There is an enduring truth about living in a large city: its citizens are way too intense about their sports teams. Out on the West coast, fans at Dodgers-Giants games have been beaten, stabbed and shot for supporting the wrong baseball team. Here in Chicago, a visiting Steelers fan was blinded in 2009 by some folks who attended the game for the home team; they spiked his drink with antifreeze during the post game festivities. As long as people who are losers in their daily lives count on their favorite teams to somehow bail them out and make them winners, there will always be incidents like this, although, thankfully, they are relatively rare. Voodoo success can never take the place of real success, but that doesn’t stop some folks from trying. When you live on the North Side of Chicago, the running joke is that you either despise the Cubs or you just haven’t been here very long yet.
As you might imagine, since I live here, I almost want to see Chicago lose this game more than I want Miami to win it. It may not be easy. The Bears come in with the second ranked defense in the NFL -- just 2.3 yards per game behind the league leading Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Dolphins have the NFL’s 30th ranked offense. If Miami is to win this game, they’ll have to do it by using their 22nd ranked defense to shut down, and force turnovers from, Chicago’s 24th ranked offense.
I’ve long regarded Kansas City’s head coach, Andy Reid, as one of the very finest offensive minds in the game, and first year Bears head coach Matt Nagy was hired from Reid’s staff last January, which means that unless second year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky makes enough mistakes for the Dolphins to turn into meaningful points, the Bears figure to be a tough out on Sunday.
As impressive as Chicago’s offense looked against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, the turnaround veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has engineered on defense for the Bears has been nothing short of spectacular. For as long as I can remember, the Chicago Bears have always employed a 4-3 defensive alignment. Like the ridiculous zone blocking scheme the Dolphins use on offense, the 3-4 defense generally fails more often than it succeeds. Fangio, though, probably runs the 3-4 better than anyone not named Bill Arnsparger, Dick LeBeau or Bill Belichick. In the 2015 draft, the Bears and Dolphins both took receivers in the first round and defensive tackles in round two. Although both Kevin White and DeVante Parker, like virtually every other wideout drafted high that year, have fallen woefully short of their draft billing, as did Miami’s second round pick, Jordan Phillips, the Bears did manage to land a stud nose tackle in the second round, in former Florida State Seminole Eddie Goldman. At 6’4”, 320, Goldman is a load inside and represents a roadblock in the middle of the Bears’ defensive line against Miami’s undermanned OL. Chicago smartly signed him to a four year contract extension last month.
The strength of any 3-4 defense is, of course, its linebackers, and the Bears may have the best quartet in the NFL. Three of them, Leonard Floyd, Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack, are former high first round picks, and Mack looks like a lock for NFC defensive player of the year right now. Expect several highlight reel type plays from him on Sunday. Former Bronco Danny Trevathan rounds out the unit, at RILB. This is what happens when a team makes a multiyear commitment to upgrading its defense and has an experienced coordinator on the sidelines; they’re very tough to beat. The Dolphins finally got serious about that side of the ball in the past couple of years, but they still have a ways to go. Only a ridiculous prime-time comeback by Green Bay in the first game of the season, helped at least in part by some questionable officiating, separates the Chicago Bears from an undefeated record after four games. Vegas has them favored by three; I think we’ll all be thankful if the Dolphins can keep it that close. Still, with their backs against the wall after two embarrassing losses, I think that, win or lose, we’ll see a good effort from Miami on Sunday. It should be an exciting game.