LAKE FOREST – With almost all eyes trained on Mitch Trubisky and the offense Sunday in Detroit, and all ears focused on Allen Robinson and the Bears front office since the team returned with a 1-0 record courtesy of one of the uglier wins in recent franchise history, one of the potentially more serious storylines of what happened against the Lions has flown mostly under the radar.
The Bears defense – that was the best in the NFL in 2018, and then good but not special last season – failed to show any improvement over where it left off last December. In fact, after surrendering 25 first downs, 426 yards of offense, 138 yards and a 4.8 average on the ground and 23 points, it just wasn’t very good.
Most disturbing was the fact that the biggest difference between the ’18 and ’19 defenses, the lack of takeaways and a consistent pass rush, was as pronounced as it was all last season.
Some of that can be chalked up to Robert Quinn being MIA in Detroit with a bum ankle, but not all of it.
Khalil Mack is one of the top three or four defensive players in the game and one of its most dominant pass rushers.
When it was announced that Detroit starting right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai would be inactive and Mack would spend a good part of the afternoon torturing his backup, Tyrell Crosby, the natural assumption was Mack would have a big game.
Mack always makes plays, commands double and sometimes triple teams, and opponents always scheme to take him out of the game.
But that Mack couldn’t overwhelm Crosby and put his stamp on the Lions was at the least disappointing.
I asked Matt Nagy if my eyes deceived me and here’s what he had to say.
“I would agree that I think overall when you watch the tape for our defense I know they can play better," Nagy said. “You look at the front-line guys, you have to be able to get pressure against Stafford. “Now, it’s hard to get after the quarterback when the ball is out as fast as it was. I thought they had a pretty good game plan that they worked around. We did get after him a few times, so it’s certainly not for effort.
“I know 52, Khalil Mack, is the best in the league at rushing around the corner and getting after these quarterbacks. But I would agree with you, I think that we could certainly get a lot more pressure, which would help out these DBs on the back end.”
Talking to Mack during the preseason he was the first to acknowledge the frustrations of last season.
“The expectations that I have for myself, I definitely didn’t reach last year," Mack said at the time. "So knowing that, I know I’m supposed to pass whatever the expectations were last year for myself, and it’s a challenge to myself, and only I can challenge myself, and only I can tell myself what it was that I expected from myself.”
While Mack made no excuses he did share his excitement over the arrival of Quinn.
“Rob is a hell of a player, man, and an even better person," Mack said. "And I know it’s just gonna be fun being out there with a guy that’s going 110 miles per hour on the other side, and I can’t wait.”
Waiting last week had to be frustrating and should certainly give us all pause to wait at least another week or two before over analyzing the problem.
Mack’s and Quinn’s position coach, Ted Monachino, wants to share the blame for the slow start telling us, “I know that none of us, Khalil included, are pleased with the effectiveness and the production of the pass rush and that’s on me to get it better."
He believes Quinn will help solve the problem.
“I will tell you that this is a really a good football player that we can’t wait to get back," Monachino said.
Quinn has been limited in practice this week and his status for the Giants will probably remain uncertain until Sunday morning.
But with or without him, this Bears defense, as Nagy said, can be much better than it was in Detroit, and if it isn’t this Sunday vs. the Giants, the time for concern will be here.