As a Chicago Bears fan, I’ve grown up knowing and expecting two things: Great running back play and dominant defense. I’ve never been someone that’s really gotten to experience or expect great offensive play outside of running backs. So I grew up appreciating and thriving in the emotion that comes with not just a good defense but a great defense.
While I wasn’t alive when the ‘85 Bears defense was throttling their opponents, I have grown up watching them having terrorized the NFL in a way that hadn’t been or hasn’t been done before. While I never got to watch those ‘85 Bears in real time, I did get to experience the 2005-2006 Bears defense, that absolutely dominated and practically carried them to the Super Bowl in ‘06. They weren’t the ‘85 Bears — who could be? Spoiler alert: No one — but they were certainly one of the best Bears defenses in history.
So on a night where Brian Urlacher, a member of that ‘06 defense, was being honored for being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the 2018 Bears defense made a concerted effort to show that this just might be the next great Bears defense in a long line of dominant Chicago defenses.
While Bears fans might be quick to jump on Monday night’s 24-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks as a disconcerting effort on second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s part (patience, Bears fans, although this is another editorial altogether that I’m sure I’ll get to), let’s not forget that this game was all about the Bears establishing themselves, already, as one of the top defenses in the league. After a week where the Bears blew a 20-0 lead, including some big plays missed on defense, Chicago proved that their defense can withstand four quarters of football. The Bears defense sacked the elusive Russell Wilson six times — including five times in the first half — as well as forced two fumbles and capped off a dominant defensive effort with a pick six returned by Prince Amukamara.
Perhaps my favorite thing about watching Monday’s game was watching how the Seahawks offense reacted just facing this defense that they know is going to bring it; facing this defense that’s rough and tough; facing a defense that’s going to make your night a living hell, it brought back old feelings from that ‘06 defense.
It’s hard to believe that only four years ago the Bears defense was a laughing stock. It was atrocious and embarrassing for a franchise that has been known for its defense. Because even when the offense sucked, we could always rely on the defense for some stability. So when both the offense and defense were tanking, it was hopeless. Worse, it felt like this team had lost the identity that it’s had throughout its existence.
While it’s taken some time, Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio have been rebuilding this Bears defense into a unit the city of Chicago can be proud of. In fact, last year’s unit — despite not boasting a since Pro Bowler, although Akiem Hicks was robbed and I’ll argue you to death — was a top 10 defense in the NFL. When new Bears coach Matt Nagy was brought in to revamp this offense and mold young Mitch Trubisky, he maintained Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, which was the second most important thing after bringing in Nagy. It brought stability and familiarity with this defense. While the Bears are learning a new offense, the defense remains the same.
The Bears were expected to be another Top 10 defense this season. And then they brought in Khalil Mack.
When people ask me what I was doing on Sept. 1, 2018, I’ll tell them that I was sleeping in on a Saturday morning. My alarm went off at 9 am (because, yes, I set my alarm on the weekends in order to feel productive), and I was getting ready for a beautiful day of college football. My excitement for the return of college football could not be topped.
And then I turned on my television, which was already on NFL Network from the night before (let’s be real, I fall asleep to NFL Network) and saw “breaking news” and a Bears logo scrolling on the bottom of the television. I bolted upright and subsequently began freaking out wondering what the hell could’ve gone wrong already on a Saturday. I searched for my glasses — because everything was blurry — and saw the words that forever changed my life as as Bears fan: The Chicago Bears have traded for Khalil Mack.
Then the screaming began.
I spent the entirety of that Sept. 1 day caught between pondering delusion and feigning excitement to the level of 1,000,000. How did the Bears get Khalil Mack? A former defensive player of the year? One of the best defensive players in football? One of the best players in the prime of his career? And that’s also where my appreciation for Jon Gruden comes in because the moron had the audacity to trade a generational player in the prime of his career. Thanks, Jon.
When Khalil Mack joined the Bears, that Top 10 defense became a Top 5 defense instantaneously. Before he even stepped on the football field. Because a guy like Mack is the kind of player that makes everyone around him better. So it’s not just about what Mack does on his own. It’s about what he does in freeing up the guys around him, as well.
Since Mack joined the Bears, there’s been this aura about the team that is electrifying for fans and downright terrifying for opponents. There’s a ferocity there that gives the Bears an advantage before the ball is even snapped. The opposing team is thinking about Mack. They’re game planning for him. They’re worried about Mack and the rest of that defensive front.
In two games, the Bears defense has 10 sacks (the most in the league through 2 weeks), two defensive touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles. But even more than the statistics, this is a unit that is putting fear into opposing offenses. Lord, I’ve missed this feeling.
And to make things even better, the Bears will play an Arizona Cardinals team on Sunday that has been outscored 58-6 and is easily the worst team in the league. Sam Bradford, watch out buddy. Fantasy owners, start the Bears defense on this one. Time to eat.
This Bears defense has me feeling confident that this team doesn’t need to wait a season to compete. It can compete for the playoffs now. The only thing is that the Bears offense is now two games into a brand new, complex scheme and with a second-year quarterback that is essentially a rookie all over again. It’ll take time, but they can get there.
If — when — the Bears offense can catch up to this defense, the Bears could be a dangerous team.