Bears will field a playoff-caliber defense in 2016

Gordon McGuinness explains how improved Chicago is on defense after the draft and free agency.

| 7 months ago
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Bears will field a playoff-caliber defense in 2016


Heading into the 2015 offseason, the Chicago Bears made a clear effort to improve defensively, highlighted by the signing of outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. McPhee had impressed as a moveable pass-rusher early in his career in Baltimore, getting pressure both off the edge and from the interior. His success as an edge rusher continued in his first season in Chicago, racking up six sacks, 13 hits and 48 hurries.

With plenty of success coming from the McPhee signing, the Bears turned their attention to the defensive side of the ball in free agency this year. Two of the weaker parts of their defense in 2015 were at their two inside linebacker positions, where Christian Jones and Shea McClellin both graded negatively against the run, with McClellin also really struggling in coverage. For all the strength they had on the edge, the two weak links in the middle were an obvious issue.

They addressed this by adding two of the best inside linebackers available on the market in Jerrell Freeman (90.6) and Danny Trevathan (86.6). The pair had the fourth- and 10th-highest player grades among all linebackers last year, and will immediately turn a weakness into a big strength. Freeman’s 97.9 run-defense rating was the best of any linebacker in the league, with the Indianapolis Colts defender making a tackle resulting in a defensive stop 12.8 percent of the time. Trevathan was good all-around, finishing the year as one of only seven linebackers with a grade of at least 80.0 both in run defense and in coverage.

Another area of need was on the defensive line, where rookie Eddie Goldman was the only player who really impressed in any form in 2015. The signing here was Akiem Hicks, who might not be a headline grabber, but he turned some heads in the second half of the season in New England. During a four-game stretch between Weeks 14 and 17, Hicks registered three sacks, three hits and six hurries on just 84 pass-rushing snaps. He’s an upgrade at one 3-4 defensive end spot, and has the potential to be a low-risk, high-reward signing if some of his play for the Patriots was anything to go by.

They used two of their first three selections in the draft on the defensive side of the ball, adding Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard. Bullard has the chance to push for playing time early at the other defensive end spot, with Mitch Unrein his biggest competition for the role. He had the second-highest grade of any defensive tackle in all of college football last year, racking up seven sacks, six hits and 16 hurries, and figures to be an asset to the Bears defense.

Floyd is a good signing for a number of reasons. Only three edge defenders in the nation — and one in this draft class — had a higher overall grade than Floyd did in his final season at Georgia. He may have only had four sacks, but he added eight hits and 30 hurries. The addition of Floyd gives the Bears some flexibility, however, and if the way to slide Pernell McPhee down as an interior rusher in sub-packages, they can use Floyd and Willie Young, who had seven sacks, seven hits and 33 hurries a year ago, on the edge.

The rebuilding job isn’t done yet, with holes remaining in the defensive backfield. Of all the starters on the Bears defense, the three lowest-rated at this point are cornerbacks Tracy Porter (50.5), Bryce Callahan (70.0) and safety Omar Bolden (52.1). They drafted rookie safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson, and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall in the fourth and sixth rounds, but how much they’ll be able to contribute is a mystery at this point.

But while the Bears defense isn’t quite there yet, they have taken another big stride forward this offseason, with several key additions that should help them in 2016 and beyond. They are absolutely a playoff-caliber defense heading into 2016, the only question will be whether QB Jay Cutler and a Bears offense that still has some weaknesses can hold up their end of the bargain.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • dlund6cutler

    I don’t think we’ll make the playoffs this year but I don’t think we’ll get last either.

    • crosseyedlemon

      At this point in time in would be hard for the Bears to be a bigger disappointment than the Blackhawks who really have no excuse for that early playoff exit.

      • dlund6cutler

        Yeah, i’d have to agree on that.

      • Bears_Fan_23

        cant be mad at the hawks though win 3 cups in 6 years lets not get selfish. I mean a double post come on

  • GiveNoFuq

    The Bears pass defense though talent wise not a top 10 finished 4th; granted they were really bad against the run, with a limited pass rush. The pass rush should be better and they may not finish 4th, but they should still be solid.

  • vcbronco

    John Fox is very good at taking a loser and making them a 10-6 team. But someone else will have to take you to the promised land.

    • ChemicalDeath

      Phooey

    • Rafael Rondon

      You got a coke to wash down that salt?

    • Marc Villasenor

      We were a 10-6 tram before Fox. He made us 6-10

      • James

        Apparently you didn’t see the 2014 season why are you talking exactly?

        • Marc Villasenor

          Every season before that was above .500 and you pull one year out and try to be a smart ass. Why are YOU talking?

          • Philtration

            They were 8-8 in 2013.
            They were 8-8 in 2011.
            They were 7-9 in 2009.
            They were 7-9 in 2007.
            They have not been to the playoffs since 2010 so that includes the last 4 seasons before Fox came to town.
            You either use a special type of math that differs from the rest of the world when figuring out what is and what is not “above” .500 or…. you really know nothing about football.
            I am going to guess that it is the later.

          • Marc Villasenor

            Holy mathmatician, Batman! This jerk off went back to 2009, 08 to prove me wrong! Dumb ass! .500 or better I should of saidnto appease Einstien over here.

          • Marc Villasenor

            2007 even! Lmao!

          • Dan Morgan

            They also were better than 10-6 before Lovie Smith with Dick Jauron in 2001. I suppose you were upset about that firing and the hiring of Lovie Smith too. Many coaches have been 10-6 or better at some point before a team fired them. Fox DID make them 6-10 last year and made them play respectable football after many embarrassments the year previous with Trestman. You sir are a complete tool if you think John Fox is the problem with the Bears.

          • Philtration

            And you said “every season before that” meaning before 2014.
            Feel like an idiot?
            You should.
            Then again I bet you hear it so often that it has lost its impact.

          • Philtration

            Duh….
            Make a really stupid statement and then pretend that you do not understand what we are talking about.
            You related to Marc Trestman or just sexually attracted to him?
            Was your name “Marc” at birth or did you change it?

      • awhawihc

        Are you FUCKING joking? Don’t EVER WATCH FOOTBALL AGAIN. 2014 was EMBARRASING. We deserved to be less than 5-11. Our defense was the worst it was in what NINETY FUCKING YEARS?!?!? THE BEARS JOINED THE 1923 ROCHESTER FUCKING JEFFERSONS AS THE ONLY TEAMS TO HAVE EVER ALLOWED BACK-TO-BACK 50 POINT GAMES. AND YOU’RE HERE TO TELL ME WE WERE A 10-6 TEAM!?!?!?!? The FUCK are you watching dude? We were 8-8 in 2013. That was our other season with Marc Trestman. We were NEVER a 10-6 team with that shitty coach. If we had Trestman this past season we would’ve been 2-14 or 1-15.

        • crosseyedlemon

          The profanity aside, you gotta love Bear fans who have that Mike Ditka intensity :)

      • crosseyedlemon

        The writing was on the wall before Fox ever got the job in Chicago and the Bears were going to crash no matter who was brought in. Urlacher had just retired and the defense was a complete wasteland. It didn’t help that the front office was coddling Cutler who can’t seem to tolerate an offensive coordinator for more than one season.

      • Philtration

        10-6 team?
        No… “we” were not a 10-6 team ass hat.
        Don’t let the real world be a stranger.

      • Jake Berger

        I literally just created an account to let you know how stupid you are. I dont even mean to insult you, but just look at the data to inform you. Its really not hard. But you must a very special person to use a different sort of math from us humans.

      • Bears_Fan_23

        Literally hope youre trolling

    • Ben M

      Fun with John Fox…
      1. Takes your 1-15 team and makes them credible.
      2. Ah, those 5-game losing streaks.
      3. Getting to the playoffs and melting down with flare.
      4. “It is what it is” Take a drink.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The defense is run by Vic Fangio who was probably the main reason the 49ers reached the Super Bowl a few years back. There was nothing to work with when Lovie Smith departed but Fangio now has a few building blocks in place. I don’t think the Bears win more than 8 games this season but the defense should keep them competitive in most contests.

    • John Casey

      i agree, remember Bears vs Packers thanksgiving…. end of the game with the lead bears run it 3 straight times. giving rodgers another shot. too conservative

      • crosseyedlemon

        Your passing judgement on a coach based on 3 plays? Even owner Jerry Jones isn’t quite that crazy yet.

        • John Casey

          no im not but thats the kinda coach he is. Too conservative. it wasnt just the packers… lets not forget how the bears played prevent late in the game against the packers. That wasnt Fangio or Gase it was Fox. How bout in 2013, like 50 secs left and he tells Manning to take a knee against the Ravens for OT.
          Thats just who he is, and everyone has critiqued him based on this.

          • crosseyedlemon

            I think historically, the coaches that are on the conservative side tend to have longer careers. Andy Reid has consistently been criticized for not being more aggressive with his QB and offense yet the Chiefs put together a great run last season showing why Reid has kept himself employed for so long.

      • GiveNoFuq

        Not only that, against the Lions in overtime. Alshon is destroying their secondary and Johnson is destroying ours. Why in the hell would you put it in the defenses hands and run the ball in overtime. I’m now angry, because you just reminded of some of the coaching errors Fox has made….smh

  • JimmyCrackCorn

    Cutler though.

    • James

      Yeah Cutler though. That guy who’s a basic reliable qb with a cannon to drop it in Whites basket. Not a single realistic qb to replace him. Did you not see how bad we were without him? He ranked right in the middle of QBs last year. Get over the fact he isn’t Aaron Rodgers and appreciate having a mediocre QB.

      • Hugh b

        Actually he ranked in the top 5 of all QBs (ahead of Rodgers), that being with no WRS.

        • SeattleSteve

          Alshon, Bennett, Forte and Miller are nobodies?

          • Philtration

            Jeffery missed 7 games.
            Bennett missed 5 games.
            Forte missed 3 games.
            Eddie Royal missed 7 games.
            They had a lot of nobodies lining up last year and Cutler was not the problem.

    • Mustafa

      You are so stupid it hurts my head. Did you watch a single snap of Bears football last season. With out Jay Cutler we would be 2-14 right now. He kept us in the games after we gave up early game leads as the run defense collapsed week in and week out. Don’t bother watching any football next year.

      • JimmyCrackCorn

        Yes, Cutler is awesome…

  • Joe Felicelli

    I don’t get why Lamarr Houston isn’t mentioned in the OLB group. he had 8 sacks in fewer snaps than Young, and has completely overhauled his game as an OLB vs. DE in the 4-3. I think Houston and McPhee are the starters right now, with Floyd and Young the sub package guys, assuming Young is not traded to a 4-3 team, which he has expressed interest in going to.

    • Joe Wilson

      da Bears new rebuilt Defense is ready to Rumble. They

      are Playoff caliber under DC Vic Fangio . I’am Banking on da Bears Winning the N. Div

  • disqus_rE3nEiWJk6

    Why do you let some dumbass like jimmycrackcorn even comment. Just a Cutler hater and total dumbass who could not find his ass with both hands…………trump fucker.

  • SeattleSteve

    Not sure I like the two ILB signings like everyone else.
    Danny looked good with Ware & Miller getting constant pressure, Freeman was part of those awful Colt performances against the Patriots, the guy has a great season during a contract year (and he’s already 30 years old).

    • Bears_Fan_23

      wayyyyy of an upgrade of the joke of shea and jones. Like so so so much more talent now then two years ago. last year we had guys playing for us that literally no other team wanted and still managed to be 6-10. Now with talent we should be marginally better.

  • Jason Lee

    How bout we all just shut up and root for our team even if the BEARS did not win a single game id still be a true fan and the team coming into 2016 never looked better #goBears

  • Unclerob

    John fox will lead the Bears to the big dance along side pace we will get it done the pieces are solid no periods commas question marks

  • Tim Edell

    The best thing the Bears have done in a long time was hiring Pace as GM. He did a great job in FA and worked the draft like a cagey veteran GM. He is building this team the right way and I expect us to be in playoff contention if not this year then definitely next year.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Pace had done a good job getting some defensive pieces for Fangio to work with. Next order of business is to start looking for Cutler’s replacement. Once that’s done the sky is the limit.
      P.S. Going with a new pic this season Tim? I hope your little guy hasn’t gone over to the Packers.

      • Tim Edell

        My oldest and youngest are Bear fans my middle son is a Packer fan. Unfortunately he was dropped on his head as a child which clouded his decision making which led him to being a Packet fan!!

    • Joe Wilson

      I agree Pace is a Great GM, Fox and Company are winning coaches i expect this 2016 Bear Team to Win lots of games .

  • connorwilliams1

    I really don’t think that Omar Bolden is going to be the starter, it will certainly be Deon Bush or Harold Jones-Quartey