October 16, 2021


Hub Arkush: Bears could contend if defense continues to impress

OK, now we all know who the quarterback is, so can we please talk about something else even if it’s just until Sunday?

It takes 52 other guys to entertain us and stack wins, too. And will anyone be disappointed if the Bears rattle off a handful of wins in the coming weeks regardless of what Fields’ contribution is?

What I’m focused on specifically right now is the 2018 season, when the Bears’ defense was special. They were a legit division champ and playoff team. They led the NFL with 36 takeaways and had the second-most QB sacks with 50.

In both 2019 and 2020, the Bears still had top 10 defenses but not impenetrable, in large part because they were only 24th and 17th, respectively, in sacks and 22nd and 25th in takeaways.

So what’s going on now?

Through four weeks, the Bears are seventh in the league with six takeaways and first in sacks with 15.

Although it’s early, it seems likely defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s guys will get better before they slow down.

The Bears have yet to play with more than nine of their starters on defense. Last week against the Lions, they had only eight after Akiem Hicks went down on the first play of the game and seven a good part of the time, with Khalil Mack playing less than half the snaps.

Desai knows injuries are a part of the game, but he makes no excuses and explained why after Hicks went down.

“It’s unfortunate. He’s a highly impactful player for us on our defense,” Desai said. “That’s part of football. Guys get hurt. We’ve seen it through this first four weeks at various levels of our defense. The guys stepped up.”

The most obvious difference to date this year has been the renaissance of Robert Quinn, but Quinn says it’s as much about Mack as him.

“Everyone knows Mack and what he brings to the game,” Quinn said. “I’m just out here trying to do my part, get as much production as I can and help the team win.

“And at the end, of course, my numbers may be OK, but I think they’re still a little concerned about [Mack] on that other side.”

Newcomer Alec Ogletree has played a huge role with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan on injured reserve. Ogletree said he knows he’s in a special place.

“I appreciate it, like I said, since I’ve been here,” Ogletree said. “I’ve been blessed enough to come back and have an opportunity to play some good ball here and play with a lot of guys that love ball and care about one another.

“I’m just blessed, man, to even be here and be sitting here talking to you guys. I’m honored to be a part of it and just enjoy being with the guys around you and playing the game.”

There also is the emergence of Jaylon Johnson as a star in the making to cheer, and Eddie Jackson playing well above his levels of the last year and a half.

But there are question marks, too.

The loss of Hicks is significant. How long he’ll be down is unknown.

Rookie Khyiris Tonga explained what makes Hick so special.

“He’s different. Physicality, his mental state, he’s just different,” Tonga said. “He knows just looking at the formation, he’s always telling us what he sees and to read our keys, and I really love watching him play because I learn a lot from him.”

The Bears’ two wins to date have been more about the defense than the quarterbacks, and what might it look like if they can get everybody healthy and flying around?

How about 2018? Possibly.

Remember, the 2018 Bears were 3-3 before they were 12-4, and nobody knew what to expect from Mitch Trubisky.

With the new, semi-serious injuries to running back David Montgomery and Hicks, it’s really difficult to predict the Bears will get on a roll anytime soon, if at all this year.

But if they do, it seems a lot more likely the defense will be in the driver’s seat than the rookie QB.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media