Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, left, and linebacker Danny Trevathan

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Gabriel: Bears Defense Can Be Scary Good

The speed of the Bears' linebackers opens up many options for Vic Fangio.

Greg Gabriel
September 21, 2018 - 9:22 am
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(670 The Score) After the Bears were a top-10 defense statistically in 2017, the talk in training camp shifted to whether they could be a top-five unit.

It turns out that was too low of an expectation, given the trade to acquire star edge rusher Khalil Mack.

The Bears have both high-level talent at key positions and also depth. In Mack and Leonard Floyd, th Bears have the a pair of speed rushers off the edge to create disruption. Mack is a Lawrence Taylor-type talent who makes everyone around him better, and he plays with an enthusiasm that can be contagious. Others strive to mirror his level of play and be as productive.

While Floyd has been slowed somewhat by a club cast on his fractured right hand, he's planning to wear a lighter apparatus this week. So we're about to see how effective he can be off the edge with so much double-team attention paid to Mack. It's a major challenge for foes to block two pass rushers off the edge with sub-4.6 speed.

Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith's speed and range were immediately evident in his first extended action Monday. The Bears' linebacker group, which also included Danny Trevathan, is probably the fastest and most athletic corps in the NFL. All are instinctive and fly to the ball. Moving forward, opponents will have to scheme to stop them.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio loves to draw up exotic blitzes, which he can do more regularly and with more confidence with the speed of the linebackers. As Fangio better understand his players' games and strengths, the Bears will only flourish more.

Fangio prefers to use players in a rotation to keep them fresh. In the win Monday, all five defensive linemen played and contributed. The Bears played some base defense (three down linemen), but for only a few plays. The rest of the showcased different combinations of Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard and rookie Bilal Nichols.

Hicks and Goldman received the bulk of the snaps, the others still played at least 10 snaps each. After Hicks, the best inside pass rusher the Bears have is Robertson-Harris, who's beginning to become a dominant force. He's quick, fast and explosive, and his hand use has dramatically improved.

What has gone unnoticed is how improved Goldman is as a pass rusher. While he never will be a player with moves and counter moves, he consistently gets a push and can collapse the pocket.

The same held true for the linebackers. Seven of the eight linebackers who were active played snaps from scrimmage. The only linebacker who didn't play was rookie Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who plays a significant role on special teams. Free-agent signee Aaron Lynch is starting to come on after missing all of the preseason with a hamstring issue. With his size and power, he brings a different element that the others in the group don’t have. He had two tackles and a sack in limited action Monday. Lynch consistently put pressure on the quarterback when he was in the game and can set the edge in the run game.

The Bears lead the NFL with 10 sacks in two games. If they can continue to put that kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it will lead to more turnovers. The defense has already created four turnovers (two fumble recoveries and two interceptions), and I don’t think we have seen what the group is capable of doing. Don’t be surprised if there are some four-takeaway games coming for the Bears.

The Bears secondary is strong. Right now, the weakness is cornerback Kyle Fuller, who has shown good cover skills also poor ball reaction skills. It has led to two touchdowns for the Bears' foes in the first two games and a dropped interception that would've sealed a potential win in the opener. The safety play has been excellent and because they're still young too, more improvement is on the way.

Before the Mack trade, the Bears had a solid defense. With the addition of Mack, they have the potential of becoming the best defense in the league. I can’t find another defense that's as fast and athletic as the Bears.

Now it’s a matter of everyone learning to play together. As that happens, Fangio will try to do more with the group. Trust me, it’s almost scary how good this group can become -- as in, I’m talking 1985 Bears good.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​​