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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