Over the last couple of days, I have been grading this season’s Chicago Bears offense. After meditating and hiding all sharp objects from my house, I will now grade the defense. Since there were so many players on the defense, and so many problems, I will grade the defense by units. Let’s begin with the defensive line and linebackers.
When the Bears were tagged “The Monsters of the Midway” it was more as a result of their defensive play. The defense has always been synonymous with toughness and aggressiveness. You know you have been in a game against the Bears when you look at all your bumps and bruises.
All of that was missing with this season’s defense. After being near the top in most categories last season, the unit finished the 2013 season at or near the bottom of them.
This season’s defense ranked 31st in the league in points allowed (29.9 points/game), 30th in total yards allowed (394.6 yards/game), and last in rushing yards allowed (161.4 yards/game). They were also last in the league in sacks made (31).
The differential between the Bears and the next team was about 25 yards. To give you an idea of how big this difference is, the differential in yards allowed by the next 13 teams combined is about 25 yards. The defense allowed 9 of their last 11 opponents to have a 100+ yard rusher.
The one area the defense did do well was what has been a staple of the Bears defense- turnovers. They ranked eighth in interceptions (19) and second in forced fumbles (11).
Defensive Line: D
Julius Peppers led the team in sacks, but he in no way had a typical Peppers season. He had 7.5 sacks, but 4.5 of those came in a three-game span at the end of November and beginning of December.
Peppers disappeared in many games this season. He did not look like the All-Pro defensive end he has been throughout his career.
The Bears need to make a big decision on Peppers. His salary in 2014 will cost the Bears $18.183 million against the salary cap. In 2015, that total goes up to $20.683 million. Phil Emery and company have to decide whether this season was an aberration, or at 33 years of age, the beginning of his decline.
The Bears could try to restructure his contract, but that has already been done twice and I don’t see Peppers doing it again. I see the Bears use the threat of a cut to re-do the contract again, or actually do it. There are younger ends available (Michael Bennett, come to Chicago and be with your brother!).
Stephen Paea has just been taking up space in the defensive tackle position. In his three years with the Bears, he has not played an entire season yet, and has a grand total of six sacks.
Henry Melton had a Pro Bowl season last year. This year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury after just three games. He is a free agent so that killed his chances at a big contract. In addition to concerns about his recovery, Melton had an arrest about two weeks ago in which he was accused of punching and biting a bar manager. The Bears are notorious at not keeping players with legal troubles, so that might be a game-ender for Melton in Chicago.
Shea McClellin has looked overwhelmed at the other defensive end spot. It was thought that his quickness would make up for his lack of weight (he is up to 260 now), but he has not been able to shed the blockers and as a result the 300+ pounders have punished him.
McClellin had only four sacks this season, and the most noteworthy thing he did was knock Aaron Rodgers our for two months, giving the Bears and Lions a shot at the division title.
Emery should not give up on McClellin yet. His quickness could better be served at linebacker. Speaking of linebackers…
The Bears still have one of the better linebacker crew in the NFL, but injuries and youth gave them trouble this season. James Anderson led the team in tackles with 102 and had a solid, if not overly fantastic, season.
The proposed combination of Lance Briggs and DJ Williams excited many fans. Sadly, the two were not on the field together very much. Williams got hurt early in the preseason, and played in just six games before having his season ended by a pectoral injury.
Briggs missed seven games due to a shoulder injury and got back for the final two games of the season but just was not in game-shape to make much of an impact.
Rookie Jonathan Bostic took over for Williams at middle linebacker, and most of the times he looked like a rookie. Bostic is a hard hitter, but at times missed his assignments and used improper technique which caused him to miss tackles. I think he had to step up before he was ready, and perhaps his career might not be at the middle. Could he possibly be Briggs’ replacement?
The defensive line and linebacker groups are the first line of defense. Yes. this year’s unit was ravaged by injuries, but age also played a part in the poor play. Look for some changes to occur, especially on the line, so that more pressure can be put on opposing offenses. It will be interesting to see how many new faces will make their way to Chicago.