Chicago Sun-Times

Bears' defense riding the wave, but how long will it last?

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Bears-Cowboys.jpgAfter four weeks, the Bears are fifth in the NFL with 17.0 points allowed per game -- 68 total. But it gets better than that for Lovie Smith's defense.

Not only has the Bears' defense allowed only 54 of those points (Jay Cutler threw a pick-six against the Colts and the Packers scored a touchdown on a fake field goal), but it has scored three touchdowns after Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs returned interceptions for scores in the Bears' 34-18 victory over the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

That's a net of 33 points allowed in four games, which is tied with the Houston Texans for the best in the NFL in that category. And not too many teams are even that close to the Bears and Texans. The next five teams are the 49ers (51), Cardinals (54), Seahawks (58), Chargers (64) and Cowboys (67).

The Bears lead the NFL with 14 takeaways (11 interceptions and three fumble recoveries), with more players than usual contributing and not the usual suspects. Tim Jennings still leads the NFL with four interceptions and Major Wright has three. At this time last year, Wright had three injuries and no interceptions -- that's how much better the Bears have been on defense in 2012.

But takeaway proficiency always been a double-edged sword for Lovie Smith's defenses, which have a tendency to depend on turnovers to neutralize all the yards they allow in Cover-2. Once teams buckle down and play it safe, protect the ball and concentrate on avoiding turnovers, the Bears often don't look like such a special defense.

So it's worth noting that the Bears are 11th in total yards allowed (316.8 per game) and tied for 13th in first downs allowed. But on the other hand, it's also worth noting that the Bears' defense is second in the NFL in third-down efficiency (opponents have converted 12-of-46 third-down plays into first downs, 26.1 percent) and eighth in yards per play. Last season they finished 10th in third-down efficiency (34.9 percent) and 14th in yards allowed per play (5.4).

With a defense that does not appear to hinge on Tommy Harris' knee or Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs being in their youthful prime, this defense might have more staying power than the 2005-06 versions that ranked among the top five in the NFL as the Bears were marching toward the Super Bowl.

But leave it to Julius Peppers -- whose plantar fasciitis and nagging injuries bear watching -- to keep the Bears' command performance on the big stage of Monday Night Football in the proper perspective. He called it ''a good day at the office,'' which is all it really was -- unless you're expecting the Bears to get five interceptions and return two of them for touchdowns every week.

''It is just one win. We have to forget about this and get back to work,'' Peppers said after the game when asked about playing well on Monday Night Football. ''It is good for everybody to see, I guess. [But] maybe not. We want to stay under the radar as long as possible. But when you do something like this on national TV, it puts the spotlight on you.''

Peppers knows that teams that start out hot not only often struggle to maintain the torrid pace, but sometimes can't halt the inevitable regression to the norm. Injuries, wear-and-tear and the level of competition are x-factors the Bears don't control.

''It is still a work in progress. We still have things to learn on [defense], too,'' Peppers said. ''We just have to get both sides going at the same time. And that kind of happened [Monday night]. You can kind of see where we are going. Tonight was a little bit of sign where we are headed.''

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Peppers' comments are almost always to the point and intelligent. I also agree with your cautions, Mark. I thought the Bears allowed far too many yards against Dallas, in spite of the take-aways. Some of that was due to the yardage and touchdown at the end of the game labeled "meaningless" by one reporter.I can understand the impulse to lie back and relax when the game seems won, but if the defense had played against Romo the way they played against Orton, there would have been a different winner.

The Bears went into a prevent defense during Dallas's last series, which is why Dallas scored. The prevent defense did exactly what it's supposed to do: allow the other team to score if they execute their plays, but make them take a long time to do it. By the time Dallas scored, there was not enough time left for them to win the game, even if they had recovered their onside kick. The last thing the Bears wanted was for Dallas to get a quick TD. A TD that takes almost half the quarter? No prob at that point.

Also, a lot of Bear starters were pulled by that point. If the Bears had left their starters in, there's a good chance Dallas wouldn't have scored at all, prevent or no.

This was also a perfect example of when to use the prevent: when you're up big with not much time left. I've seen far too many games where coaches play prevent when they're up by say, ten points, and end up either getting beat or almost getting beat because they used a prevent defense when they shouldn't have. You shouldn't go into prevent defense unless you're up by at least 17 points with not much time left.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 2, 2012 6:45 PM.

Brandon Marshall says Jay Cutler "challenged" offense last week was the previous entry in this blog.

Maurice Jones-Drew on Jay Cutler criticism: "A lot of things have changed" is the next entry in this blog.

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