Chicago Bears: Seeking Balance

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 05: The defense of the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium on October 5, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 05: The defense of the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium on October 5, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Since the beginning of the 2018 league year, the Chicago Bears have invested heavily on offense to balance the team.  This has left many wondering if the defense has been forgotten.  Is there any truth in this charge?

To balance the team, the Chicago Bears have signed Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, Chase Daniel, and Tyler Bray for their offense since the beginning of free agency.  However, aside from Aaron Lynch, they have only re-signed their own defensive talent to new contracts.  This fact has many people saying that the Bears are neglecting their defense, but is that in fact true?

If you’ve read my articles in the past on BearGogglesOn  you’ll know that I am a huge proponent of balance.  Balance must exist between the two sides of the football.  Balance must exist between the positions on each side of the ball.  In fact, almost all of the teams who have won a Super Bowl in the last 20 years (with a few arguable exceptions) have been strong on both sides of the ball.

All of this is to say that I am especially sensitive to charges of neglect to one side or the other.  So it came as a surprise to me when I heard it.  After all, isn’t this the Bears team who almost completely ignored the offense under Lovie Smith?  Isn’t this the same Bears team who scoffed at overhauling the offense when John Fox came on board because their defense would carry them?  Yes, it is.  So this means that we must examine the charges in light of recent history as well as the roster.

Payton fighting for "one more yard."
Walter Payton fighting for “one more yard” against the Los Angeles Rams. /

History of Neglect:

Before we can look honestly at the roster, we must first look honestly at the history of the franchise.  For many, their dedication the franchise’s history colors and jades their opinion of its current path.  They dream of Sweetness (Walter Payton) fighting for “one more yard.”  Their mind still sees Gayle Sayers executing a stop-and-go juke then accelerating for a touchdown.  They’re so dedicated to the game of the past that the game of today has passed them by.  And who can blame them?  Lovie’s success is 11 years old and feels like a lifetime ago.  The 1985 Championship was 32 years old when the Eagles won this year’s Super Bowl.

It’s no wonder fans want to return to those days.

But if we are to be fair, we must ask ourselves a few tough questions.  One that no one seems to like is, why have the Bears done so poorly when often their defense and running game have been so good?  The answer is that we have too often neglected the passing offense.  We have been torched regularly by teams with quick scoring offenses who demolish the old ball control strategy.  If we didn’t get an early lead, or worse fell behind, we were incapable of keeping/catching up without our defense bailing us out.

This imbalance is clearly visible as one begins to review the opening day rosters of each year from 2007 to today.  In fact, one year we had Devin Hester and Johnny Knox as our starting wide outs.  The team historically ignores the passing game, and it has produced poor results for us.  Our best years have always been when we have the best balance overall.

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So What About This Year:

This year, the team seems determined to make sure that neither side of the ball has to carry the full load.  Chicago Bears football will now take on a more balanced look.  The offense will keep the defense resting on the sidelines as they pick up first downs, and the defense will return the favor by stopping the opposing offenses.  But has the team lost its defensive teeth in its quest for a balanced team?


The short answer would be yes, slightly.  The issue with this answer is that it ignores certain realities that were beyond the team’s ability to fix.  Pernell McPhee is a talented player, but he can’t stay healthy and cannot be counted on.  He had to go.  Lamarr Houston also has a tough injury history and has lost some of his playing ability.  Letting him walk was not a hard decision to make.  But then the number two pass rusher in all of college football, Clelin Ferrell, decided to stay at school.  He would have been a perfect fit for our 3-4 defense and could easily have been our pick at #8.

That means that the Bears are looking at a shortage of talent at the OLB position.  They addressed it with one of Vic Fangio‘s old students in Lynch, but they are simply trying to make the best of the situation in which they find themselves.  Christian Jones leaving is a wash as Nick Kwiatkoski seems more than capable of holding things together for less money on his rookie contract.  You cannot make a move where there is no move to make.


The Chicago Bears have, however, had much more success in the secondary than they have in the linebacker corps.  They re-signed both Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara.  They are looking to sign Adrian Amos to an extension and have Eddie Jackson under contract for three more years.  This kind of stability in the secondary will allow for those players to develop.  They not only get to develop in the scheme but also in with each other.  Teamwork and continuity will improve greatly.  The Bears could have done much, much, worse in this department, so it is unrealistic to criticize them for their moves here.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears /

Chicago Bears

Defensive Line:

Some have criticized the Bears for not aggressively pursuing Muhammad Wilkerson, who signed with the Packers.  Others have criticized him for not signing Sheldon Richardson, who signed with the Vikings.  These criticisms, however, do not take into account the fact that the Bears have an emerging talent in Jonathan Bullard, and must give him an opportunity to live up to that potential before he hits his extension year.  His improvement merits an opportunity, and his rookie contract makes it easier to spread the cap around to balance the roster.

Like it or not, cost-controlled contracts are important commodities in the NFL.  As the Bears improve, many hard decisions will come on players who have done well, but for whom the team has a cheaper replacement waiting.  That’s just life with the strict salary cap of the NFL.  The team has to take some gambles if they are to have enough cap space to even the roster.  Bullard is a better gamble with three years under his belt than previous gambles have been.  He’s a better gamble than Cameron Meredith and  Kevin White were last year.  Even if they hadn’t gotten injured.  As the Bears get better, managing the roster will switch from bringing in better players to how many of our own can we retain.  That’s more of where we are on defense.

But What Does That Mean?

The charges that the Chicago Bears have simply ignored the defense are fairly far off base when you consider who and what they had to work with.  They worked the secondary as best they could given the large contracts that other top players signed and the fact that they were determined to keep Fuller.  They made a move at OLB that made sense given the lack of talent available, and they replaced an unspectacular yet steady veteran with an up and coming talent who may yet end up being better than the man he is replacing.  There is nothing out of line or out of the ordinary here.

While the defense might take a slight step back, most of the reasons for it will be understandable.  In fact, there could only be three changes to the starting depth chart at the beginning of next season.  Those three would be Bullard, Kwiatkoski, and whomever sits opposite Leonard Floyd.  That’s hardly a massive turnover that should inspire people to anger.  Furthermore, the fact that Ryan Pace could keep the defensive turnover so low and still be able to add offensive pieces to balance the roster like he did was a job well done.

This, by the way, is all before we hit the draft.  We will have an opportunity to add talent to a defense that ranked in the top ten last year.  Marcus Davenport, Arden Key, and a host of other names could realistically end up in a Chicago Bears’ uniform.  There are solid defensive players at CB, S, ILB, and DL as far down as the fourth and fifth rounds that could all end up here as well.

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Conclusion (Balance):

The Bears haven’t been ignoring the defense, they’ve been correcting the ignoring of the offense.  They’re attempting to bring balance to the team.  The truth is that it is a little early, and a little unfair, to say that Chicago has ignored the defense.  They simply didn’t need as much help on defense as they needed on offense.

The Chicago Bears have worked very hard to balance their roster.  They deserve commendation for this, not derision.  We should be celebrating Pace bringing the roster closer to parity.  We should be looking forward to watching both sides carrying their own weight.  In the end, three positions turning over does not the ripping apart of the defense make.  A few good young draft picks to add to that mix should keep the defense solid.  Now it’s time for the offense to finally begin to carry their half of the responsibility.  It’s been a long time coming.

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