Will the Bears defense return to dominance next season?
By: Dylan Clemons
The Chicago Bears are best known to be a defensive-minded football team. Ever since their 1985 super bowl team that some say is the best defense of all time. Times haven’t changed now, the defense is still the heart and soul of this team. Matt Nagy came to the Bears as an offensive-minded head coach, but it has been his defense that has carried him his three seasons. In his three seasons as head coach the Bears defense has ranked, 1st, 4th, and 14th in points allowed.
The Bears defense has definitely taken a step back from being the best defense in football in 2018. But still have a solid group, that hopes to return as a top-ten defense once again. The first thing that new defensive coordinator Sean Desai needs to address is trying to find a way to create more turnovers. The Bears ranked 26th in the NFL in takeaways last season with only 18. That’s a far cry from 2018 when they led the league in takeaways with 36.
Sean Desai has been with the organization since 2013 and has worked his way up through the ranks. after spending the last two seasons as the safeties coach, he has been promoted this off-season to replace Chuck Pagano who retired. Now let’s jump into three of his key players who I believe are the most important for the Bears defense to succeed.
The Bears Need Eddie Jackson To Return To Pro Bowl Form
Eddie Jackson, Safety
Eddie Jackson is probably the most impressive draft pick by GM Ryan Pace. Jackson slid in the 2017 draft and the Bears were able to take him in the fourth round after breaking his leg in his final college season. The year Jackson really made his name in the NFL was in 2018, when he made his first Pro Bowl appearance. That season he returned two interceptions for touchdowns and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He was the definition of a big play waiting to happen on defense.
Unfortunately the last two seasons Jackson has regressed. I don’t believe that all has to do with him as a player, I think it had a lot to do with how Chuck Pagano was using Jackson. Pagano coached a much less aggressive defense than Vic Fangio did when Jackson thrived. I feel with Desai being Jackson’s safety coach for the last few seasons, he will know where to put Jackson on the field where he and the team will have the most success.
The Bears secondary is looking a little different nowadays after the departure of Kyle Fuller, a lot younger in fact. So the secondary will look to Eddie Jackson for that veteran support, and I believe he will deliver this season. There has also been talking this off-season that Jackson might play some at the slot corner position, with the Bears being thin at that position. If Desai believes that will put Jackson in the best possible spot to make plays, I’m all for it.
Jaylon Johnson, Cornerback
There is a ton of pressure on second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who also struggled to stay healthy only playing in 13 games due to a shoulder injury. But when Johnson was on the field, he was very solid. According to PFF Johnson ranked 6th in incompletion rate at 21%. Johnson will come into this season as the number one cornerback on the roster after Kyle Fuller was released to create some cap relief.
Johnson showed flashes of already being a solid corner. Last season he had 16 pass breakups, which ranked 16th in the NFL. He also had the 13th best catch rate allowed in the NFL as well, very solid numbers from a rookie who was being asked a lot in this defense. This season he will be asked to do, even more, having to try and lock up some of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Like I stated above in the Eddie Jackson part of the article, the Bears cornerback position besides veteran Desmond Trufant is very young. Trufant has also struggled to stay healthy during the latter part of his career. So the Bears need Johnson to provide stability on the outside. If he can’t the Bears will be relying on inexperienced cornerbacks like Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelly.
Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Defensive Line
So I had to cheat a little bit, it felt criminal to not put both of the guys on this list. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are the two most important players on this defense in my opinion. When these two are on the field together teams have a real big problem trying to run the football.
In 2018 when they were both healthy the Bears ranked 1st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. Then in 2019, Akiem Hicks played in only five games, and the Bears fell to 9th in the league in rushing, which is still very solid. But then last season rolled around Goldman opted out due to covid-19 health concerns. In 2020 the bears rushing defense fell all the way to 15th with only Hicks in the Lineup. That goes to show how important Goldman is to this defense as a whole.
In my opinion, in order for this defense to become elite again, it all starts upfront with these guys. if the Bears can stop the run like they did in 2018-2019, sky is the limit for this defense once again. If the Bears can stop the run, it puts teams in long 3rd down opportunities. That is good news for superstar linebacker Khalil Mack, whose specialty is to rush the passer. This could set up Mack to have a bounce back after having two subpar seasons where he failed to record double-digit sacks. If all goes well, we could see the Bears defense get back to a top ten defense this season.