For the last 98 years, there has been one thing synonymous with the Chicago Bears, and that’s Defense. Taking a look back at all the great Bears teams, whether under Halas, Ditka or Lovie Smith, they all won because of their defensive dominance.
Unfortunately, now in 2018, the NFL has gotten rid of defense in its entirety.
For the first time in team history (according to my personal tortured fandom timeline), the Bears are forced to go against tradition and become an offensive team. And by in-depth analysis, strategic timing or just dumb luck, the Bears have an offensive-first mentality under new head coach Matt Nagy as they finally enter the 21st century of the NFL.
But as the Bears make this transition, we have to look at what this franchise was before with a defense-first mentality and how the NFL, and even the Bears themselves, have to adjust to a league that now deems a tackle a penalty. The NFL’s new Helmet Rule has been on full display already this preseason, and it is a disaster.
While late to the party, the Bears jumped off the defensive ship just in time as the NFL enters a new ambiguous era of a sport that used to be called football.
This new helmet rule is … I dunno, man. Eagles got flagged here! pic.twitter.com/BRHHej2It6
— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) August 16, 2018
The history of the Bears as we all know is highlighted by Butkus, Hampton, Dent, Urlacher and others. These players electrified the city with their defensive skill, intimidating presence and love for the game. But if they played in 2018, they would be spending more time in the locker room after being kicked out for a penalty than on the field make the game-winning interception.
51 days until the NFL, you guys. (Dick Butkus) pic.twitter.com/K9F1xBo3mD
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) July 17, 2018
Now don’t take this the wrong way, player safety is of the utmost importance and I understand that targeting is a necessary penalty and that players deserve life-long treatment and benefits after their playing days are over. But what has been on display the last few weeks has not been football. A traditional form-tackle is now a penalty. A cornerback is now in even more danger on the field, as he is not allowed to use his instincts to play the game, and now will be subject to an even greater hit and awkward landing, as he now has to think about his next move, vs. reacting to the play at hand.
While I commend the Bears for finally understanding that a progressive offense is essential to winning in 2018, it makes a fan really think as to what the Bears would have been if these rules were in place just a decade earlier.
Just like the ‘catch-rule’, nobody can seem to come to a consensus on what is now considered as an illegal hit. The Bears would have never risen to dominance in a league like this. It probably would have forced them to become an offense-first team decades ago; something fans probably would have loved, but I digress.
NFL Films might as well censor their specials of Jack Lambert and ‘Mean’ Joe Greene of the Steelers, as what was once referred to as football dominance is now a penalty and potential ejection.
More “Super Steelers,” from 1974. Narrated by John Facenda.
The Steelers secondary & linebackers, including rookie Jack Lambert. pic.twitter.com/FZPacYKbHx
— 3Rivers (@steelcitystar) August 21, 2018
The NFL has taken the incorrect approach in addressing player safety, and continuously creating rules like this new Helmet Rule are not the solution. Targeting of the head and using your helmet as an on-field weapon have no place in the game. I think we can all agree on that. But if the league continues to alter its rules to a point where the game is unrecognizable to both the fans and their players, while continuing to take missteps in terms of player safety, they have failed.
Time and time again, numerous players have spoken out and understood the risks they take when they join the NFL. And many players suggest they would do it again even knowing the full spectrum of those risks. With this understanding, the NFL should know that they will still be able to continue the pipeline of football talent into the league no matter what.
Because these players make them millions and billions of dollars each season, the NFL should return the favor and take care of them through better healthcare and head trauma treatment instead of making surface-level rule changes. Yet Jerry Jones, one of the most powerful owners in the league, still does not believe there is a credible link between head trauma in the NFL and CTE. As long as more owners and Roger Goodell fall in line with this logic, the worse the game will be. There is more to lose by denying than helping and progressing to make a better life for the players. The owners need to admit that there’s a true risk in playing the game and because of that, they should give the players every resource to ensure they have a normal life after their playing career. The players will probably respect the owners and play better if they do so.
This same logic, unfortunately, exists as well in the NHL, as we saw with former Blackhawk Daniel Carcillo, and his fight to regain a normal life after the league never offered him the proper treatment and help he needed during and after a long NHL Career.
Instead of the NFL addressing the situation responsibly, they are simply changing rules to make it seem as if they are making true change. Yet a “simple” rule change such as this Helmet Rule, may completely change the way defense is played as we know it. The game may never look the same again. And again, the game is not safer.
There are only so many ways to make a violent game safe, and blindly changing the rules as the NFL is doing will solve nothing.
At the end of the day, defense is incredibly important and an exciting part of the game. But as the NFL continues to strip away the presence of a defense because of rule changes, we are left with a worse product. There are generational athletes who play cornerback and linebacker just as they do quarterback and wide receiver. Yet one side of the ball is given free range, while the other side is forced to wait in constant fear that a yellow hanky will be on the ground next to them after every play they make.
I am hoping that the barrage of penalty flags in relation to this new rule will quiet down as we head into the regular season. But thank goodness the Bears decided to find themselves an offensive coach, as their defensive dominance may officially be always known as a thing of the past.
The NFL won’t let the Bears practice what they’ve been good at for almost a century. And while fans across Chicago should be ecstatic about the new potential for this team and the offense, the Bears themselves actually outlived the thing that made them so special, the ability to have a great NFL Defense.