They've been all that and more.
"Going into the season, you look at personnel, and we felt pretty good," coach Lovie Smith said. "We had a lot of guys who have played at the highest level. So we thought we would be pretty good, but they're showing it each week. They're playing dominating ball at times. It's early in the season, but I like where the defense is right now and I like where I think we'll be at the end of the season."
The numbers say Sunday's defensive effort was the best of the season for the Bears.
Not only did the defense force four Brett Favre turnovers, it also held the high-powered Vikings offense to just 240 total yards, their second-lowest output of the season and the Bears' stingiest effort in over a month.
A week earlier, the Vikings rolled up 507 total yards on the Cardinals, but they had only 184 yards against the Bears until their final desperation drive that ended with Chris Harris' interception. That effort lifted the Bears to No. 4 in total yards allowed for the season.
"Defensively, we had control of the game," Smith said. "Up front, we had good pressure, and whenever you can hold a great player like [Adrian] Peterson down like that, you have to be pleased with it."
Though somewhat obscured for much of the season by the offense's inconsistencies, the Bears' defense has been solid for the past five games, playing well enough to win even in home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins. The run defense has never been worse than No. 6 all season. It was outstanding again against the Vikings, holding Peterson to just 51 yards on 17 carries and limiting the Vikings to a total of 70 yards on the ground on 23 attempts for a 3.0-yard average.
Throw out the Giants game, when the Bears were gashed for 189 rushing yards, and they're allowing a skimpy 69 rushing yards per game. The NFL average is 112, and even including the Giants game, the Bears are allowing just 82.3 yards per game, second in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's crew is tied for No. 2 in the league at preventing third-down conversions after limiting the Vikings to 1-for-9 Sunday.
"We've been one of the better third-down defensive teams just about every year we've been here," Smith said. "That, of course, is big, too."
The only major category in which the Bears' defense has been deficient is sacks, where they rank 30th, but they've been bringing enough heat to have helped create 14 interceptions, tied for No. 1 in the league.
"When you're on a good defense, you'll get a lot of them," nickel back D.J. Moore said while discussing his team-best four interceptions. "I'm just happy to be in the middle, around the ball. With me being on the inside, you've got a chance to get to the ball pretty much every play. If you're running hard, getting to the ball, it will probably pop to you."
While all those statistics are significant, the bottom line for any defense is points allowed, and the Bears are No. 2, behind only the Packers, allowing just 15.9 points per game.
"We're right where we want to be," said team sack leader Israel Idonije, who has 5.0. "Momentum's building. We just have to keep this thing going."
NOTES AND QUOTES
They've also allowed just one sack in each of the past two games after giving up 31 in the first seven contests.
Coincidentally, Sunday was the second straight game with the offensive line grouping that coaches have decided gives the team its best chance to win.
"That may have a little bit to do with it," Smith said. "This is the crew we want to go with. They should get better, just like our football team. There's so much football left to go. We haven't peaked yet by any means."
The one constant through the O-line turmoil has been center Olin Kreutz, who started his 127th straight game Sunday despite playing with a sore hamstring.
"We've made some strides," Kreutz said. "I don't know if they're big. Why [have] things come together halfway through a season? It was a new offense. We're all learning it, so we're all getting more comfortable now." ...
The only glaring area of concern in Sunday's victory over the Vikings was the disparity in penalties. While the losers were flagged just twice for 19 yards, the Bears were penalized 11 times for 116 yards.
"We haven't had a lot of penalties, and [Sunday], for some reason, we had entirely too many," Smith said. "We need to clean that up."
Entering the game, the Bears were No. 2 in the NFL in penalty yardage differential. They have now committed 55 infractions at a cost of 463 yards, while their opponents have been flagged 62 times for 522 yards. ...
Most of tight end Kellen Davis' playing time this season has been on special teams or as an extra blocker in running situations, but on Sunday he finally got a chance to touch the football, and he made the most of it.
The 6-7, 262-pound Davis' first catch of the season went for a 19-yard touchdown on a third-and-1 play midway through the fourth quarter that gave the Bears their final margin in the 27-13 victory.
On a play-action fake, Davis was left alone with his thoughts sprinting down the middle of the field, wide open.
"I was just thinking, Throw it to me, please, fast, before somebody comes over here," he said. "It was a great feeling. It was a big touchdown for us." ...
The 6-3 Bears are tied for first in the NFC North with the Packers and have defeated each of their division opponents, but all three games were at home.
"Our next goal is to win the division," Smith said. "That's what it's all about. This is setting us up. This is November ball, [when] the teams that really are going to compete step up and play their best ball."
After Thursday night's game at Miami, the Bears' three remaining road games are against the Lions (Dec. 5), Monday night vs. the Vikings (Dec. 20), and at Green Bay (Jan. 2).
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