Five of the six lowest-scoring teams in the NFL are the Jets, Giants, Broncos, Jaguars and Washington.
Their combined record is 5-24.
The sixth member of this offensively-challenged band of bottom feeders is … the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears.
Their record: 5-1. Believe it or not.
While the Vikings had hoped one of the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks would carry them through a transition period defensively, the Bears went in the opposite direction.
They hedged their bet on Mitchell Trubisky by signing Nick Foles, knowing one of the league’s most expensive defensive units could carry an ineffective Trubisky and a still-rusty Foles — two guys who rank outside the NFL’s 25 richest quarterbacks.
Key injuries, shockingly raw cornerback play and nose tackle Michael Pierce’s season opt-out felled the Vikings’ defense from Week 1. Calling on quarterback Kirk Cousins as a lifeline has been futile and especially frustrating considering his salary cap hit of $21 million sits up there alongside the likes of Aaron Rodgers ($21.6 million).
It’s also $5.1 million more than Trubisky ($9.2 million) and Foles ($6.7 million) combined.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Bears starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman also opted out of the season. His backup, John Jenkins, then missed three games because of a thumb injury. But, on the whole, Chicago’s defense has been healthy, locked in and capable of returning the Bears to the playoffs despite a putrid offense that ranks 27th in points (21.3) and 28th in yards (312.8).
“We’re 5-1 right now, and we’re not playing well offensively,” coach Matt Nagy said Monday. “So when we do get this [offense] up and running, which we will, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“And, so, that’s the goal. We understand where our warts are on offense. We get that, and we’re going to keep working on it.”
Winning while “working on” something this disjointed is an NFL luxury the Bears enjoy that the Vikings do not.
It helps, of course, that, according to Overthecap.com, Chicago ranks fourth in defensive cap spending on its current active roster ($99.3 million) and has less than $1.5 million of its defensive spending on injured reserve. The Vikings, by comparison, have about $23 million of its defensive spending on injured reserve, including starters Anthony Barr ($12.7 million) and Danielle Hunter ($9 million).
A year after missing the postseason, the Bears are flourishing defensively in the second season since Chuck Pagano replaced Vic Fangio as Nagy’s defensive coordinator.
Pagano’s defense ranks seventh in points (19.3) and yards allowed (337.2). But the head-turning stat is they’ve handed records of 3-0 to Trubisky and 2-1 to Foles, who replaced Trubisky as the starter after throwing three fourth-quarter touchdowns in relief in a comeback victory over Atlanta in Week 3.
Fangio and Pagano have different approaches. Fangio got the Broncos’ head coaching job last year at age 60 in large part because the Bears’ aggressiveness overwhelmed the league with 27 interceptions and 36 takeaways in 2018.
Pagano takes more of a bend-but-don’t-break approach. The Bears give up some yards, but they absolutely slam the door with a red-zone defense that’s unparalleled.
Opponents have been inside the 20-yard line 22 times. They’ve scored touchdowns just eight times (36.4%). On Sunday, Carolina settled for field goals after having first-and-goals at the 7- and 3-yard lines.
In that game, the Bears also had three takeaways and four sacks. Ten defenders played a part in those seven game-changing plays.
Khalil Mack, the team’s highest-paid player with a cap number of $26.6 million, had his third sack in the past two games. Tashaun Gipson and DeAndre Houston-Carson had interceptions. Eddie Jackson forced a fumble that Akiem Hicks recovered. And, well, you get the idea.
Nagy certainly did.
“Defensively, you could really feel everybody flying around,” he said. “I mean, it was everybody.”
And that’s how you end up 5-1 when your offense is being mentioned in the same sentence as the Jets, Giants, Broncos, Jaguars and Washington.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: email@example.com.