The Chicago Bears franchise is known for the old-school, smash-mouth style of football that has been played from the days of Dick Butkus, to the Super Bowl Shufflers of 1985, to the dominating defense of 2012.
It represents the everlasting essence of Bears football, much like the pillars of old Soldier Field.
No matter how many years removed, every Bears fan is still talking about 1985—and why shouldn't they? Sporting arguably the best defense in NFL history, the Bears brought the Lombardi Trophy to Chicago, and they haven't had one since.
The 2006 defense got the city excited once again, as the Bears made a run to the Super Bowl, even with a piano-sized weight on their back (aka Rex Grossman).
But this season, the Bears—the defense in particular—are giving their fans reason to talk about the present. The defense has allowed only 15 points per game (second in the NFL) and ranks third in the league with 28 sacks.
Even more impressive, however, has been their ability to take the ball away. Thanks to their turnover machines at cornerback—Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman—the Bears have created an astounding 28 turnovers through eight games (most in the NFL).
But not only does this defense take it away, they also take it to the house. The unit's seven interception returns for touchdowns is on pace to shatter the NFL single-season record of nine (1961 San Diego Chargers).
All that said, is this unit already the most dominant defense in Bears history?
While the production through the first half of the season is incredible, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It would be a disgrace to the '85 Bears to dethrone them before season's end—let alone doing so before the return of the Lombardi Trophy.
Some would argue that the 2006 defense is still better than the present, while statistics show that the 1986 defense may have been the best of them all. Let's take a look at the numbers (via pro-football-reference.com).
|Year||Points Allowed (per game)||Takeaways||Sacks||Defensive TD|
|2012||15||28 (on pace for 56)||25||7|
The skeleton definition of playing defense is to prevent the opposition from scoring, and no one did that better than the '86 Bears. With much of the Super Bowl cast back, Richard Dent and Co. took their defense to another level, despite being hampered by terrible production on offense.
In the end, the '86 Bears were undone in the divisional round of the playoffs, and the hopes of repeating were gone. While the '86 team held opponents to fewer points, the fact that the '85 unit had more takeaways and touchdowns—in addition to their clutch performance in the postseason—makes them a more dominant defense.
Like the '86 defense, the 2006 unit had to overcome the deficiencies on the offensive end. While the numbers don't stack up with the defenses of the '80s, the fact that they carried Grossman to the Super Bowl makes them worthy of consideration. Nevertheless, they should still be mentioned after Ditka's defenses.
So where does this year's defense rank? The turnovers they have created, along with their ability to score, is something that is unprecedented in Bears history. But no one can be crowned after eight games, especially when the Chicago has some of its toughest opponents left on the schedule.
The talent is all there. Tillman and Jennings have performed like the best two corners in the NFL, while the pass rush of Julius Peppers and others has been lethal. But they must keep up the pace throughout the rest of the season and go deep in the playoffs to be able to sit at the same table as the Super Bowl ring bearers.
If the Bears reenact the '85 script by holding their playoff opponents to 10 total points and bring another Super Bowl to Chicago, then by all means, call them the best. Until then, the 2012 group can be called the most opportunistic defense in Bears history, but nothing more.
The title of most dominant defense belongs with the Shufflers—for now, at least.