Execution has been key for Bears defense

DE Israel Idonije (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

After a very poor start to the season, Chicago's defense has been lights out the past month. Lovie Smith says the team hasn't changed their scheme, the players are just performing better.

Despite drastic defensive improvement during the current four-game win streak, the Bears aren't doing anything differently scheme-wise than they did during a 2-3 start. They are just doing things better.

The most noticeable improvement has been the reduction of big plays.

The defense allowed five plays of at least 50 yards in the first five games, including two of more than 70 yards in the Week 5 loss to the Lions. Since that game, however, the Bears have not permitted any plays over 40 yards. On Sunday, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a 40-yard reception, but Detroit did not have another play longer than 20 yards.

"We're doing the same things we've been doing all along," coach Lovie Smith said. "We believe in our system. We believed in it when we played Detroit last time. Part of our system isn't giving up big plays, keeping the ball in front of us, playing the same way. We're putting the guys in the same position that we try to each week. We're not going to change what we do an awful lot this week."


LB Brian Urlacher
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

While the system remains the same, the personnel at safety has changed, with rookie Chris Conte starting each of the past four games and second-year man Major Wright starting three of the past four after missing two of three with minor injuries.

It would be premature to say either is entrenched, but the increased speed and range in the secondary have helped limit big plays. Both Conte and Wright will be tested again this week by a San Diego team that has lost four straight but is No. 6 in total yards and No. 4 in passing yards.

Aside from the safeties, the Bears have a veteran defense that features players who have been in the system for years.

"It's about execution, and that's what the guys are buying into more, and (they're) just playing their role," Smith said. "This crew has been playing together for a while now, too. So I think they know what we're trying to get accomplished."

Takeaways are always a staple of the Chicago defense under Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli, and they have come in bunches during the win streak, including six on Sunday, the most by a Bears team since 1995. A byproduct has been a reduction in points allowed.

During the four-game winning streak, Bears opponents have scored an average of 16.25 points, while Chicago has forced 12 turnovers. In the previous four games, three of which were losses, the Bears allowed an average of 27.5 points, and they had just five takeaways.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jay Cutler has been interception-free in four of his last five games and has just six picks this season. He has been sacked just five times in the past four games.

--RB Matt Forte had just one reception for 3 yards in Week 10 after catching 41 passes in the first eight games and averaging 54.5 receiving yards per game.

--RB Marion Barber has 39 carries and is averaging 3.4 yards per attempt over the past four games but has scored four touchdowns in his last five games.

--TE Kellen Davis has just one reception for minus-1 yard in the past three games combined.

--WR Devin Hester was limited in Week 10 with a sprained ankle and did not play on offense, but he still returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown before leaving prior to halftime due to an illness.


WR Devin Hester
Scott Boehm/Getty

--WR Roy Williams did not catch a pass in Week 10 after catching 10 for 155 yards over the previous three games.

--WR Johnny Knox has one reception in each of the past two games for a total of 32 yards.

--WR Earl Bennett was targeted six times in Week 10 and caught all six passes, including a season-best 30-yarder.

--CB Charles Tillman tied the Bears' franchise record last week with his fourth interception return for a touchdown. He now shares the record with Bennie McRae and Mike Brown.

--WR Dane Sanzenbacher has not caught a pass in the two games since Earl Bennett returned from a chest injury.

--SS Major Wright has interceptions in back-to-back games, the first two picks of his NFL career.

--PK Robbie Gould had touchbacks on six of his eight kickoffs vs. the Lions, who averaged 22 yards on the two boots they were able to return.

--CB Tim Jennings forced a fumble and recovered it, grabbed his first interception of the season and made a team-best 10 tackles.

--DE Julius Peppers picked up his sixth sack of the season and forced a fumble that the Bears recovered, when he clothes-lined Lions WR Calvin Johnson after a short pickup early in the game.


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