A troubling trend is emerging for the Bears: their once fearsome defense seems to have lost its teeth. Sunday’s game against the 49ers was shaping up to be a game where the Bears could lean on their D to eke out a win, and it was a game they absolutely should have won. They scored first, they managed another score with only 1:12 remaining in the first half, they got the ball to start the second half and scored again. But the defense simply could not stop Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners offense.
That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s actually true. Other than San Francisco’s first drive, which ended in a missed field goal, and their last drive, which ended with Garoppolo kneeling in victory formation, the 49ers scored on every single possession. They never punted, and the Bears never created a takeaway.
“It's embarrassing and it's not the standard,” said Roquan Smith. “There's not much else to be said about it besides it sucked and we've got to do better. We've got to.”
Arguably the most jarring development for the defense has been their inability to stop the run game. That used to be a calling card for this group, but in three-straight weeks they’ve been routinely gashed for big gains on the ground. Against the Packers, both Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon managed to run for more than 5 yards/carry. Leonard Fournette surpassed that number too, while Ronald Jones ran for over 6 YPC last week. Things only got worse on Sunday, as the Bears surrendered a whopping 7.6 YPC to Elijah Mitchell. It wasn’t just one or two big plays either, Mitchell ran roughshod over the defense, especially in the second half.
Over the last two weeks, you could argue that missing Akiem Hicks left a big void. But Hicks was back this week, and things did not go any better. When asked what he thought was going wrong with the run defense, Smith didn’t have answers.
“Not quite sure honestly,” Smith said. “It's just about every man has to look themselves in the mirror, including myself, and we all just have to get better. It all just comes down to each and every individual doing their job on every given play.”
There was a sense of urgency among the defensive players who spoke after the game to get things fixed quickly, because they know that if they don’t, opposing offenses will continue to exploit their weaknesses.
“It's a copycat league,” said DeAndre Houston-Carson. “Whatever we got hit with this week, we’re going to see it again. So we gotta look in the mirror and just make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”
After the game, the Bears seemed genuinely humbled by their poor performance. But no one was hanging their head, or feeling sorry for themselves. There was also an air of something that was like frustrated confidence. Like, the Bears know they can play better, but for whatever reason they’re not executing. There was also no fear that they could be mired in the middle of a longer losing streak, like the ones that ruined the past two seasons.
“I don’t think there’s any panic in our locker room,” said Houston-Carson. “You know, we’re all professional athletes and this is what we do. So we’ll be ready to play next week.”
“There's always light at the end of the tunnel,” said Smith. “So you just have to stick true to who we are and the people that's in the locker room, because that's all who matters. We don't really care about anyone else, nor their opinions. That's what it all boils down to.”