Coming into 2017, the Chicago Bears weren’t expected to do much. A rookie or Mike Glennon under center, a cast of no-name receivers, and a defense put together from rejects and journeymen. John Fox was the epitome of an uninspiring, hot seat head coach who was just waiting for the call to go.
And then the games started, and the Chicago Bears were five yards from taking the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons to overtime in the opener. Week 2 went as expected, with a disappointing loss. And then, back in the friendly confines of Soldier Field they went toe-to-toe with the Steelers and beat them in overtime.
Chicago are not a team to be taken lightly.
Monsters of the Midway
Chicago's franchise history is littered with brilliant linebackers, hard-hitting safeties, and terrific defensive units. The yardstick for defensive greatness is still the 1985 Bears, and while this group doesn't quite hit those highest and won't carry the team through the playoffs like the 2006 unit, the 2017 Chicago Bears defense are not to be trifled with.
Through three games, including facing Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, the Bears are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry. It's still early in the season and there are a good handful of teams that have better numbers against the run, but few that have faced the level of offenses that Chicago have so far.
Together with that low yards per carry is the fact that the longest run they have allowed so far is just 14 yards. Giving up big plays was a staple of the Bears defense last season, and for a few years, but now they are clamping down.
The additions of Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, and Mitch Unrein over the last two years have made this front fearsome on every run down and even a run-stopping force in the nickel. Football Outsiders currently rank the Bears run defense 15th in the NFL, but they are yet to adjust for opponent strength, and when they do, I expect to see the Bears shoot up the rankings.
On the pass defense end, the Bears are not as hot. That's expected given their thin secondary that has only just been put together. Marcus Cooper, Prince Amukamara, and Quintin Demps only arrived this offseason and have been integral pieces of the secondary. It's the one hole that will stop the 2017 unit being as good as the front seven can be.
A year of investment in the secondary to bring more talent and depth could very quickly make this defense one of the best in the NFL again.
A name I haven't mentioned yet is Jerrell Freeman, who is on IR due to a torn pectoral muscle. Freeman led the team with 110 tackles last season and had ten against the Falcons before the injury. When he comes back next year he could well lead a unit that looks far better than this one.
There are some very obvious issues with the Bears 2017 offense. From a total lack of wide receivers, due in part to injury, to the checkdown nature of Mike Glennon's game, but there is a lot of promise too.
My colleague talked about the quarterback position today and I won't repeat his words here, you can read them for yourself. It's safe to say that Mitchell Trubisky is the future of the franchise, and has shown enough in preseason to be very optimistic about his play.
However, right now the offense runs through the ground game, and it looks as healthy as ever.
Week 1 was all about the breakout of rookie Tarik Cohen, who looked like the second-coming of Darren Sproles in his work as a receiver but also showed enough power to take some serious carries too. Week 3 saw Jordan Howard shake off a shoulder injury and rumble his way over the Steelers like he did to everyone last year.
Through three games, despite having no receivers and only Mike Glennon slinging passes the Bears offense is third in the league with 5.0 yards per carry. You don't think of them as having a great ground game, but with Cody Whitehair quickly becoming one of the most productive centers in the league and Kyle Long back at guard, along with Hroniss Grasu and Josh Sitton, Chicago have one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL, and it's providing a brilliant platform for their offense.
The future is bright
The holes are obvious in the 2017 Bears. At quarterback, at receiver, in the secondary, and at offensive tackle. However, there is help coming with Mitchell Trubisky, Cameron Meredith will be back next year and we are seeing more and more quality receivers come into the league than ever before, and as the level of offenses in NCAA has taken off so too has the quality of defensive backs that are now entering the draft.
Chicago are in a tough division and will face a lot of very tricky games this year. Depending on what happens at the quarterback position they could end up with a top-five pick come the 2018 Draft, or sit somewhere in the teens. Either way, a good draft class next year could vault these Bears back into contention in a flash.
There are plenty of poor teams in the NFL this year, but Chicago have been putting up a fight at home against teams expected to contend for the Super Bowl. They have shown a competitive fire akin to the great Bears teams of old.
Don't sleep on these Bears, because come 2018 they may finally wake from hibernation and take on the league once again.
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