Emma: Bears' D In Line To Return To Dominant Form

(670 The Score) When the Bears rose from worst to first in the NFC North to win the division crown in 2018, they did so on the back of a dominant defense.

It seemed the 2018 Bears always produced a key stop or timely takeaway that made a difference in the final score. What was consistent for that entire season was Chicago's ability to generate consistent pressure, which led to a league-leading 36 turnovers forced.

Part of the Bears' downfall in going 8-8 in 2019  was the defense's step back. They Bears had 19 takeaways, just more than half their total of the previous season. Injuries and inconsistencies took their toll, and Chicago missed the playoffs.

Once the offseason got going, Bears general manager Ryan Pace went to work filling voids that contributed to the defense's regression. After signing another dynamic pass rusher in Robert Quinn, drafting cornerback Jaylon Johnson in the second round and providing Eddie Jackson a better safety complement in Tashaun Gipson, the Bears are in line to return to their dominant defensive form.

Quinn was the marquee addition and recorded 11.5 sacks last season. He also generated pressure on 14 percent of his rushes in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, a mark that ranked second in the NFL. The Bears added Quinn with the intention of helping to free up outside linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks from constant double-teams. Quinn should bring the Bears a presence that Leonard Floyd never did.

"Who can't get excited to join up with guys like Mack, (Kyle) Fuller, Hicks, (Eddie) Goldman, (Danny) Trevathan," Quinn said after signing with the Bears. "I know I'm missing some guys."

He was missing an important name: Jackson. 

The Bears certainly had Jackson in mind this offseason. Just days into 2020, they signed him to a four-year contract extension. More recently, they made a move with his preferences in mind.

Jackson had six interceptions and two touchdowns in 2018, but he had just two picks in 2019 -- both coming on late-game desperation heaves. His drop in production came in part due to the team's inconsistent pass rush -- Hicks played in just five games -- and an ill fit next to fellow safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Bears rotated Jackson between playing in coverage and in the box. As one of the game's premier ball hawks, he wasn't best utilized when tasked with sniffing out a run.

It was with that in mind that the Bears reached a one-year deal with the 29-year-old Gipson late Thursday afternoon. In Gipson, they secured a veteran who had three interceptions over 14 games last season. The Bears effectively called off the safety competition between Deon Bush, Jordan Lucas and Kentrell Brice, with Gipson now the clear favorite to start alongside Jackson.

The Bears believe that with a more consistent pass rush and a better complement on the back line, Jackson will again produce at an elite level.

Chicago bypassed a handful of safety prospects -- including Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr. and LSU's Grant Delpit -- when it selected Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet at No. 43 overall in the NFL Draft. The Bears followed by taking Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson at No. 50. Most believe he was available because of medical concerns, as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham explained. The Bears were confident in his recovery from shoulder surgery, which he had in March.
By drafting Johnson, the Bears seemingly called off another position battle and secured a starter at cornerback. While Johnson is a rookie, he has more upside than alternatives in Artie Burns, Tre Roberson and Kevin Toliver.

Johnson certainly won't be shy as he prepares to compete.

"Honestly, I'm a baller," he said. "I'm a real strong competitor. At Utah, I had to be the No. 1 corner and going out every week and shutting down No. 1 wide receivers, I'm used to getting after it. I'm used to challenging guys. I never shy down from competition."

During the Bears' breakout 2018 season, their defense continued to demand more of itself even after dominating performances week after week. 

After reloading this offseason, the Bears have a defense that's in line to return to its old form.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.