Linebacker and leading tackler Jerrell Freeman was answering the by now-weekly question on possible explanations for why the Bears have been unable to generate the hallmark of great defenses: takeaways. In the process he arguably hit upon a crack that has developed in the Bears defense after what had looked to be establishing itself among the NFL’s better units.
“It’s a mindset,” Freeman said. “Being conscious of it, trying to get to the ball, making tackles. Just doing a little bit more.”
“Mindset.” “Doing a little bit more.” Keys to what the defense has lost in the closing days of 2016?
For a defense that looked to be steadily if incrementally improving amid the collective carnage of the 2016 season, the past couple weeks have been jolts. And a something of a mystery.
Picking themselves up after the blowout at Green Bay, and even including the interception-fueled crushing in Tampa Bay, the Bears allowed an average of fewer than 300 yards and barely 20 points per game over the six-game streak beginning with the Oct. 31 win over Minnesota. They’d moved into the top 10 in yardage allowed and sacks.
Then came 400-yard games against Green Bay and Washington with 30 and 41 points allowed. Intensity appeared to be flagging, evidenced by poor tackling and increasing big plays given up, both casual indicators of faltering want-to.
But the results, paralleled by a catastrophic continuing inability to jar footballs loose from the hands of opposing offenses, defy simple solutions.
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“I know defensive-wise we’ve been healthy,” said Freeman. “Through training camp on in, we’re a pretty good force. We get guys hurt and guys coming in you’ve got to bring them up to speed.
“That’s no excuse. Like I said before, when guys come in we expect them to come in and be a professional and do what they need to do to come and play. And we’ve had that through most of the year and then past two games, it’s just like, man, we’re not a team that gives up big plays, but last couple of weeks we’ve given up some big plays. And then offensive-wise, we’ve got a lot of weapons over there. Again, injuries and unfortunately, but that’s the NFL. You gotta deal with changes. That’s what the NFL is all about. Just got to go out there and prepare.”