For many Chicago Bears fans, the 2023 campaign has been another one filled with frustration. The Bears are 4-8, but could easily be 6-6. They had two sure-fire wins, but late-game collapses resulted in losses. Against the Denver Broncos, they blew a 28-7 lead late in the game. Against the Detroit Lions, they blew a 26-14 lead with less than five minutes left in the game.
While those losses are frustrating, it goes to show how much better this roster is than the one Chicago had in 2022. Last season was Year 1 of the latest rebuild. General manager Ryan Poles tore down the roster and added other teams' castoffs.
In Year 2, Poles added more talent. He especially made a concerted effort to improve the defense. He added Rasheem Green, DeMarcus Walker, Yannick Ngakoue, TJ Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, Andrew Billings, and later Montez Sweat. He also drafted Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens, Tyrique Stevenson, and Terell Smith.
That is a lot of additions.
The new additions on the Chicago Bears defense helped transform the unit into a solid one, despite what the naysayers say.
Because of how bad the defense has been recently, people are used to bashing it. We hear the same old story about how bad the defense is and that things need to change. Well, things have already changed.
Sure when you look at some of the stats in a vacuum you see the same old defensive struggles. They rank 25th in passing yards allowed, 30th in passing touchdowns given up, and 28th in points allowed. Those numbers don't look too good.
However, a lot of those troubles happened early in the season. Taking a closer look at things you see that in the first four games of the season, the Bears gave up 34.2 points per game. That is certainly awful. Additionally, they gave up 267.8 passing yards and gave up 17 touchdowns.
In the last eight games, however, things changed. They allowed just 19.9 points per game, 225.4 passing yards, and 16 touchdowns. It has been a tremendous turnaround.
Let's not forget about the run defense. In 2022, the Bears ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed, last in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 27th in average yards per carry. Opponents were able to gash the Bears' defensive line up the middle or hit the edges with no worries.
That has completely changed in 2023. So far, they rank third in rushing yards allowed, fifth in rushing touchdowns allowed, and lead the league in average yards per carry. The investments Poles made in the middle of the defensive line are paying off in a big way. After the horrible start in which the defense ranked at or near the bottom of the major defensive categories, the Bears now rank ninth in total yards and 15th in turnovers.
There are a number of players who are responsible for the improvement. Here is a list of those having big seasons:
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson
Jaylon Johnson is having the best season of his career. He is shutting receivers down and is earning the new, big contract he so desires. He has three interceptions this season. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 57.4 percent of the passes in which he was targeted. Additionally, they only average 9.1 yards per completion and own a 59.4 passer rating.
Johnson has been locked in a contract dispute with the Bears. However, when the season is over he will have his great numbers to lean on in negotiations.
Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter
Gervon Dexter has been excellent when on the field. He has helped plug up the middle of the defensive line and is using his athleticism to wreak havoc in the backfield. He has really been an unsung hero on the line, not getting a lot of the attention many other defensive tackles receive.
Poles took a lot of heat for not taking Jalen Carter in the first round of this year's draft. However, Dexter is doing plenty to help the defense. As a result, the Bears were able to get their offensive tackle in the first round and a defensive tackle later. That wouldn't have happened if they took Carter.
Linebacker TJ Edwards
The TJ Edwards acquisition might be one of the biggest steals of this year's free agency. Edwards, from the Chicagoland area, gave the Bears a hometown discount. He is signed for three years at an annual average value of $6.5 million per season.
For that low amount, the Chicago Bears have gotten a likely Pro Bowl player. Edwards leads the league in tackles with 127. He also has two sacks and two interceptions. With Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, and Jack Sanborn as the starters, the Bears have themselves one of the toughest starting linebackers unit in the league.
Defensive tackle Andrew Billings
The other tackle helping shut down the running game is Andrew Billings. While Dexter plays the three-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard), Billings plays the nose (lined up over the center). He has been a great presence on the interior.
Billings played so well this season that the Bears rewarded him with a two-year extension. He signed a one-year deal with Chicago this past offseason. Again, the Bears are getting their money's worth.
Defensive end Montez Sweat
The acquisition of Montez Sweat might have been the glue the Bears needed to put this season's defense together. His presence just raised the play of everyone else. Poles spent a second-round pick and then a contract extension of four years, $98 million. It was expensive, but it appears to be worth it.
In the four games he's played for the Bears, Sweat already ranks second on the team in sacks with 2.5 (Ngakoue has 3 sacks). He has also been playing with a high motor and is constantly pressuring quarterbacks. His teammates see him and they pick up their own play.
In the four games he's played, the Bears have seven sacks. That might be a modest total. but consider this: they had a total of 10 sacks in their previous eight games. That pressure is affecting opposing quarterbacks. With the defensive line now harassing them, the turnovers are coming in bunches. In the past two games, the defense recorded seven interceptions.
Despite the great improvement the Chicago Bears defense made as the season progressed, people still like to put the unit down. Yes, there are still moves to be made. However, This is not last season's defense and it isn't the one that started the season. We are witnessing the return of the Monsters of the Midway defense we are so used to seeing over the years.