Bears Issue No. 3: How quickly can the defense improve?


Bears Issue No. 3: How quickly can the defense improve?

A significant portion of the Bears’ offseason consisted of a makeover of the defensive coaching staff; a complete change of defensive scheme, and a virtual makeover of the depth chart staffing that defense.

In the flag-football portion of offseason practices – minicamps, OTA’s – the speed was slightly above “install” and was without the pressure of speed, pads and an offense itself looking to establish itself with a new coordinator of its own.

All of those will be part of dialing up the level of both performance and expectations that comes with the first training camp for a staff, scheme and players needing to come together with urgency in the form of games against the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in the first three weeks of the season.

Schemes are like diets; if you follow/execute them precisely, they pretty much all work, more or less, some better than others. But the change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 is less important than how well a vast array of new players come together with a new coaching staff and philosophy.

That is one of the guiding directives of Bears Training Camp 2015.

How fast is realistic?

During his first NFL owners meeting as Bears head coach, John Fox departed ever so slightly from his conservative “under-state and over-produce” mantra to venture an opinion that the Bears would turn around their defensive disasters of the past two seasons “sooner [rather] than later.”

After an offseason of orientation under coordinator Vic Fangio into the first 3-4 scheme run by the Bears, and involving as many as eight potential new starters on defense, the new pass-rush alignments, run fits, pass drops and all the rest now begin in pads and with hitting.

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What Fangio has installed, beyond scheme specifics, is a quality decidedly absent the past two years:

“Creative,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee. “He is very creative. It might not look like it sometimes from some of the schemes, but he’s very aggressive. Every time when I watch practice film, I see things and think, ‘Dang, this guy is really creative.’ Sometimes I’ll wonder why he had me doing something, and then I watch the practice film, and it all plays out.”

“Creative” is more easily said than achieved. Mel Tucker talked about being it last year and it never materialized. Now it’s being attempted with a mix of new players brought in and existing ones who’ve never played Fangio’s scheme.

Nothing is assured

Conclusions are difficult and little more than speculation at this point. It would actually be more difficult NOT to improve than to get better, given the historic low points hit in 2013-14 that saw the Bears reach franchise-worsts in multiple areas despite then-coordinator Mel Tucker opting to remain with a scheme familiar to veteran players schooled in the Lovie Smith system.

Staying with a 4-3 scheme, including GM Phil Emery drafting linemen, linebackers and defensive backs ostensibly for their fits into that scheme, the Bears finished 2014 ranked 31st in points allowed and 30th in yards given up per game. Amazingly perhaps, despite multiple free-agent signings to bolster the unit, those results were even worse than the numbers posted the year before by a defense riddled with injuries to key members (Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams).

[BEARS ISSUE NO. 1: Re-shaping a losing culture]

Notably, Fangio does not foresee problems even with veteran players like Allen or Willie Young making changes, for example.

They’ll be doing things they’re used to doing as an end, except they’re going to be doing it standing up and at the end of the line,” Fangio said. “It’s called a 3-4 defense, but in some ways you can call it a 5-2. We like bigger guys out there. I don’t foresee it being a major problem, although there’s a lot of learning and growing that has to take place.”

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

Bears still have much to prove after disappointing loss to Patriots

 Beating the, arguably, best coach and quarterback pairing in NFL history is a difficult enough task. Trying to do it while allowing two touchdowns on special teams? Good luck. 
The Bears will leave Soldier Field frustrated with their 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday for a number of reasons, but top of the list will be Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return score and a blocked Pat O’Donnell punt that was raced into the end zone by Kyle Van Noy. A special teams unit that had been solid all year — and forced a fumble on a Patterson kickoff return in the first quarter Sunday — suddenly became a disaster, allowing an uncharacteristically undisciplined Patriots side back into the game, and then ahead in it. 
Add in an inaccurate game from Mitch Trubisky — who completed 26 of 50 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions — and an uneventful afternoon for Khalil Mack and the pass rush, and the Bears had to scratch and claw to hang with New England. 
Interestingly, after all week hearing from Bears coaches and players about how they couldn’t let the Patriots take them out of their own game, it felt like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady did exactly that. Mack frequently dropped into coverage — but so did Leonard Floyd, so maybe it wasn’t all about Mack’s injured ankle. While Brady frequently got the ball out quick, when he didn’t he was rarely pressured. 
And on offense, Taylor Gabriel had the same number of targets (one) as offensive lineman Bradley Sowell until midway through the fourth quarter. Trubisky dazzled with his legs, covering over 70 yards on an eight-yard touchdown run and dancing his way to a 39-yard scramble that set up a touchdown in the third quarter. 
But Trubisky’s struggles were clear, with the second-year quarterback throwing two ill-advised passes that should’ve been picked off in the end zone and then underthrowing Anthony Miller in the fourth quarter, allowing Patriots safety Jonathan Jones to make a tremendous interception. New England drove 96 yards after that pick into the end zone, with Brady taking apart a defense that missed two tackles on a 55-yarder to Josh Gordon, extinguishing any hope the Bears had of a comeback.
While Trubisky did lead a scoring drive after Adrian Amos assisted Kyle Fuller for an interception, cutting the deficit to seven. And Trubisky nearly pulled off a miracle with a Hail Mary to Kevin White, which was completed just shy of the end zone. 
The loss dropped the Bears to 3-3 and heaps plenty of pressure on Matt Nagy’s side to win seemingly-winnable games in the next three weeks: At home against the New York Jets, on the road against the Buffalo Bills and at home against the Detroit Lions. But then again: When the Jets come to town next weekend, it’ll have been nearly a month since the Bears’ last win. How the Bears fare over these next three games will be a clear window into if this team is a legitimate contender or one that faded after a strong start. 

WATCH: Mitchell Trubisky runs like Michael Vick for 8-yard touchdown

WATCH: Mitchell Trubisky runs like Michael Vick for 8-yard touchdown

The New England Patriots defense wasn’t giving Mitchell Trubisky many options through the air, so he decided to take matters into his own hands at Soldier Field.

The young quarterback’s legs were the Bears’ most-effective weapon in the first quarter, as Trubisky led the team with 35 rushing yards on four carries in the opening period of play.

He capped it off with an eight-yard touchdown scramble that had him looking like Michael Vick on the field.

The Bears will need to have a more well-rounded offensive attack to keep up with teams like the Patriots, but Trubisky found what was working in the first quarter.

Perhaps most importantly, he’s been smart and safe with his running, opting to slide and go to the ground on his big plays to avoid any big hits.

His legs continue to make this offense more dynamic, to keep up with top-notch opponents like New England.