The loss of Lance Briggs for a yet-to-play-out extended period on top of a clearly impaired Charles Tillman notwithstanding, the outcome of 2013 Bears season is far from determined.
If nothing changes, and the defense cannot rectify at least some of its issues, of course the Bears won’t be playing more than 16 games before going home for the offseason. But Bears defenses have been in the toilet in the past, and the prospect of the 2013 defense remaining this bad are next to impossible. It’s simply hard to stay this bad for this long.
The 2013 defense has sunk to a historic low, allowing 21 or more points to seven straight opponents, something no Bears team in franchise history has done.
The 1997 Bears allowed 20 or more points in the first 11 games on the way to a 4-12 season. And the Bears won three of their next four after those 11 games, allowing 7, 3, and 10 points in those wins. The 1964 and 1989 teams each had six in a row with 21 or more. But no team in franchise history has gone seven games with this consistent rate of points-against.
“We’ve been completely inconsistent,” coach Marc Trestman said. “At times we’ve been outstanding and at times we just haven’t done the right things. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The defense will be without its best player for however long it takes Briggs’ fractured shoulder to mend. An overlooked fact is that the unit has not had an intact Tillman for weeks, Tillman is second only to Briggs in importance to the Chicago defense, and the off week may return him to the lineup healthy.
Age not the problem
The problem on defense has not been the apparent de facto end of Julius Pepper’s distinguished career. It’s much bigger than that.
Forget about the “aging Bears defense” cliché and misperception. With Briggs out, and he was the best player on the defense when he was hurt, the defense now has exactly two starters older than 30: Peppers (33) and Tillman (32). That leaves nine players who don’t have age as an excuse.
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Peppers, Tillman and a calendar are not the issue. The far more disturbing fact is that of the Bears youth cadre of Jonathan Bostic, Chris Conte, Shea McClellin, Stephen Paea, Corey Wootton and Major Wright, all fourth-round or higher draft selections, only Paea and Wootton have better ProFootballFocus.com season grades than Peppers, just using PFF for apples-to-apples comparison purposes.
How much better the defense can get by improving technique and fundamentals is debatable. The pass rushers are what they are, and they are not going to add breakthrough new moves or tactics at this point when they didn’t find them through offseason, training camp, preseason and seven regular-season games.
What can change, however, is the level of desperation, and the pride of the unit was in tatters after the shredding by the Washington Redskins. Doing the same technique and fundamentals drills aren’t likely to alter the defense’s level play. Some pride and desperation might.
“It just really frustrating,” Wootton said, with clear emotion coming through after the humiliation in Washington. “The game was in our hands and they drove the length of the field. We have to stop them. It was on us and we didn’t come through. The offense got a lead for us and they drove the whole field on us.”