The Chicago Bears made modest attempts to fortify their defense after the unit crashed and burned last season. The latest projections by Bleacher Report don’t give the Bears much hope to turn around the unit this season. The Bears fired offensively-minded head coach Matt Nagy and turned the reigns over to defensively-minded Matt Eberflus. The results last season were dismal.
Matt Eberflus coached the worst defense last season
According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had the worst defense in the NFL in 2022. They ranked dead last in DVOA. They gave up the most points, recorded the least sacks, and gave up the 29th most yards. It didn’t help Eberflus cause the Bears lost key pass rushers last offseason in Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and then Robert Quinn during the season. Once Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith were traded, the Bears gave up an extra four points a game than their total average for the season.
Put simply, the Bears’ defense was bad because they had a major talent gap in 2022. The Bears didn’t add elite talent at premium positions to fix that gap this offseason. Their best free agency signing was Tremaine Edmunds, an off-the-ball linebacker. The Bears have major weaknesses at defensive end and with a true number-one corner. It’s still unknown if the Bears have a reliable three-tech. Justin Jones struggled last season, and the Day 2 rookie defensive tackles will come into OTAs raw.
Eberflus claimed during last season that his H.I.T.S. system was more important than bringing in star talent, especially if those players didn’t fit his scheme or culture. After Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles emphasized trying to win last year and denying last year as a rebuild, Bears fans understand the emperor wears no clothes this offseason. Apparently, the national media is buying Eberflus’ message, either.
The Chicago Bears defense isn’t projected to improve much
Kristopher Knox with Bleacher Report came out with defensive rankings after the draft. Knox ranks the Bears as the 29th-best defense after the moves they made in the offseason and draft. Knox thinks the Bears’ 2023 defense makes a slight improvement over last year’s unit on paper, but the offense is the best bet to keep Eberflus’ defense from cratering to the bottom of the league again:
“The Bears might not take a massive step forward defensively this year, but they cannot get any worse. Adding proven veterans like T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds will help immediately, and Chicago continued to rebuild its defense during the draft.
On paper, this is a better unit than it was a year ago, especially after the trade of Roquan Smith. The Bears surrendered an average of 27.3 points on the season and an average of 31.3 points over the final nine games.
The defense will also be aided by a healthy investment in the offense. Players like DJ Moore, D’Onta Foreman, Robert Tonyan, Nate Davis and rookie right tackle Darnell Wright will help Justin Fields and Co. better sustain drives. That’s noteworthy because Chicago lost the possession battle by an average of 10 seconds and half a play per drive last season.
The Bears will be better equipped to play complementary football in 2023.
It’s going to take time—likely more than one offseason—for Chicago’s defense to actually be good, but fans should take solace in the fact that this is a unit on the rise.”
Matt Eberflus doesn’t have much to work with, again
Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Wiliams won’t have much more to work with in 2023. The Bears chose to build around quarterback Justin Fields with their first moves of the 2023 NFL Draft by trading the first pick for wide receiver D.J. Moore and selecting right tackle Darnell Wright. There is no argument the Bears offense needed help, and those moves might be in the best interest of the team.
However, Poles has added no roster-changing elite talent to the Bears in the two offseasons he’s been the general manager, and it’s looking grim for the defense. (Edmunds was the only player he acquired this offseason who has made the Pro Bowl; his last appearance was in 2020.) Poles chose to pass on Jalen Carter with the ninth overall pick. Carter would have been a risky pick that had the talent to be a star on defense the Bears don’t have, and likely won’t for a while if Poles attempts to add one through the draft instead of via trade or free agency.
But not getting Eberflus talent for the defense is also a risk for the head coach. Eberflus flubbed his first assignment last season. He’ll need to improve his coaching methods because the defensive coach took the unit and placed them at the bottom of Lake Michigan in 2022. There’s no indication he can elevate his current defensive roster this season. Poles might have to find help before September if the Bears’ defense is to look competent this season.
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