The Bears’ defense as a unit, from the front seven to the secondary, has contributed in a big way this season. It's been a complete and total team effort from Rod Marinelli’s defense, which has been the driving force behind the Bears’ 6-1 record, putting Chicago second overall in the NFC.
The Bears’ defense has scored six total touchdowns, a franchise record, on top of a flurry of turnovers and quarterback sacks. The defense has also been stout against the run (ranked first in the League, allowing just 77.9 yards per game on the ground), along with having the best Red Zone defense in the NFL.
So, who’s to thank?
The Bears have three players—in my mind—who are not only in the consideration for Defensive Player of the Year honors, but potentially Most Valuable Player consideration. The defensive unit’s stellar production has led to national recognition, as well as weekly, monthly awards as handed out by the League and its sponsors.
Those players are . . .
Jennings hit the ground running in 2012. He had four picks through his first three games, but apart from that it was nearly impossible for opposing QBs to throw in his direction and get even a completion.
Since then he has tapered in production (especially in terms of picks) but has still been strong. In certain match-ups, Jennings has been beat—mostly on intermediate routes in the middle of the field—but on slants, Jennings is almost impossible to beat considering his timing and ability to close on the receiver.
Jennings went up against one of the most underrated wide receivers in the last decade in Steve Smith last Sunday. Smith got the best of Jennings in terms of yards (seven catches for 118 yards), but considering his 16 targets, Jennings did the best job he could containing the explosive receiver.
In terms of statistics, Jennings may have lost the match-up, but when the Bears needed him—heck anyone—to make a play, Jennings came through, and he changed the momentum of the game no matter what Steve Smith said (sore loser).
In reality Jennings made one of the most important plays of the season with his pick-six to give the Bears their first lead in Sunday's game. He also had a crucial interception at the half that kept points off the board.
T.J.’s two interception performance against the Panthers is the second time he's done that this season, and he now leads the League with six interceptions. His play has not been perfect (whose is?), but when he’s had a chance to make a play on the ball this season he simply has.
Charles “Peanut” Tillman has had his name thrown around for MVP this year after his dismantling of Calvin Johnson on Monday Night Football—the second game in a row he’s shut down Megatron.
Tillman has won two NFC Player of the Week honors, and has the look of the best shutdown corners in the League. His height and speed make for a deadly combination, not to mention his willingness and ability to force fumbles.
The best ball hawk in the NFL has five forced fumbles this season and two interceptions, both of which were run back for touchdowns.
Tillman has been simply superb this season. He came into the year somewhat of a question mark for the Bears, thanks to his age and despite his 2011 Pro Bowl nod. But he has answered the call through his first seven games by overpowering the opposing team’s top receivers.
Tillman also has the underrated ability to be a sturdy tackler. He works perfectly in Marinelli's system of holding a guy clean until your teammates can come and finish the tackle.
Tillman was matched up with Brandon LaFell this past week, who, in the stat sheet, looked to have a favorable day against Peanut. But, the Bears were in a zone when LaFell broke off his 67 yarder, where Chris Conte bit on a route underneath, leaving the middle of the field wide open. After that play, LaFell was essentially rendered useless, finishing with only three receptions.
Lance Briggs’ importance to this team cannot go understated. In a year where linebackers, for the first time in a decade, weren't expected to be the strong point for the Bears, Lance Briggs has stepped up and proven otherwise.
Briggs is the team’s overall leading tackler. He has two interceptions, two touchdowns, a sack, six passes defended and two forced fumbles. In a word: domination.
Briggs seems to be involved on nearly every play on defense. His speed and strength allow him to break off blocks and fly to the ball with incredible closing speed. Urlacher has, undeniably, been weakened due to a knee injury, but Briggs has been there to pick up any slack left behind.
Bears fans and players might tell you Briggs has been the most important player to this 6-1 start to the season. His advancements in coverage, blitz packages and discipline in zone defense have allowed the Bears to thrive in any set they run.
Briggs had seven tackles Sunday, and though he was not mentioned all that much, he played an important role in the Red Zone. Briggs has stepped up, even after inking a new deal, and performed at, possibly, the highest level we've seen from him in a Bears uniform.
So, who do you think it is? VOTE NOW!