One position group quite a few people wished the Bears did a better job addressing this offseason was the secondary. But, despite not having any household names, they’re better back there than most think.
In 2015 the Bears defense ranked fourth in passing yardage allowed. But that’s not the eye-opening statistic. The thing that jumps out is a new metric Football Outsiders started using last year called ALEX, named after everyone’s favorite Checkdown Charlie, Alex Smith. The number ranks how often defenses forced quarterbacks to throw short of the first down marker — a clear sign of good coverage.
The Bears were the best in the sport.
That could just be an anomaly, but the best teams in ALEX rankings are the teams you would typically expect to be up there. The quarterbacks who you would expect to rank well in the statistic also do, so it mostly holds up. Considering the Bears’ inconsistent pass rush, finishing first is quite an accomplishment.
There are also numbers that tell you the Bears pass defense wasn’t as good as the yardage and ALEX rankings have them. They were only 18th in net yards per attempt, managed just eight interceptions and gave up 31 touchdowns. A lot of that — and the fact that they had one of the worst third down defenses in the league — can be attributed to a lack of pass rush and terrible linebacker play. The Bears recognized this and signed two new linebackers and drafted a pass-rusher in the first round.
There’s reason to think the Bears secondary will be better this year. Adrian Amos was good last year and has the potential to be Tony Parrish. Kyle Fuller improved throughout 2015. Tracy Porter had some very good game, though I suspect consensus opinion on him would be significantly different if the Packers receivers caught the ball on Thanksgiving. Bryce Callahan and Harold Jones-Quartey are both interesting and athletic. They showed flashes of being good players and the jury is still out how good they can be.
The Bears really only added three players to the mix, two fourth round picks and a sixth-rounder. Not guys most teams would expect to start right away, but two of the three certainly have a chance for the Bears. They’re hoping Ed Donatell, one of the best secondary coaches in the sport, can help Deon Bush and Deiondré Hall outperform their draft statuses. Like Amos and HJQ, Bush is an exceptional athlete who likes to hit. DeAndre Houston-Carson is a wildcard.
The reason they made it work last year and reason to think they’ll be good this year is because of good coaching. Donatell and Vic Fangio didn’t always have the most talented secondaries in San Francisco but you’d regularly see them stymie even the best passing offenses. What their players lacked in speed and ball skills, they made up for with their technique and discipline.
Realistically, it will probably take Fangio and Donatell another year until they can develop the raw athletes the Bears have into actual good defensive backs. When that happens, their defense could become elite. Until then, however, the secondary should still be a strength because Fangio and Donatell have consistently shown the ability to get disciplined and technically sound play.