The Chicago Bears signed Danny Trevathan, as an inside linebacker, hoping he could bring the kind of stability that had been lacking since Brian Urlacher retired.
Teaming Trevathan with fellow free agent addition Jerrell Freeman seemed like a good idea. Both players were still in their respective primes, left successful organizations to join the Bears, and looked to take on a more expanded role in a team’s defense. Despite missing four games with a PED suspension, Freeman starred as an inside linebacker as he earned the highest grade Pro Football Focus handed out to a linebacker last season. It appeared as though Trevathan was having a quality season of his own, before a knee injury sent him to the season-ending injured reserve.
But this is the production Trevathan provided when he was healthy and playing:
Danny Trevathan has consistently been one of the best linebackers in the NFL against the run. The Broncos defense felt his loss in 2016 pic.twitter.com/N2e2zDqnag
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 28, 2017
Sure, Denver missed Trevathan’s presence in its defensive lineup, but so did Chicago, which saw its defense gashed often by running backs after Trevathan’s injury.
Trevathan was injured during the team’s 27-21 loss on Nov. 27 against the Tennessee Titans. It was the end of a five-game stretch in which the Bears did not allow a 100-yard rusher, and opponents gained a total of 392 rush yards – or 78.4 per game. After that, the Bears allowed 813 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in their final five games. That adds up to a 162.6 yards-per-game average. And while Ty Montgomery of the Green Bay Packers was the only running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark during that stretch, players such as Carlos Hyde (20 carries, 92 yards), Christine Michael (4 carries, 45 yards), Jerrick McKinnon (19 carries, 86 yards), and the trio of Rob Kelly, Chris Thompson, and Mack Brown (combined 30 carries, 178 yards) ran through the Bears’ defense without much resistance.
The 2016 Bears’ defense was suspect, and the unit’s struggles against the run were a cause for concern. Only five teams gave up more total yards than the Bears’ 1,960, who also served up the sixth most rushing scores. If defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could circle one aspect of his unit that needed the most improvement, run defense might be at the top of the list. Ideally, a healthy Trevathan is part of the solution.
Fixing the rush defense won’t be a one-man job, even if Trevathan might turn out to be the most important player who missed time on the defense in 2016. In the end, it will take a group effort to stiffen up the defense … and it appears as if the Bears have some quality pieces in place to make that happen.
Defensive end Akiem Hicks had Pro Football Focus’ 13th best rush defense grade among interior defenders. On the second level, Freeman’s run defense grade ranked 13th among linebackers, while Trevathan rated 19th. In the defensive backfield, Quintin Demps posted the 16th best run defense grade among safeties while with the Houston Texans, while Adrian Amos’ grade ranked 23rd. Other projected starters such as Eddie Goldman, Jaye Howard, and Marcus Cooper rated as average or better at stopping the run last season.
Offensively, the Bears’ goal should be to get Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard going early and run him often. On the other side of the field, perhaps the Bears should prioritize shutting down opposing running backs, keeping them from running wild and controlling the game in that way. And if the team is able to go out and do that in 2017, odds are Trevathan will play a key role.