After a poor defensive performance rife with shoddy tackling last week against the Packers, we’ll see where the Bears’ heads are Saturday.
“Everything’s about focus,” coach John Fox said this week when asked about an epidemic of missed tackles that led to 451 yards for the Packers, including 226 rushing yards, the most allowed by the Bears since 2013.
At 3-11, the Bears have little to play for but pride when they face the Redskins at Soldier Field. But after getting run over by Ty Montgomery and the Packers, they can show a little mental toughness by responding with a sharp effort against a Redskins offense that ranks third in the NFL in yards.
“Simply enough, we just have to tackle,” cornerback Tracy Porter said.
That’s where it starts, of course. But as the Bears showed last week, it’s sometimes easier said than done.
“Tackling is all about attitude and want-to,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who returns after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. “You’re not going to get that perfect tackle every time. Just wrap up and try to get them down. We’ve been doing this all our lives. We just gotta wrap up and finish, bring them to the ground.”
Freeman’s return figures to make a difference. The Bears’ run defense has dropped from 12th in the NFL to 23rd in the four games Freeman missed. It didn’t help that linebacker Danny Trevathan missed the last two games after suffering a season-ending knee injury against the 49ers, or that nose tackle Eddie Goldman was injured against the Lions and didn’t play against the Packers. He also will miss the game against the Redskins.
Freeman is the type of sure-handed tackler whose effort is contagious. But it’ll take more than one player to atone for last week’s performance.
“Just everyone doing their job and all of us just focusing a little bit more,” defensive end Mitch Unrein said. “That’s not like us as a defense to be missing tackles like that. We’re a pretty solid tackling team. And we’ve been playing some pretty solid defense for the most part. It’s just finishing games, and [against the Packers] we got a little softer on the run and missed some tackles.”
The Bears have responded before, but each time the degree of difficulty was lower. They shut down the Lions after allowing 447 yards to Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys. They beat the Vikings after allowing 406 yards to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They held the 49ers to 147 yards in the snow after getting burned for 375 yards by Marcus Mariota and the Titans.
This will be a bigger test. The Redskins are averaging 406.6 yards per game. With Kirk Cousins at the helm, they rank second in passing with 303 yards per game. And they’ll be in desperation mode with their playoff hopes on the line after a home loss to the Panthers.
So therein lies the challenge for the Bears this week: show they can respond after a poor performance against a desperate, playoff-contending team when they could be mailing it in.
“I don’t think that you can atone for [last week],” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “I think that you have to say to yourself, ‘Let’s be the team that we know we are,’ and do what we’ve been doing the previous 13 weeks. And put out the great tackling and good hits that this defense has become accustomed to, rather than that anomaly of a game. Do your job and do it better.”