September 29, 2022


Hub Arkush: Is Bears defense over the hill? Or has it just forgotten what it takes to be great?

Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

The Chicago Bears’ season and future didn’t end Sunday night in Los Angeles. Almost everyone expected them lose.

But with all of the aspirations and goals for the 2021 season very much still right in front of them, the way the Bears lost did highlight a couple of extremely serious concerns about their defense:

1. Did they hang on too long to all their 30-something stars? Are they just past their prime and no longer who we thought they were?

2. With a new and relatively inexperienced defensive coordinator were they just not prepared?

3. With such a veteran and star-laden depth chart, if they were properly prepared how is it conceivable they made as many mistakes as they did?

4. Where is the swag?

Head coach Matt Nagy tried to address those concerns Monday.

“We watched the film and went through different scenarios of the game, and there’s some calls you want back and you put on yourself,” he said. “And then there’s others where you go, ‘You know what, this guy could have made a play here or there.’”

The bad calls should neither surprise nor worry us, at least not yet. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai is entitled to a few mulligans.

But why were guys missing plays the coach expected them to make?

Having watched all the veteran studs daily throughout training camp, none appear to be limited physically, so it seems unlikely more than one or two – if any – have gone over the hill.

On Wednesday, Desai acknowledged too many mistakes were made and a few were glaring.

“Yeah, the pass pick-ups was probably the No. 1 thing, which I’m sure you can look at the stat sheet and look at that intuitively as well,” Desai said.

I asked him specifically how many coverages were blown.

“Now, off the top of my head, there’s probably only two or three major busts,” Desai said. “A missed coverage isn’t a one-on-one. The offense is going to win their fair share of one-on-ones and the defense has to win their fair share of one-on-ones. So that’s not a blown coverage.”

Agreed. But “major busts” doesn’t mean the only mental errors. Since Matt Stafford completed 20-of-26 passes, if three of them were major busts, it still means Rams receivers won 17 times and Bears defenders just six, and that doesn’t account for how many assignments may have been missed in the run defense.

So things weren’t working Sunday night physically or mentally and the Bears newest defender, Alec Ogletree, offered a third possibility.

“For the most part, I thought our thing was we just didn’t play with enough energy,” he said.

Really? The opening game of the season in front of a full house on the highest rated show on TV for the last couple decades and the Bears defense wasn’t physically, mentally or emotionally prepared?

I am very concerned that some of the key cogs could be on the wrong side of the hill, but the fact that if you take away the handful of “major busts” we all saw the defense was very much in the game, it’s just too soon to fear the worst.

Prior to Sunday night all indications had been that Desai is ready for this. It was his first rodeo, so again, no reason to panic yet.

But as Brad Biggs reminded me with a great piece in the Tribune the day after, this is the same defense that to a man other than Roquan Smith (who played very well vs. the Rams) elected not to participate in a single voluntary workout this offseason and took more veteran and load management days off in training camp than Virginia McCaskey has grandchildren (as of my last count she had 47, including 26 of the great variety, bless her soul).

We all have bad days, but when you’re only asked to put in 17 a year, you don’t get a second.

The season won’t end this Sunday either, but if the defense doesn’t show up completely focused and with its hair on fire, it may be that the swag is all in their heads and they just believe they’re better than they are. Then it’s probably time to back up the bus no matter what the answers to the other questions are.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and