By HUB ARKUSH – firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, Matt Nagy has come to Chicago to lead the Bears into the NFL’s brave new world of offense.
Before a season in which NFL teams are threatening to shatter the game’s record for total points scored, GM Ryan Pace set out to find an offensive whiz to develop his prized possession, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and tabbed Nagy, who brought with him one of the league’s most voluminous, innovative and tricked-up playbooks.
Fortunately for the Bears, however, Pace also acknowledged that while offenses may be setting records and filling stadiums, defenses still can win games and titles in the NFL, too, and he and Nagy worked to retain defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
When Pace and Co. then elected to go big or quite possibly go down in a ball of flames by trading the crown jewels for one of the league’s best defenders in Khalil Mack, the rest of the NFL started to pay attention and we heard a lot of “look out for these guys next year.”
In spite of a smoking hot 3-1 start ignited by Mack, when the All Pro went down with a banged-up ankle and the Bears dropped back-to-back games to the Dolphins and Patriots, the common refrain was, “Yeah, they’re pretty much who we thought they were.”
What was forgotten, however, and what the Bears served up a startlingly loud reminder of Sunday with their 41-9 thrashing of the Bills in Buffalo is that the bears had a really good defense last year – 10th in total defense, ninth in points allowed and sixth in sack percentage – well before Nagy and Mack were even a glean in Pace’s eye.
Now 5-3 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, the Bears’ most dominant defensive performance of the season in Buffalo set them up nicely for a second half run at the playoffs that will start Sunday with three key NFC North games – including two against the Detroit Lions, who fell to 3-5 Sunday – in a stretch of 11 days.
With Mack on the sidelines for a second straight Sunday nursing that sore ankle in Buffalo, the Bears managed only 190 yards of total offense and for only the second time this season lost the time of possession battle – by a whopping eight-plus minutes.
But not to worry, the defensive juggernaut was led by the same guys behind whom the unit emerged last season with Akiem Hicks dominating the line of scrimmage early, Danny Trevathan seemingly everywhere versus the run and the pass, Kyle Fuller locking down the Bills passing game and Eddie Jackson creating takeaways and scoring points.
Jackson stripped the ball away from Bills TE Jason Croom after a short completion, recovered the fumble and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to stretch a one-score Bears lead to 14-0 halfway through the second quarter, and the rout was on.
The much-maligned Leonard Floyd failed to sack the quarterback again Sunday, but did play extremely well against the run, create consistent pressure on Bills QB Nathan Peterman and, after Fuller deflected a pass aimed at Zay Jones, plucked it out of the air and returned it 19 yards about four minutes after the Jackson score to make it a 21-0 Bears lead.
Halftime still was three minutes away, but for all practical purposes the game was over.
Yes, the Bills have the worst offense in the NFL, but it has been nine weeks since opening day, when the Ravens beat them 47-3, that a team has destroyed them the way the Bears did Sunday.
Two weeks ago, the Bears faced their first real adversity of the Nagy era, riding a two-game losing streak and preparing to play without their defensive MVP candidate in Mack and arguably their best offensive player in Allen Robinson.
Now they’ve lost possibly their second-best offensive player in Kyle Long, come away with two thoroughly convincing wins and will start their second-half run hopefully with Mack and Robinson healed and ready to go and in control of the NFC North.
It’s getting pretty hard not to take these guys seriously.
• Write to Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush at email@example.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.