Chicago’s defense earned the nickname “The Monsters of the Midway” in 1985 when their defense lead them to a Championship. The 2023 Bears team will, again, be driven by its defense and powered by dominant linebackers. In 1985 it was Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson, this season it will be two guys who arrived in free agency. There’s been a lot of turnover in Illinois but the future looks bright.
The Bears’ Fall Out Boys
The 2023 Bears drafted 10 players and signed 13 free agents. And that was after trading the first overall pick to Carolina for D.J Moore! If that wasn’t enough, they also signed 17 undrafted free agents.
According to one ESPN analyst “Da Bears” drafted six of the 2023’s top 100 prospects. First-round pick Darnell Wright and free agent signing Nate Davis should improve the offensive line. The signing of Robert Tonyan adds a reliable pass catcher (his career catch rate is 77.8%). And Moore’s former Panthers teammate D’onta Foreman’s arrival provides an experienced running back who has plenty left in the tank. Foreman is 27, but he’s a long way from the 2,500-touch mark that usually signals a decline in running back production. Even though Foreman has been in the league five years he’s only started a total of 13 games. He didn’t make more than 100 rushing attempts in a single season until 2021, so he hasn’t taken as much punishment as most backs his age.
The Take Over, The Breaks Over
But it’s the defense that should be exciting Bears fans even more. The offense was starting to show some green shoots of recovery under Justin Fields last season. Even with a very average offensive line and two running backs leading their passing game. The defense was a bit of a mishmash in 2022 though but the 2023 version is going to be a very different story.
In his first season in charge in Chicago Matt Eberflus was trying to run his version of the 4-3 defensive scheme he prefers with playing personnel who were more suited to a 3-4 scheme. One player who appeared to fit a 4-3 scheme was Roquan Smith and he demanded a trade because the Bears couldn’t afford to pay him. Apart from dynamic linebackers who can organize those around him, the 4-3 scheme needs athletic defensive linemen too. The three rookie defensive tackles they drafted should come in handy there, especially with the two undrafted defensive ends they picked up.
American Beauty/American Psycho
Heading into the 2023 season the Bears have the perfect Roquan Smith replacement in the shape of Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds led the Bills with 102 tackles in 2022 and he only started 13 games. In fact, Edmunds has led the Bills in tackles in every season except one since they drafted him. In 2020 Jordan Poyer’s 124 tackles lead the Bills, Edmunds only made 119 but he played a game less than Poyer.
His playoff record is just as impressive, Edmunds has played eight postseason games, recording 71 tackles. He’s made five QB hits, defended eight passes and recorded a sack in the playoffs too. Edmunds had been a Bills Captain since 2019, his departure is going to leave a big gap in the heart of Shaun McDermott’s defense. The most surprising part of the Bears signing Edmunds is that he’s only the fourth highest paid linebacker in the league according to Pro Football Network.
He’s not the only linebacker “Da Bears” signed in free agency though. They doubled up and bought TJ Edwards from the NFC Champion Eagles too. Edwards’ 159 tackles ranked seventh in the league in 2022. And none of the other top 10 tacklers defended more passes than Edwards. In 2022 Edwards made 49 more tackles than any other Eagle! With Nakobe Dean on the roster they have someone who should be able to step up and fill the gap, but Edwards had a phenomenal 2022.
In Eberflus’ first season as the Colts defensive coordinator linebacker Shaquille Leonard was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. Leonard ended that season with a league-leading 111 solo tackles, 163 tackles in total! Leonard also made two interceptions, defended eight other passes, and recorded seven sacks in what really was a season for the ages. Middle linebacker Anthony Walker also made over 100 tackles for the Colts in 2018 and the Colts were ranked 8th for rushing yards allowed and 3rd for the number of touchdown passes they conceded that season. If Edmunds and Edwards are anywhere near that impressive Chicago’s defense is going to be hard to break down.
This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race
One thing that all successful play-off teams had last season was elite linebackers. Obviously, Edmunds and Edwards were amongst them, but they weren’t alone. Super Bowl winners Kansas City had Nick Bolton.
Bolton was the poster boy for the Chiefs defense blossoming as the season developed. He averaged 9.1 tackles per game for the first eight weeks, for the last eight weeks of the regular season he averaged 12.4 per game. Their competition, the Bengals had Logan Wilson who made 123 tackles in 15 games, and Germaine Pratt who made 99.
In Minnesota, the Vikings, who were one of the few playoff teams to run a 3-4 defense, had two exceptional linebackers in Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. Kendricks recorded 137 tackles during the regular season and journeyman Jordan Hicks recorded 129, his most since 2019.
The best advert for the importance of elite linebackers improving a team’s play-off chances have to be the 49ers. They reverted to a 4-3 defense when Shanahan took the helm. San Francisco has had three deep playoff runs since 2019, it’s no coincidence they drafted Fred Warner in 2018. Warner has been the mainstay of the 49ers defense alongside Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair. San Francisco looks to have unearthed some exciting linebacker prospects this year too. They drafted Dee Winters in the sixth round and added Mariano Sori-Marin as an undrafted free agent.
Even the Buccaneers (who won a division with a losing record) still had two outstanding linebackers on their roster. Lavonte David and Devin White both recorded 124 tackles and combined for 8.5 sacks and defended 10 passes.
Make America Psycho Again
Tonyan’s signing means the offense can now play a lot of 12 personnel. That will help Foreman in the running game and in turn opening up play-action passes. With Fields’ athleticism, they could even use some RPO looks, defending against the 2023 Bears will be tricky. opponents won’t know how many defensive backs to put on the field. But Eberflus’ defense should be one of the best now he actually has the right faces in the right places. With a successful running game chewing up the clock, allowing the defense time to rest on the sidelines and no doubt some brutal weather in Chicago the Bears are going to be horrible to play in 2023. They might not be “Monsters of the Midway” but, when it comes to the NFC North, they will be the phoenix.
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