Bolstered Bears Defense Strives For Dominance

September 06, 2018 - 2:59 pm
Categories: 

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Within the walls of Halas Hall, a museum of franchise history in addition to being the Bears' headquarters, confidence was growing in a renewed defensive identity. 

There are both reminders of the past throughout the building blended with examples of what this defense could be -- relics of 1963, 1985 and 2006, plus images of the present day reinforcing the dominance this team can achieve. Examples of history are all around these current Bears as they prepare for a 2018 season now filled with higher hopes.

"You want to bring those times to the present," said edge rusher Khalil Mack, the big-time addition capable of transforming this defense.

There was a sense of optimism surrounding the Bears defense last Friday night, even before the blockbuster trade for Mack. His presence means potential for even more collective growth.

The Bears have arguably the best linebacker group in football now with Mack and Leonard Floyd lining up off the edge and Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith and Nick Kwiatkoski playing inside. There's continuity up front with the tandem of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, plus the same starting secondary as the Bears lined up for their 2017 opener.

With defensive coordinator Vic Fangio back for his fourth year, continuity reigns supreme for this unit. It's their most important asset.

"Their players improve as the year goes on and definitely from year to year," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the Bears defense. 

True to form, Fangio wouldn't offer glowing predictions for his defense, even with Mack in the fold. His reaction Saturday morning when the trade went through? Great.

But what Fangio did acknowledge is that Mack's mere presence can benefit the other 10 players on the field. Mack offers fewer double teams for Hicks, more rushing lanes for Floyd and more opportunities for those game-changing plays that have eluded the Bears under Fangio's watch. The Bears had 22 takeaways last season, only eight of which were interceptions. Those are figures for every player to digest. 

"Any time you get a player of his ability, it can do nothing but help make you better," Fangio said. "(Mack) helps make the players around him better.

"It’s a chain reaction, domino effect, and hopefully that’s what we’ll see."

Added Hicks: "He's going to make us that much more feared."

At the least, Mack's arrival with the Bears puts a wrinkle in the Packers' game plan come Sunday. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers referred to Mack as "a matchup problem, so you're going to have to find ways to account for him in the passing game."

Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich phrased it more bluntly: "He disrupts life." 

The reputation of Mack comes with great respect, and it has rubbed off on this defense. How will this group look starting Sunday night and what would define being great? The Bears rose to ninth in scoring defense and 10th in yards surrendered in 2017, both small victories amid a fourth straight losing season.

Ultimately, the Bears can consider their defense great once again if it's the reason this team wins games -- like those eras past. It's a ball ripped away that sets up a comeback or fourth-quarter interception that seals the victory. This was the emphasis for the Bears even before Mack arrived, and they all know well it's an effort beyond one man.

"It's an exciting time to be a Chicago Bear," Mack said. "You have young talent and on the defensive side of the ball. You definitely have some dogs. I'm looking forward to getting out there with them dogs."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.