A defense that ranked 28th in 2015 (26th vs. the run, 25th vs. the pass) hadn't been able to make a splash in the first month of free agency until the Carolina Panthers made a business decision to part ways with star cornerback Josh Norman. In swooped owner Daniel Snyder, whose team needed to do SOMETHING to boost that side of the ball to help out an emerging offense.
Five years, $75 million. $50 million guaranteed. Norman has one interception, 14 passes defended, and came under early criticism for staying locked in on the right side, no matter where the opposition's best receiver went. And Washington's 2016 defense still ranks no higher than 22nd in any of the following categories: points per game, rushing, passing, total yards, third-down percentage and red-zone TD percentage. Suddenly, after Monday's 26-15 home loss to Carolina showed his unit can't overcome a down day from the offense, coordinator Joe Barry's future is in further question.
There's a need for deeper talent, especially in the secondary. Bashaud Breeland, safeties' Donte Whitner and Will Blackmon, and nickel back Quinton Dunbar (who beat out third-round rookie Kendall Fuller, Kyle's brother) have combined for just three interceptions to go along with Norman's one, which are secondary numbers Bears fans are all too familiar with.
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It's not like there's not talent on the second level. Washington's gotten most of its 36 sacks right there in the 3-4. Underrated Ryan Kerrigan is tied for fifth with 11 sacks this season, though he left Monday game with an elbow injury. Former second-rounder Trent Murphy finally rounded into form in his third season with eight sacks, while last year's second-rounder Preston Smith has four takedowns. That trio sandwiches inside `backers Will Compton (who remained at a team-high 101 tackles despite missing Monday's game with a knee injury) and Bears 2015 training camp castoff Mason Foster (99 tackles). They also rotate in hybrid safety Su'a Cravens who was sidelined vs. the Panthers with his own elbow injury. Based on the secondary's troubles, he could well be moved to the back full-time next season.
Up front, steady free agent-to-be end Chris Baker has 4.5 sacks, but after nose tackle Kedric Golston's early season-ending injury, Ziggy Hood, who had a cup of coffee with the Bears at this time last season, is their usual man in the middle. Veteran Cullen Jenkins was brought in early in the season to start at left end. Junior Galette, who had 22 sacks over two years in New Orleans, is spending his second straight year recovering from an offseason achilles tear, one in each leg. But in another similarity to the Bears' fate vs. the Packers, Washington was gashed for 148 yards rushing in its Monday night loss.
Chris Thompson matches the Bears' Deonte Thompson with a 21.2-yard kickoff return average. The biggest weapon is second-year slot/punt returner Jamison Crowder, whose 13.1-yard punt return average ranks second in the NFL and includes a touchdown, is quite the test for the Bears' 30th-ranked punt coverage squad. Kicker Dustin Hopkins is 31-of-38 this season, but missed his third extra point of the season against the Panthers/