What Happened?


No replacing talent of injured Bears

Dickerson By Jeff Dickerson

NFL teams all want to play up the tough-guy angle that injuries are never an excuse for poor on-field performance.

While it's true that every NFL team has to deal with a certain amount of injuries on a year-to-year basis, to overlook or marginalize how injuries have impacted the Bears' defense is simply unfair.

If all the core members of the Bears' defense stayed healthy all season, would that group be as good as last year's unit?

No. I don't believe the defense would have improved in the wake of Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Israel Idonije departing in the offseason.

But the defense still would have been respectable.

Remove Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, middle linebacker D.J. Williams, nickelback Kelvin Hayden and defensive tackle Stephen Paea from the equation for a large chunk of the season, and the results have been predictably subpar.

That's not meant to absolve the Bears from their other issues -- poor tackling, lack of a pass rush, lack of awareness and failure to keep their gap integrity -- but these injuries have forced the Bears to play certain individuals they did not expect to have to lean on when the season began.

There was a reason the Bears preferred to start veteran Williams at middle linebacker over second-round pick Jon Bostic in Week 1, despite Williams' missing most of the preseason with a calf injury.

The Bears' plan did not call for fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene to be the weakside linebacker. Zack Bowman is an experienced reserve cornerback, but Tillman is arguably the best defensive back in Bears history.

And raise your hand if you believed the Bears would need to rely on David Bass, Cheta Ozougwu, Christian Tupou, Landon Cohen or Jay Ratliff to give them significant snaps on the defensive line.

There shouldn't be any hands up.

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.

Days of counting on defense over

Greenberg By Jon Greenberg

During the good times of Lovie Smith's tenure, as the defense caused takeaways by the bunches and won games for a flaccid offense, the saying went "The star of the Bears' defense is the defense."

All for one and one for all, and all that. But what happens when the defense isn't the star anymore?

Well, this happens. The Bears are dead last in the NFL in opponent rushing yards (153.6). That's fine when you cause a bunch of takeaways, but that's not really happening, either.

What did you expect? Forget the narratives. You can't blame all of this on a new defensive coordinator who wisely kowtowed to the status quo and the veterans. Injuries have decimated this team and this season.

Major injuries to the defensive line (Henry Melton, Nate Collins), the linebackers (D.J. Williams, Lance Briggs) and the defensive backs (Charles Tillman, Kelvin Hayden) have decimated the depth of a defense already in danger of aging out of the upper echelon.

Add to the injuries poor play by the safeties, and a front seven of mostly rookies and castoffs have turned the Bears' defense into a sieve.

It's tough to watch. You can bet the Bears' first pick in the 2014 draft is a defensive end or a safety.

Understandably, it's tough to just throw up your hands and say "Oh, the injuries!" when there are players out there who should be able to keep opponents under, say, 200 yards rushing, but there is a reality to deal with here.

This is a franchise-changing season, because the Bears are going to have to rebuild the defense around, well, nobody. There are no more keepers on this defense, which is scary.

Briggs' loss has been most evident as teams have averaged 204.4 rushing yards since he left the Redskins game with a shoulder injury. Washington rushed for 209 yards that game.

The Bears haven't loaded up on takeaways, either, with five in five games since the bye. Defensive end David Bass' interception return for touchdown against Baltimore was the real highlight.

The Bears used to be able to count on a nasty defense making up for the shortcomings on offense. Those days are over.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.


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