It is quite possible that the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings boast the two best defenses in the NFL.The problem with statistics this early in the season is the sample size from three games against different opponents is just too small to form any definitive conclusions, but there is little denying these two are as loaded with star power as any groups in the league.
For Minnesota, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are All-Pro talents and Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Everson Griffen all have legit Pro Bowl ability.
In Chicago, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson are all among the best at their positions and Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are all Pro Bowl-level competitors.
Entering Week 4, the Vikings defense ranks 12th in total defense and 8th in average gain per play, 13th vs. the run, 11th vs. the pass, 7th in sack percentage, 10th in interception percentage, 6th in third down conversions allowed and tied for 5th in points allowed.
The Bears are 8th in total ‘D,’ 5th vs. the run, 14th vs. the pass, 6th in sack percentage, 7th in interception percentage, 3rd getting off the field allowing just 22.9 percent conversions on third downs and 3rd in points allowed.
Obviously these two groups are tough to split and the significance here is that with both clubs having flawed offenses and little or barely more than no confidence in their quarterbacks, the defense that performs the best on Sunday is almost certain to be on the winning side.
If there is an edge that goes to either club it almost has to favor the Bears because of a slight edge in game-changing playmakers, led of course by Mack.
I can’t imagine anyone arguing that Mack, Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt aren’t the three best defensive players in the game, and choosing one is kind of like deciding between chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
All are great and the winner is strictly a question of taste.
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano spoke Thursday about the influence Mack has on the rest of the Bears defense saying, “It’s huge. I mean, it’s blood in the water. When that stuff starts to go, it’s momentum, for your entire defense, for your entire team.
“You can feed off of that. They say the speed of the lead determines the rate of the pack. Everybody’s just trying to keep up and match his intensity and match his play.
“He’s a humble, humble guy. He just wants to win. He wants his teammates to do well.”
Hunter and Smith for the Vikings have similar big-play ability to Mack but neither as of yet has taken over games the way Mack does.
As Matt Nagy explains it, “He helps everybody else out, he’s a multiplier and he can make us good coaches.
“They (superstars) change the game.”
However, that is definitely not to say Mitch Trubisky and Co. can sleep for a second on the Vikings ‘D.’
The Bears did beat the Vikings twice convincingly last year, but neither game was a rout. Nagy says the key was executing against that Viking defense on third down.
“Really the biggest thing was, yeah, we executed on third down.
“You have to do that against these guys [who] are really good on third down. So you want to have a clean third down plan, you want to be smart with that.”
There is one other edge for the Bears unit: no soft spots.
They are outstanding at all three levels. Chicago boasts one of the best “30” fronts in the NFL and a ton of options when they go to “40” in their sub packages, one of the NFL’s best secondaries and almost certainly its best best four-man linebacking crew.
The Vikings, I believe, have the best four man D-line in football and their secondary — if not better than the Bears’ — is deeper.
But while Anthony Barr is a very good “Sam” linebacker, as a group, he, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon are good but not great, and that’s sure to be where the Bears try to attack.
We know Dalvin Cook will be the Vikings’ main weapon, and a special one, but where to attack the Bears with him is a real puzzle.