In 2005 Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears won the NFC North without an offense for fourteen weeks. They won games 9-7 (Washington), 10-6 (Baltimore), 13-3 (Carolina) and 13-10 (Tampa) prior to Rex Grossman’s triumphant return from injury in prime time against the Atlanta Falcons. In 2006 Lovie’s boys allowed 7 points or less in four of their first five games but looked far more human after Denny Green’s Cardinals proved the Bears were who he thought they were on a Week Six trip to Arizona.
The 2012 Chicago Bears are the best defensive group of Lovie Smith’s tenure. And if they stay healthy the 2012 Chicago Bears are legitimate contenders to play in that big ballgame in New Orleans come February.
It starts at corner, believe it or not. The position often believed to be an afterthought in Lovie’s cover-2 shell has become this vintage’s bread and butter. After Tim Jennings played at an All-Pro level for the month of September, Peanut Tillman capped off a magnificent three-week run against the Detroit Lions by shutting down the league’s best receiver. With Charles Woodson hitting the infirmary for the next six weeks I could also make a serious argument that DJ Moore is the most consistent nickel back in the game (and certainly in the NFC North).
At safety, I lean on Zach Zaidman. Here is a direct Tweet from the man:
In 12 games with the Conte/Wright starting safety tandem, #Bears defense has 22 INTs and only 9 passing TDs allowed.
After a decade of Kevin Paynes, Al Afalavas (apparently still IN the NFL) and Brandon McGowans it appears Lovie Smith has found a pair of safeties he entrusts to positions themselves 18-22 yards off the ball. But last night we saw just how flexible these two guys can be. Major Wright made several excellent edge-seals in the run game and Chris Conte may very well be the best blitzing option the Bears have if he can keep his balance when unabated to the quarterback.
The front seven is ferocious. Last night with safeties lined up at the Art Institute the Lions were unable to mount anything resembling a running attack. Lance Briggs is the best pure linebacker in the sport, Brian Urlacher is coming back…slowly and all eight guys in the defensive line rotation are capable of getting to the quarterback on every single play. (I think Shea McClellin is going to be an absolute star in this system for years to come.)
They have allowed fewer points than any team in the league by a wide margin. They have turned the takeaway into their own private art form. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli mixes looks and personnel groups just enough to confound opposing quarterbacks. They do everything well and they do just about everything better than the rest of the NFL.
We were told by David Haugh and some other Chicago columnists this would be the year offensive football lit the torch and led the angry mob to kill the monster. Not so fast my friends. This is a defensive town. This is a defensive team. And they are Lovie’s best.