Bears proof defense still matters in offensive-minded NFL

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Los Angeles Rams' record-breaking 54-51 Monday night victory over the Kansas City Chiefs was almost universally hailed as one of the most exciting regular-season games in NFL history.

Well, nearly everyone liked it.

"The score isn’t what I’d like to see as a connoisseur [of defense]," Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.

"I thought the 1958 Giants and Colts was the big game. I don’t know. I think we live in such a one-week news cycle in the NFL. Let’s see what happens next week."

Forgive Fangio for sounding like a curmudgeon. In an offense-crazed NFL, the 7-3 Bears are proof that teams can still win with great defense.

Chicago leads the league with 97 points off its NFL-best 27 takeaways. Fangio’s defense also ranks No. 1 in interceptions (18), defensive touchdowns (five) and forced fumbles (16).

The Bears have the league’s best turnover ratio at plus-13, and they give up the second-fewest yards per play at 4.92.

The Bears played mostly sound defense under Fangio the past couple seasons, but they really flourished after first-year head coach Matt Nagy prioritized keeping Fangio in the offseason.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Bears traded for Khalil Mack, who, despite sitting out two games with an ankle injury, leads the team with eight sacks and five forced fumbles.

But the list of Bears defenders who are thriving in 2018 extends beyond Mack.

Rookie first-round pick Roquan Smith, who missed almost the entire preseason due to a contractual holdout and injuries, is Chicago’s leading tackler with 70 stops.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller has four interceptions through 10 games.

Second-year safety Eddie Jackson (three picks) has two defensive touchdowns.

And perhaps Chicago’s most dominant defender outside of Mack has been veteran lineman Akiem Hicks, who obliterated Minnesota’s suspect offensive line Sunday with five tackles for loss and one sack. Hicks has a team-high nine tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits.

"Akiem has come a long way," Fangio said. "You guys know his history. He was in New Orleans for three or four years and didn’t have much success there at all and went to New England for half a season and did OK. I think a lot of people were surprised we signed him, but we saw something in him that we thought we could develop and get him to play well within our scheme. And he’s done that.

"I think he did a lot for himself to gather offseason honors."

The Bears haven’t had a defensive player voted to the Pro Bowl since cornerback Tim Jennings in 2013.

They could end up with at least four Pro Bowl defenders off this team.