LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- They're experimenting offensively, but on defense the Bears utilize an approach of exhaustive repetition to cram in the necessary preparation for the regular season.
Despite all the reps, several years in the system, and the staff banging home the same points over and over again, the Bears still haven’t put everything together the way they’d like thus far this preseason. Exhibition outing No. 3, though, represents the perfect opportunity to do that.
It’s time for all the elements of winning defense to finally click.
“If not now, when?” Bears cornerback Zack Bowman asked. “Our next step as a defense is just to execute. We talk about it all the time, but it’s about time we start doing it. That includes [me], and the rest of the guys. We’ve got to get there, man. Someway, somehow, we’ve got to find it.”
What the Bears seek more than anything appears is a consistent performance, as opposed to solid defense in spurts. The club's starting defense, which has allowed two touchdowns and two field goals in 11 series thus far, started the preseason off strong by forcing a three and out in its first series against the Chargers, before giving up a touchdown on the very next possession to cap a five-play, 46-yard drive.
Against Oakland this past Saturday, the Bears’ starting defense gave up a TD and a field goal in back-to-back drives, in addition to allowing the Raiders to convert a third-and-17, third-and-11, and third-and-8 in consecutive possessions.
On one play, the secondary does a solid job in coverage while the pass rush sags. On another, the front seven pressures the quarterback relentlessly, only to have that effort go for naught due to missed tackles from the defensive backs which result in a first down.
“Each day, you want to come out a little bit better, play a little bit harder, [improve the] crispness of our tackling, our rush, and cover together as you’re bringing pressure,” said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “Everything’s got to be exact in the fine details every week.”
Striking that balance, as the Bears have learned, is easier to discuss than achieve on the field.
“I think the next step for the defense, really, is doing the same things we’ve been doing, but better,” defensive tackle Marcus Harrison said. “We’ve got to go off the same keys we always have, stay disciplined, play our gaps and just try to make plays within the scheme. We’ve got to be consistent, too, because it’s there for us.”
Bowman echoed that sentiment, and explained just how difficult synching up on defense can really be.
Most defensive breakdowns don’t occur due to monumental collapses. One player misdiagnosing something at the snap can lead to a chain reaction of problems, which is something the Bears’ starting defense looks to avoid Saturday against the Cardinals, in its last extended action before the start of the regular season.
A focused game plan against the Cardinals should alleviate some of the ambiguity of operating primarily out of base fronts, playing base coverage, which typically have a wide range of rules and keys, thus allowing the team to play fast. The game plan for the Cardinals serves as an evaluation tool, too, in seeing how quickly players can absorb the week-to-week installation that takes place throughout the season.
“Every week, you have an installation you put in. [You want to see] how guys respond to the different assignments they have. The game plan of it is [about] who can adjust to things we’ve added, the communication, those things are what you want to evaluate,” Marinelli said. “The whole thing at the end of the day is: 'Are we getting better' The issue is us.”