All offseason, the Bears’ mantra on defense was about continuity. Searching for that word among the thousands said by defensive players during training camp turns up a ton of results.
That’s why this group of coaches and players was so confident it could improve from being a top-10 defense to a top five one this year despite Roquan Smith being their only major offseason addition.
How about a preseason addition, though?
As Ryan Pace moved through an aggressive offseason in which he established that defensive continuity and overhauled the weapons around Mitch Trubisky, the one blind spot he left looked like outside linebacker. Veteran Sam Acho was retained, Aaron Lynch was brought in on a one-year prove-it contract and Kylie Fitts was taken with a sixth-round flier. The hope, as it seemed before Saturday morning, was that Leonard Floyd — club on his hand and all — would make a huge leap in Year 3 and provide the Bears with the edge rushing spark they desperately needed.
Floyd could still do that. But Saturday morning’s reported blockbuster trade for Khalil Mack netted the Bears a guy who’s established as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. And so, your Week 1 defense will now look like this:
Akiem Hicks Eddie Goldman Jonathan Bullard
Khalil Mack Danny Trevathan Nick Kwiatkoski Leonard Floyd
Kyle Fuller Adrian Amos Eddie Jackson Prince Amukamara
Eventually, of course, Smith will take over for Kwiatkoski as the Bears’ starting inside linebacker, adding more speed and athleticism to this defense.
Continuity is great. Having Hicks and Goldman play next to each other for another year and retaining the entire starting secondary from 2017 is a positive. Trevathan knows Fangio’s defense like the back of his hand.
But to be great, the Bears’ edge rushers had to be better. They just got a whole lot better on Saturday.
It's easy to imagine Mack and Hicks lining up on the same side of the field to terrorize an offensive line, with Goldman dutily hoovering up a double-team on the interior. That could then trigger Floyd into a one-on-one matchup to get to the quarterback. Applying more pressure on Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Matt Stafford and the rest of the quarterbacks the Bears face should help generate more takeaway opportunities for Fuller/Amos/Jackson/Amukamara.
In short: The possibilities are there for the Bears to become the top-five defense they thought they could be before acquiring Mack.
Mack by the numbers
A few quick notes to get to know Mack:
— His 79 total pressures in 2017, per Pro Football Focus, were tied for second in the NFL last year behind only Denver’s Von Miller (83). For comparison, the Bears generated 88 pressures as a team during five preseason games this year.
— Mack was one of six edge rushers to have a PFF grade of 90 or higher, with his 90.2 grade ranking sixth.
— In 2016, Mack was PFF’s highest-graded edge rusher (92.3) and had a league-best 96 total pressures, 10 more than the second-highest total.
— Mack was behind only Seattle’s Michael Bennett with 82 pressures in 2015, and his 16 sacks and 91.8 grade both led the league.
— Only Atlanta’s Chandler Jones has more sacks since 2015 than Mack, who has 36 1/2. Miller (34 1/2) and Aaron Donald (30), the previous two highest-paid defensive players before Mack is expected to take that mantle, fell short of his total.