LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears played a defensive brand of football the past two weeks that hasn’t been seen around these parts since the days of Lovie Smith.
“[The defense] is starting to get this identity of being the 'Monsters of the Midway' again,” Bears tight end Zach Miller said Monday.
The current Chicago defense shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Smith’s old units that were led by future Hall of Famers Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, as well as Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris and more -- seriously, the list of impact players from that era is endless -- but a combined six turnovers and three defensive touchdowns in back-to-back wins is extremely impressive for any defense.
It’s reminiscent of how the Bears used to win games in the Smith era, particularly in 2005.
That season -- Smith’s second as head coach -- the Bears went 11-5 and won the division without much help from the offense because the defense and special teams were powerhouses. Chicago's 2005 defense ranked first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in total defense (281.8 yards per game). The Bears intercepted 24 passes (four returned for touchdowns), sacked the quarterback 41 times and forced 21 fumbles (10 recovered).
Again, the 2017 Bears are not on that level -- Chicago doesn't have a single defensive player who has been voted to a Pro Bowl -- but it has been encouraging to see everything come together in recent weeks.
After seven games, the Bears are a top-15 defense in points allowed (14th), total yards (seventh), passing yards (ninth) and rushing yards (11th) per game.
“[We’re] not making dumb mistakes and making sure we're locked in mentally,” said Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who leads the team with six sacks.
“You go the whole week, and you try to focus on what you've got installed and what you're going to do. You want to go to a game and execute just as well as you did in practice, and I think there were some times in the earlier part of the season where we didn't execute. Against Atlanta we gave up an 88-yard touchdown. I think we've been executing at a high level as far as just the mental aspect of the game.”
It should be noted that the Bears have experienced this defensive resurgence without projected starters such as outside linebacker Willie Young, inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps -- all of whom are on injured reserve.
“Honestly, I can’t say that we haven’t missed a beat,” Hicks said. “I know our performances in the past two weeks have been really good. There’s been an adjustment. There’s been an adjustment period of just having to go from one voice in the room to -- you know what I mean? It’s different, right. And the communication is different. And now we have to find different channels of communication. We have to be able to -- even in our meeting rooms, there’s different guys being called on to step up and handle a certain call or handle a certain situation.
“I think it’s good for everybody, but you miss your guys when they’re gone.”