Dannehy: Bears Can’t Ignore Defense as They Build Around Fields

| March 16th, 2022

The signing of Larry Ogunjobi was telling in that it shows the new Chicago Bears regime knows it has to maintain a solid defense for the development of Justin Fields, or whoever the long-term quarterback may be. Ogunjobi will fill a critical position in the Matt Eberflus defense, profiling as the prototypical three-technique, responsible for pressure up the middle. The contract, reported to be three years and $40.5 million, caused some uproar. Why? Because 2022 should rightfully be all about quarterback and it’s hard to argue a defensive tackle helps a quarterback. But this addition will help take pressure off of Justin Fields.

And the new defensive tackle is a very good player. He has had ten or more tackles for a loss, five sacks and at least 13 quarterback hits in three of the last four seasons. He essentially replaces Akiem Hicks, who hasn’t had ten tackles for loss or five sacks since 2018.

Trading Khalil Mack certainly sent mixed signals.

Many assumed the team would use the assets returned from the trade and the salary cap relief on offensive players. They still will add to the offense, but it shouldn’t have been entirely surprising to see the one major free agent signed being a defender. The Bears hired a defensive head coach; if they’re going to have success with him, they have to get his side of the ball right. Repeating the mistake made with Matt Nagy – an offensive coach who received few offensive resources – doesn’t seem wise. If the team has a great defense and a franchise quarterback, they’ll be in the mix every season.

Keeping the defense at least adequate, for now, should help Fields develop at his own pace without the pressure of having to score 30 points per game.

There’s no question the young quarterback struggled when playing from behind last year. His six interceptions while trailing was tied for the sixth-most in the league. The only players who had a higher percentage of their passes intercepted in such situations (with at least 140 attempts) were Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Tua Tagovailoa, Mike Glennon and Mike White. The only players with a worse passer rating while trailing (min. 140 attempts) were Glennon, Darnold, Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. That isn’t to suggest that Fields can’t become a good quarterback, but he’d certainly be better off playing with a lead until he is more established. Perhaps it can be argued that playing from behind will show what Fields is made of, but the reality is that it would likely stunt his development. The success stories when it comes to quarterback development have mostly had good defenses to help along the way.

With the hiring of Luke Getsy as OC and a defensive head coach, we can safely guess that the Bears plan on running the ball a ton in 2022. The passing game will be tied to the running game with a lot of play action passes and RPOs. Having a good defense will keep the games close enough for opposing defenses to be more susceptible to such a scheme.

And yes, the team will still need to add offensive players, though Poles doesn’t seem to be willing to pay a high price to do so. Assuming they still find a way to upgrade the offensive line and wide receivers, they should be able to at least get a baseline of Fields. If the team can stick to the plan of running the ball and playing strong defense, it will give them a chance to find out what they have in Fields.

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