We’re already nine games into the 2022 Chicago Bears season, which means it’s time for a midseason report. Here’s an in-depth look at the Bears’ defense and how it is faring at the halfway point.
I’ll be coming out with my report on the Bears’ offense on Friday, November 11.
It’s been a rough first half of the season for the Bears’ defensive line. The unit has failed to generate consistent pressure and be a force against the run. It’s in the bottom 10 in the league in sack percentage (the percentage of opponent dropbacks that result in a sack), only taking down quarterbacks 4.94 percent of the time. The line’s inability to make plays in the backfield and contain the edge is why the Bears allow the seventh-highest yards per rush attempt (4.9).
Top Performer: Justin Jones
Justin Jones is second on the team in total pressures (13) and has the most sacks on the line (2). Jones leads the Bears in tackles for loss (6) and has the most tackles amongst the team’s defensive linemen (25).
After trading Robert Quinn, the Bears’ starting defensive ends are Trevis Gipson and Al-Quadin Muhammad. The duo has had a hard time finding meaningful production. They have combined for three sacks, nine QB Hits and 34 tackles. Even putting the two player’s production together doesn’t add up to a quality starter in the league as there are 31 other EDGE players that have more sacks individually.
Rookie Dominique Robinson had a very strong first week with 1.5 sacks and seven total tackles. But he has failed to notch a sack since and has only tallied six tackles in eight games despite playing roughly the same percentage of snaps.
Another reason for the Bears’ struggles is that Angelo Blackson has been a shell of the player he was last season. He only has 15 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 QB Hit. For reference, he had 43 total tackles and nine QB Hits in 2021.
Upgrade Need Level: 10
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and if you couldn’t tell, the Bears have been abysmal upfront on defense during the first half of the season. If things don’t drastically improve, Ryan Poles will need to find multiple difference-makers for this unit in the offseason.
Taking a look at the back half of the Bears’ front seven, the linebackers have had their share of ups and downs. Like the defensive line, this unit is largely responsible for the defense’s inability to stop the run with poor pursuit and allowing teams to reach the edge on a consistent basis.
Top Performer: Roquan Smith
Even though he’s no longer on the team, Roquan Smith finishes the first half of the season as the Bears’ top-performing linebacker. Not a surprise, really. Smith’s 83 combined tackles lead the Bears, he also has the second-most tackles for loss (4), sacks (2.5) and interceptions (2).
Sam linebacker Joe Thomas hasn’t made much of an impact. With the Bears primarily playing in a sub-package, Thomas does not see the majority of snaps per game as he’s a part of the base defense. He currently has 15 tackles.
Nicholas Morrow has played at an average level. He’s providing the Bears with stable, but not spectacular, play. According to PFF, he ranks 25th among linebackers in tackles (45) and 30th in run stops (22). Morrow doesn’t provide the Bears with much of a pass-rush presence as he only has three total pressures. With Smith being sent to Baltimore, Morrow’s role changed as he is now the team’s starting Will linebacker. He struggled in his first game at the new position posting a season-low two tackles.
If this continues, perhaps the Bears will test the waters and give undrafted free agent Sterling Weatherford a chance to prove himself.
Speaking of UDFA’s, Jack Sanborn being promoted to the starting Mike linebacker may be the most interesting thing to watch at the position the rest of the way. In his first career start, Sanborn finished second on the team with seven total tackles, all of which were solo.
Upgrade Need Level: 9
Let’s be honest, the Bears will not be contenders with the current crop of linebackers. Sure, Sanborn can develop into a quality starter. And it’s okay to have similar aspirations for Weatherford, but it’s no guarantee.
The Bears will need to find a game-changing linebacker to fill their Will position in order for this defense to play at a high level. And there’s still a chance they’ll need to find better players at the other linebacker positions, too.
The Bears’ cornerbacks haven’t seen a ton of work as the Bears have faced the second-fewest passes in the NFL (27.8 pass attempts per game) and they allow the 10th-fewest yards through the air per game (200.7).
Top Performer: Kindle Vildor
What? I know.
Vildor is the best Bears corner when you look at the numbers. He’s tied for the team-high in pass breakups (4) and is one of two corners with an interception this year in Chicago. He’s allowing the lowest passer rating at the position (84.1) and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed when targeted (62.5%). The one glaring area that Vildor has struggled is penalties as he has the most of Bears’ corners (4).
Rookie Kyler Gordon has seen the fifth-most targets in the NFL at the position (54) and he’s been an active tackler as he ranks fourth of all corners in the league with 41 tackles. His 16 run stops are also the fourth-most at cornerback. Gordon has allowed the highest passer rating this year amongst Bears’ corners. However, when you look at the last four games, he’s surrendered the lowest rating (79.2). The rookie is developing in front of our eyes.
Jaylon Johnson has not been the same since his injury earlier this season. Since his return in Week 6, Johnson has allowed two or more catches in every game and has allowed 167 yards over these last four weeks.
Upgrade Need Level: 4
Let’s be honest, the Bears’ corners aren’t the problem. Johnson is one of the best in the league when he’s on top of his game, Gordon is developing and should be a solid starter by the time next season comes around, and Vildor is proving he can be a serviceable starter himself. There are other glaring needs on defense. Imagine what this unit could accomplish with a modest pass rush helping them out.
Top Performer: Eddie Jackson
Eddie Jackson is on pace to set a new career high in interceptions as he has four at the midway point and his current career high is six. He’s also forced two fumbles already this season, and the most he’s forced in a single season is three.
Jackson is also only 17 tackles away from his career-high of 82 with eight games still to play. Unfortunately, that’s more on the front seven not doing their job, forcing the safety to make plays on the run too often. Still, Jackson is making the tackles.
Rookie Jaquan Brisker leads the Bears with three sacks. He’s tied for a team-high in TFL (4). He is also fourth on the team with 55 tackles.
Coverage-wise, both safeties are giving up receptions on less than 70% of their targets and passer ratings below 85. And against the run, they combine for 20 run stops with Brisker leading the way with 13.
Upgrade Need Level: 0
There’s no reason to move on from Jackson and Brisker is on the path to becoming a top safety in the league, too.
There you have it! An in-depth snapshot of the Bears’ defense at the halfway point of the season. In order for the Bears to play at a higher level the rest of the way, they will need a drastic turnaround upfront as that’s where their issues stem from.
Do you have any key observations or takeaways from the first half of the season? Let me know in the comments!