Bears

View from the Moon: Bears defense still looking for turnovers – and an identity

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USA TODAY

View from the Moon: Bears defense still looking for turnovers – and an identity

Great defenses, even individual units within some defenses, can engender nicknames: Doomsday Defense. Orange Crush. Killer B’s. Purple People Eaters. Steel Curtain. New York Sack Exchange. Legion of Boom.

The 2017 Bears defense doesn’t have a nickname. The reason is the problem:

“We haven’t earned one,” said defensive end Akiem Hicks.

Nicknames come with winning, and they also are reflective of a group identity. Bears haven’t won much of anything. More important than any clever moniker, however, the Bears haven’t particularly established a clear defensive identity that comes with being dominant somewhere, beginning on the scoreboard and pegged to the one stat universally cited as defining a defense.

“We need to get more turnovers,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee.  “Coach has been emphasizing that from day one and that has to be our main focus if we want to get to another level and be a dominant defense. “If you do that, people might start calling you ‘The Turnover Machine’ or something.

“But you’ve got to win some games. No matter how dominant your defense is, you still got to win games to get recognition.”

The overall has been serviceable. The Bears rank 10th in yardage allowed, the stat most used for ranking defenses but not the best for defining a defense. And turnovers by the offense have led to opponents’ points and difficult defensive situations. Of the 73 opponents’ scoring possessions last season, less than one-third (31.5 percent) needed longer than 50 yards for points. This year, that figure is up sharply: of 22 opposing possessions, nine (41 percent) have needed to go less than 50 yards.

Perhaps the absence of a collective identity shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The unit has lost its leading tackler and inside linebacker (Jerrell Freeman); its sack leader over the past three seasons (Willie Young); and its projected interception leader via free agency (Quintin Demps).

Regardless of reason, the Bears’ defense is not a ball-hawking one; they are one of only three teams (Oakland, Miami) with zero interceptions.

Theirs is not a unit that terrorizes quarterbacks. The sack total (13) is in the top 10, and the Bears are 10th in sacks per pass play. Opposing quarterbacks are posting an average passer rating of 101.5; only four defenses are being thrown on to that degree. Perhaps most alarming: The Bears are allowing third-down conversions at a rate of 45.5 percent, ahead of only Tampa Bay, Oakland, San Francisco and New Orleans. None of the five worsts on third downs have winning records.

They do not present not a run-stuffing wall, in the middle of the pack allowing a respectable but nothing-special 3.9 yards per rush and 101 rushing yards per game.

Forging an identity isn’t entirely within the control of the defense. Offenses can define themselves largely along lines of their own choosing: West Coast, run-based, vertical-passing, whatever. Defenses are tasked weekly with being the antidote to whatever offense breaks the huddle.

“We just need to be able to stop the different types of offense that we see week in and week out,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Offensively, you can do what you want, week in and week out. Defensively, we’ve got to be able to stop the various different offenses that we see from week to week. Some weeks, that’s going to be playing a lot of zone. Some weeks, it’ll be playing a lot of man. Some weeks, it’s going to be playing more of a loaded box. Some weeks, it’s not.

“I guess the identity is we need to be a versatile defense that can handle the variety of offense that we’ll see.”

Not flashy, but accurate and realistic.

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is quickly becoming an icon in American sports. The two-time American League MVP is enjoying another dominant season batting .335 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI.

On Tuesday, he took a swing at what Bears fans may consider a shocking NFL prediction.

“I’ve got the Browns having a better record than the Bears,” Trout told a radio reporter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout's comments were made in response the reporter "talking up" Chicago.

Both the Browns and Bears have had productive offseasons that involved headline-grabbing acquisitions on offense. Cleveland drafted QB Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, traded for WR Jarvis Landry, signed RB Carlos Hyde and drafted a backfield mate for him in Georgia's Nick Chubb. They added potential lockdown corner Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, too. Add all that to a motivated Josh Gordon ready to contribute for a full season, and there's good reason to be excited in Cleveland.

Still, it's hard imagining Trout can be that confident in a team that's won only one game over the last two seasons. And let's not forget what GM Ryan Pace has done this offseason, one that's been praised by analysts from all corners of the NFL universe. From new coach Matt Nagy to free-agent WR Allen Robinson and all the skill players in between, the Bears are ready to make a legitimate run in the NFC North.

Trout doesn't strike out much in the major leagues, but this prediction feels like it could be a back-straining whiff.

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is former Bears star Matt Forte going to be the team’s new running backs coach?

For now, that’s Charles London’s job, who was hired to head coach Matt Nagy’s staff earlier this year.

But on Tuesday night, Forte tweeted that he would like a coaching spot with Chicago sometime in the near future.

Serving as evidence, the now-retired running back responded to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which announced the Broncos’ hiring of former linebacker Demarcus Ware as a “pass-rush consultant on a part-time basis.” Forte tweeted at the Bears, saying that he is “available” to take on a similar role to Ware’s new Denver gig.

Forte’s tweet was relatively cryptic, and he never specified exactly what type of job he would want with the Bears. After finishing up a storied career this past season and solidifying his name as a Bears legend, Forte has proven that he could easily coach young running backs or even wide receivers at some point.

But isn’t this all just a joke?

Forte silenced the doubters by tweeting “I wasn’t joking” as a response to an article saying that his desire for a new occupation with the Bears was simply a gag. The former workhorse was also intrigued by a fan’s tweet asking “Coach Forte??”

The mere thought of having Forte back in Chicago with the Bears’ coaching staff sent fans on Twitter into a frenzy. In April, Forte came back to Halas Hall to ink his name on a one-day contract, successfully allowing him to retire as a Bear. Now, Forte wants a lengthier stay in the Windy City.

Ware’s role with Denver is not extensive by any means and, according to Schefter, he will work a pretty scattered schedule with Broncos players. What Forte’s role would look like with the Bears is completely unknown if his plan to coach becomes a reality.

Forte has the running back credentials to take on a coaching position. In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte racked up a combined 8,602 rushing yards, second to only the great Walter Payton. Forte’s 4,116 receiving yards as a running back, 12,718 yards from scrimmage, 24 games with 100 rushing yards and 25 games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage also ranks second behind Payton.

Maybe this will be a new development in Chicago’s offseason plans, but there is no real talk of bringing one of the team’s all-time leading rushers back to the team as of right now.

Last month, NBC Sports Chicago announced Forte will be joining the network as a Bears game day studio analyst for the upcoming 2018 NFL season. And we're not joking about that.