LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' shaky defensive performance against the Carolina Panthers stole the joy from the club’s first win in two weeks, while giving cause for concern about next Monday night’s matchup against the 4-0 Detroit Lions.
Clearly pleased with the victory, Bears coach Lovie Smith offered no excuses or explanations about the showing, but stressed it’s not something fans should become accustomed to.
“We won’t play defense like that very often around here,” Smith said. “Defensively, we didn’t play as well as we needed to. [It’s] kind of as simple as that. Whenever you give up that many yards, you’re not happy with that. We need[ed] to get more pressure on them. We didn’t play the run well. We gave up big plays in the passing game. You just can’t have that.”
Chicago’s opponents have lit up the defense for gains of 20 yards or more on 17 passes this season (including nine on Sunday against the Panthers). Five of those completions gained 30 yards or more, and include monster gains of 79 yards (Saints) and 53 yards (Panthers).
“I don’t think anybody on our team has egos,” said cornerback Charles Tillman. “It really just lets you know that you’ve got some work to do. I don’t think our egos [are] crushed or anything like that. We’ve got to get this thing worked out.”
That’s especially true for the Bears’ run defense.
Bears opponents are currently averaging 5.1 yards per attempt, which is concerning since the team hasn’t allowed that large a rushing average over a season in at least 46 years (statistics before 1965 weren’t immediately available), and ranked sixth at stopping the run in 2010, having surrendering just 3.7 yards per rush.
The Panthers gained 169 yards rushing on Sunday in becoming the fourth consecutive team to run for 100 yards or more on the Bears’ defense.
In the last 29 years, the Bears allowed a rushing average of 4 yards or more through an entire season 14 times. In those seasons, the Bears finished with a combined record of 104-120, and produced marks of .500 or better on just four occasions (1983, 1991, 1994, and 2006).
“We’re working on that; can’t give you a reason why [the run defense has struggled],” Smith said. “Believe me, if we knew that, we wouldn’t let it happen. We wouldn’t be talking about it afterwards. How we do things when things aren’t working exactly the way we like, we go back to the practice field. We identify it, which we have. We’ll work to get it better.”
Tillman echoed the sentiment, adding he’s “not overly concerned” with the team’s problems on defense. But in addition to the run-stopping woes, the Bears have allowed 100-yard receivers -- Devery Henderson, Greg Jennings and Steve Smith -- in three consecutive games.
The club faces another dangerous threat in Johnson, who has caught multiple TDs in four consecutive outings to tie a record set by Cris Carter. Johnson’s quarterback, meanwhile, has tossed 11 TDs and four interceptions behind protection that hasn’t allowed a sack in three of the team’s four games.
In addition, Stafford has generated a passer rating of 106.1 or better in all but one outing. Chicago has lost both games in which it allowed an opposing quarterback to finish with a passer rating of better than 100.
“[It’s] not just the run defense. I’m just disappointed in some of the big plays defensively that we’ve given up as much as anything,” Smith said. “These are all correctable things.”