Don’t overlook Chicago Bears defensive dominance
Has the Bears’ defensive dominance become so commonplace now that we’ve ceased to be amazed by its accomplishments?
If so, that’s too bad because it’s a crew that deserves to be appreciated each and every week. But it’s a positive because, if the Bears continue to play defense at their current level, they’re a threat to defeat any playoff opponent.
When Danny Trevathan intercepted 49ers QB Nick Mullens at the Bears’ 14-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with San Francisco threatening to erase the Bears’ 14-9 lead, it seemed the collective reaction was, “Yeah, it’s about time. Nobody’s picked off a pass all day.”
Considering it was the Bears’ league-leading 27th interception this season, fans could be excused for feeling that way. Only once in 15 games have the Bears not picked off at least one pass, and they’ve had two or more eight times.
The Bears also kept the 49ers out of the end zone, and maybe coach Kyle Shanahan’s team is just 4-11, but it’s still playing hard, and no quarterback in the NFL had thrown for more yards in the previous three games than Mullens. But no Bears observer was shocked after what they did to the Rams two weeks earlier, holding them to just six points, after they came in averaging 35 points a game.
In the game sandwiched between the Rams and 49ers, the Bears allowed just one touchdown to the Packers, who scored 44 points Sunday. The effort against the 49ers was actually subpar in a way because the Bears allowed nine first-half points after permitting an average of just six first-half points all season.
CB Prince Amukamara was asked what the most recent performance said about the Bears’ defense, and his response was interesting in that he mentioned how it related to the playoffs, a place the Bears haven’t been since 2010.
“It says we’re tough, resilient, and we don’t quit,” Amukamara said. “We know there’s going to be a time in the playoffs when we need to go out there on defense, and it’s great that we’ve been there before and it’s not foreign to us.
“Because we’ve been in this situation so many times and have come up big, it’s almost expected of us. Like when we had to go back on the field to help win it for our team. Everyone was poised, and no one was shaking. We expected great things to come out of it, and we’re glad we stood up for our team.”
That was the sequence after Allen Robinson’s fumble with 1:52 left, when the Niners had one last chance to steal a comeback victory but were quickly forced to give up the ball on downs.
The Bears managed to hold the 49ers without a touchdown even after Mitch Trubisky’s errant lateral pass to Tarik Cohen was recovered by the 49ers 26 yards from pay dirt. The defense did it despite missing one of its biggest contributors all season, Pro Bowl S Eddie Jackson (ankle) and a valuable role player in OLB Aaron Lynch (elbow). Both are expected back for the playoffs, which is bad news for Bears opponents.
Five of the 49ers’ nine possession produced 20 yards or less, and even though the Bears allowed Pro Bowl TE George Kittle to catch seven passes for 74 yards, his 10.6-yard average was well below the 16.0 he averaged in his first 15 games.
“That’s why they’re so good, they limit big plays,” Mullens said. “They have great corners. They have a great front seven. Their safeties are pretty good, too. They have very talented players and a great scheme. They have very good edge rushers -- probably the best in the league. Probably the best inside rushers, too, in the league. There’s a lot of push regardless. You can see that on film every week. You could see it (Sunday).”
While the Bears sacked Mullens just once, they pressured him into a 65.8 passer rating, his second lowest of the season, as he completed just 22 of 38 passes. Pro Bowl DL Akiem Hicks never got to Mullens, but he swatted down three passes before they could get to the line of scrimmage.
A week earlier the Bears held Aaron Rodgers to a 68.9 passer rating, his lowest of the season. The week before that, the Bears harassed the Rams’ Jared Goff into the lowest passer rating of his career, 19.1 and intercepted him four times.
If the Bears’ defense can do that to those quarterbacks, it can impose its will on any quarterback and any team it faces in the postseason. It may be a QB-driven league, but defense can still win championships.