For two straight years now I've heard that the secondary is a potential weakness keeping the Bears from Superbowl contention. Now, this irritates me for a couple of reasons. For one, when people tend to say _____ is keeping someone from Superbowl contention, they're usually basing that on some illusory concept of the ideal Superbowl champion rather than assessing the league as a whole and basing their opinion on that comparison. Those are the kinds of people who would never have imagined the 2007 or 2011 Giants winning the Superbowl, or that it was possible that the 32 ranked rushing offense (2009 Colts) or the 32nd ranked defense (2011 Patriots) would get a team all the way to the big game. So when I hear that the Bears secondary is a question mark for the team, I look at several other teams considered to be contenders, like the Packers, Patriots, and Lions, and wonder how the hell people get that idea.
Now, I'll admit the safety play on last year's team concerned me and I've addressed that before. Things were considerably better once Chris Conte replaced Chris Harris/Brandon Meriweather, and even Major Wright was adequate when healthy. With Conte, Steltz, Wright,and Hardin in the mix I'm optimistic that the disastrous pass defense of the first 5 games last year is long gone. I don't expect the starting duo for the Bears to consist of two hall of famers, but they'll be capable of limiting big gains and making the occasional play.
As for the cornerbacks, I've already spent time defending the two best cornerbacks in the NFC North, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, who both allowed less than 60% completions and allowed only one gain of at least 47 yards. They're not flashy and they aren't going to blanket someone like Revis, but they're not asked to do so and they'll provide plenty of turnovers (well, P'Nut will).
So where does this idea that the Bears have a weak secondary really come from? An outdated concept like basing defenses on yardage allowed. The Bears finished 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, with 4065 yards allowed (254 ypg). That looks bad. But let's take a closer look:
1) The Bears were really good at stopping the run. After an awful and extremely atypical slow start against the run last year (135 ypg in the first 5), the Bears pulled Anthony Adams out of the nose tackle position (the key run stopper in the Cover 2) and replaced him with a Polynesian rotation of Paea and Toeiana. That switch led to a stingy run defense that allowed just 78 yards per game over the final 11 contests (consider also that in two of the mere 3 games in which they allowed over 100 yards rushing in that span, they faced Michael Vick and Tim Tebow). That was just a yard behind the 77 ypg allowed by the 49ers, the NFL's top run defense, during that time period.
What has this got to do with the pass defense? Well, futility in the run game forced teams to chuck it a lot against the Bears defense, for a whopping 631 attempts, good for 2nd in the NFL in most passing attempt against. Teams are naturally going to get a good amount of yardage on 631 attempts.
2) What did they do with those attempts, though? Well, 4065/631 equals just 6.4 YPA. In case you need a reference, that's like telling someone they're going to go up against Shane Matthews every game. They'll take it. That 6.4 YPA attempt against is good for 3rd best in the NFL, right up there with the Ravens. Something tells me no one's saying their secondary is going to keep them out of the Superbowl. Everyone knows that's Joe Flacco.
3)Interceptions. The Bears got 20 of them. Tied for 6th most in the NFL. They allowed 22 touchdown passes, good for 13th fewest in the NFL.
4)Opponent Passer Rating. Passer rating is a flawed stat, but the Bears still held opponents to just a 79.8 rating, good for 8th best in the NFL.
5) The Bears had to face Aaron Rodgers (2x), Matthew Stafford (2x), Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, and Michael Vick last year, the only team in the NFL to face that particular gamut. That's 9 games against 7 of the top 11 passing yardage leaders in the NFL last year. They went 5-4 in those 9 games.
The only thing the Bears didn't do particularly well in pass defense last year was get after the quarterback. Although Melton and Peppers both had fine pass-rushing seasons, the Bears know they need another DE who can get after Aaron Rodgers and they drafted Shea McClellin to do so. I think people will see this year that, as usual, yards don't mean a damn thing against Lovie's defense.
So if the Bears secondary doesn't suck, do those same excuses apply to New England, Detroit, or Green Bay? No. Those teams aren't Cover 2 teams, and their secondaries, frankly, just plain suck. Look at the stats for opposing passers vs. those teams compared to the Bears stat line:
Chicago: 383/631 (60.7%), 4065 yds, 22 TDs, 20 INTs, 254 YPG, 6.4 YPA, 79.8 Rating
Green Bay: 390/637 (61.2%), 4796 yds, 29 TDs, 31 INTs, 299.8 YPG, 7.5 YPA, 80.6 Rating.
Detroit: 376/604 (62.3%), 3831 yds, 26 TDs, 21 INTs, 239.4 YPG, 6.4 YPA, 82.1 Rating
New England: 386/619 (62.4%), 4703 yd, 26 TDs, 23 INTS, 293.4 YPG, 7.6 YPA, 86.1 Rating.
As you can see, all of those teams were worse than the Bears in nearly every category. The Lions lower yardage total can also be somewhat excused by the fact that their run defense (23rd in the NFL) was downright shitty, so they're much easier to attack in multiple ways. Now, I'm not saying those teams aren't Superbowl contenders (well, Detroit isn't), but simply that the Bears secondary is certainly looks much better when you compare it to several other contenders who give up plenty of yards, and touchdowns, in schemes that aren't designed to allow short yardage passes like the Bears defense is.
So, once more, I say: No, YOUR pass defense sucks.