Bears coach Lovie Smith said he's aware of his team's defensive struggles this season, but is confident he'll be able to get it straightened out.
After allowing the Carolina Panthers 543 total yards in a 34-29 victory Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears are 31st in the NFL in total defense (426 yards per game). Even more discouraging is that their usual calling card - their run defense -- has failed them. The Panthers rushed for 169 yards on 26 carries 6.5 yards per carry), dropping the Bears to 24th in the NFL in rushing defense (124 yards per game) and 28th in yards per carry (5.1).
What's the problem?
''We're working on that,'' Smith said at his Monday press conference at Halas Hall. ''Can't give you a reason why. Believe me, if we knew that, we wouldn't let it happen. But when things aren't working exactly the way we like, we go back to the practice field, we identify it, which we have, and we'll work to get it better.''
Last year the Bears allowed an average of 387 yards in a three-game stretch against the Cowboys, Packers and Giants through Week 4, then allowed an average of 308 yards the rest of the season to improve from 17th to ninth in total defense.
''We won't play defense like that very often around here. It's still early,'' Smith said. ''[It's] not just the run defense. I'm as disappointed in some of the big plays we've given up as much as anything. But these are all correctable things.''
Smith also said he's hopeful that right guard Chris Spencer will play next Monday night against the Detroit Lions despite a broken hand. He noted that Spencer finished the game Sunday despite the injury.
''Whenever you have a player finish the game, you feel pretty good about him going into the next one,'' Smith said. ''But that's all we know right now. Playing on Monday night, we have a little bit more time this week. Hopefully, he'll be good to go.''
Smith revealed no updates on four players who missed Sunday's game: safety Chris Harris, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, wide receiver Earl Bennett and tight end Matt Spaeth. Harris, clearly missed in three games since suffering a hamstring injury, is not expected to play against the Lions.
Carimi (dislocated knee) and Bennett (chest bruise) also are expected to be out.
Among the other subjects Smith addressed Monday:
On whether Lance Louis, who replaced Frank Omiyale at right tackle Sunday, played well enough to win the starting job:
''He played well. We're still evaluating. When you have players that aren't listed as a starter playing well, that just helps your football team. You see the way we do things. You may have that starting title or whatever, but I would be concerned if I'm not playing. The more guys we see can help us win, we play them. It's a long year, and what we've seen from Lance is he contributed in a lot of ways yesterday, and that has to make us better in the long run.''
On the 1-2 punch of Matt Forte and Marion Barber, who combined for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries against the Panthers:
''We've been wanting to have this group together. We saw what it could look like in training camp, which was pretty good. Matt Forte is a great player, but you need a relief hitter, a solid backup to come in and give you tough yards, and that's what Marion did for us yesterday. Hopefully, we'll keep that combination going.''
On the Bears burning three time outs to get the correct personnel on the field in Sunday's game:
''It's all of us. We don't come into these meetings and start placing blame, but we need to do a better job with our timeouts and we will.''