Switching to the 3-4 has become the magic shotgun on defense.  It’s simply not possible for a team to switch a base defense in the middle of the season. in terms of personnel, you can’t find teams built in a more opposite manner than a 3-4 and a Tampa-2 4-3.

Think about the front 7:

  • 3-4′s favor space-eating defensive lineman, who can “two-gap” (occupy two blockers) on their own.
  • 4-3′s favor quicker “one gap” defensive lineman who disrupt by shooting a gap.
  • 3-4′s favor outside linebackers who can rush the passer, and limit their coverage drops.
  • 4-3 favor outside linebackers who can play in space, and cover short passing zones.
  • 3-4′s favor big inside linebackers who fill gaps and stack and shed fullbacks.
  • 4-3 mike’s in a tampa-2 are required to be able to drop and cover the tight end up the vertical seam, acting as a third safety.

The most critical position on a 3-4 is the zero technique (think Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata).  Who on the bears is remotely close to that mold in terms of size and skill?

In other words, the Bears just don’t have the personnel to pull off the switch midstream.  I think that the plan is to make that switch, possibly as soon as this offseason. 

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Tags: Chicago Bears Mel Tucker Phil Emery Shea Mcclellin

  • franklingray

    “but they’re not going to replace a Pro Bowl caliber 3-technique like Henry Melton overnight.”

    Henry wasn’t doing anything, or for a matter of fact, none of the D line was doing anything this year before the injuries. Same D line as last year. The one variable that is different with the line is the coaching. So what does that tell ya?

    They said they were not going to change the defense except blitz a little more. Guess what….that is changing the D. If you are going to blitz, then you aren’t playing the Tampa 2 D.

    Last point is, the D wasn’t really that good last year either. They just got lucky on the turnover margin. Ok….skill had something to do with it, but point is, quality teams do not turn the ball over, so that style of play will not win against quality teams.

    • BearGogglesOn

      Don’t forget that Melton missed almost the entire preseason coming of a concussion. He was just starting to get his game legs under him when he blew it his knee.

      The misconception is that the Bears only play Cover-2. That might be their base defense, but they play a lot of different coverages. They’re not making a drastic change of their base 4-3 scheme.

      You’re right, their defense got a lot of takeaways last season too, but I wouldn’t call it luck. When the Bears take the ball away at the rate they do, it’s not luck. The big difference between last season and this season? Big plays. The 2013 D is giving up way too many big plays. Their D is designed to make teams try to take several plays to score, with the expectation that they’ll take the ball away before the other team can score. When you give up big pays it spells disaster and so far this season that’s been the case.

      • franklingray

        I agree there is a lot of skill in stripping the ball that certain Bears players have, however, the good teams don’t turn the ball over much so you can’t count on that to beat the good teams.

        They are giving up the big plays because they are blitzing too much (not playing cover 2). Those blitzes expose the weak safeties the Bears have and such, the big plays.

        • BearGogglesOn

          Agree! That’s why they haven’t been able to consistently beat good teams in recent years and why Lovie is sitting on his couch this season collecting $5 million.

          They are giving up big plays because they’re not getting to the quarterback. The QB has all day to survey the field while the receivers eventually break free from coverage.

          Eli Manning’s first two picks were thrown on blitzes, for whatever it’s worth. He’s the exception because he’s having an awful season. Rodgers will carve them up in a few weeks if they don’t figure some things out sooner rather than later.

  • john graham

    One thing that would shore up the middle would be a Williams or Seymour for the first two downs then bring in the smaller guys.The middle is the key jam it up free Julius and Cory to do their thing and give the defense a chance to work.The gloom and doom is a little knee jerking.These guys are banged up and can and will play better.The big problem with Julius is he is held about every down the ref’s need to call a few of those get on them why is he exempt.

    • BearGogglesOn

      Dont forget that the Bears are also up against the salary cap. From what I’ve heard, Seymour wants big bucks and you don’t know what you’re going to get out of him for the money. Peppers has been a step slow tbis season, so I’m not sure we can blame holding on every play like we used to. A bigger problem is that Shea is being single blocked by a tight end often times.

  • John Mack

    I want to discuss “Switching to the 3-4 has become the magic shotgun on defense. It’s simply not possible for a team to switch a base defense in the middle of the season.”

    First off, I have to disagree with the understated notion in that quote. Most fans (myself at the forefront) are expecting a switch to 3-4 next year, not this year. I know you’re quoting Dan Durkin, but his assessment that fans expect a switch midseason, I think is wrong. There are some signs that point to a move to 3-4, starting with (1) Shea McClellin. The Scouts aren’t always correct, but he shined at Boise State as an OLB/DE. In the game tape against Georgia he played lights out all over the defensive side of the ball. Tape would say he would thrive in that position and be stronger in the middle of the field or rushing from the OLB position unimpeded. I think the Bears are just getting him used to NFL speed at rushing the passer, regardless of position.

    (2) Durkin also says “3-4′s favor space-eating defensive lineman, who can “two-gap” (occupy two blockers) on their own” If no one fits that mold, that’s what free agency and the draft are for as we’re in a defensive rebuild.

    (3) “3-4′s favor outside linebackers who can rush the passer, and limit their coverage drops.”
    Shea and Cornelius Washington?

    “3-4′s favor big inside linebackers who fill gaps and stack and shed fullbacks.”

    Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene perhaps?

    Wasn’t it telling that we stocked up on LBs in the draft? One of whom played in a Georgie 3-4. This was after the stopgap measure of signing William and Anderson (who has exceeded expectations on his performance).

    (4) Though not the strongest argument, a Defensive Coordinator was brought in with experience in both 4-3s and 3-4s. That in itself is no clue, but the roster turnover gives some credence that the new regime won’t stay faithful to the 4-3.

    (5) So let’s talk about the roster turnover. On the Defensive line these four players will be out:
    Nate Collins, 2013 Stephen Paea, 2014
    Henry Melton, 2013 Julius Peppers, 2015
    Cheta Ozougwu, 2013
    Corey Wootton, 2013 —– your entire D-Line is gone in the next 2 seasons.

    Here’s your secondary with contracts ending this year:

    [Corners]
    Zack Bowman, 2013 Isaiah Frey, 2014
    Tim Jennings, 2013 C.J. Wilson, 2015
    Sherrick McManis, 2013
    Charles Tillman, 2013

    [Safeties]
    Craig Steltz, 2013
    Anthony Walters, 2013
    Major Wright, 2013
    Chris Conte, 2014

    At the end of this season, 70% of our secondary is out of here. I don’t know how or if the secondary factors in a 3-4, but these contracts allow complete remodeling of the corps.

    (6) Phil Emery came to us from Kansas City where he helped select personal for their 3-4. I think he’s a disciple in that school and to we, the fans, the Shea McClellin pick tipped his hand. That could be our version of Clay Matthews, killing quarterbacks on on the outside but with versatility to move around. When you get vested in a system, the lining up and match-ups change because you have the coaching, skill set and talent to thrive in a system geared towards your abilities.

    (7) When Emery passed on Sharriff Floyd…I knew something was up! All respects due to Kyle Long, who definitely has thus far lived up to his 1st round status and has the protect my QB attitude and energy you want of a lineman (notice how he’s usually in a scuffle on late hits to Jay…love it)!

    (8) This is all speculation, but the winds of change are blowing and isn’t it a little too coincidental that SO MANY factors have aligned themselves to even bring this conversation (something not seriously analyzed due to a staunch 4-3 Dungy Disciple in Lovie) about? Looks like a duck, walks like a duck…but will it fly?

    Let’s see what happens. But my original point was, I do not believe fans expect an in season change. If Emery can rework the line in 1 offseason, I’ll give him 2 to reassemble a dilapidated defense.