The takeaway wasn’t just a goal but a way of life for years at Halas Hall. Bears players could recite the winning percentages of having a one-, two- or three-turnover differential.
‘‘Honestly, every head coach, especially a defensive-minded head coach, it’s what they preach,’’ nickel back Sherrick McManis said. ‘‘Everybody knows it’s a big part of the game. It can change the game.’’
The Bears’ defense used to be full of those game-changers — players who consistently intercepted passes, punched out fumbles and beat one-on-one blocks to harass quarterbacks.
It remains to be seen if they have them now with the Arizona Cardinals up next at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Judging the Bears off one game against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might be unfair. Rodgers’ quick release and smarts make him hard to sack, and his ball protection skills (11 interceptions on 810 pass attempts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons) are special.
But the Bears’ best defensive players haven’t made big plays since training camp. Remember quarterback Jay Cutler’s interception-free streak?
‘‘Obviously, last week it didn’t work in our favor,’’ coach John Fox said. ‘‘We were minus-1 in that category. [But] it’s something our coaches do a good job of preaching.’’
The Bears led the preseason in turnover differential at plus-9 (10 takeaways, one turnover). Their 10 total takeaways trailed only former coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had 11.
‘‘Now, we just need to convert that to the regular season,’’ Fox said.
The problem is that of the players who factored in those 10 preseason takeaways — interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries — only McManis and defensive linemen Eddie Goldman and Cornelius Washington played on defense against the Packers. Some of those players aren’t even on the roster or practice squad. Washington played only one snap before injuring his right quadriceps.
An absent pass rush stood out against Rodgers. The Bears pressured him only once, according to their own reviews. Only McManis broke up a pass.
‘‘We just didn’t make plays,’’ coordinator Vic Fangio said.
So, who are the Bears’ playmakers?
‘‘It’s just one game,’’ Fox said when asked exactly that. ‘‘It’s like picking the most valuable player after one week. We’re kind of waiting to see. We’re in a production-based business.’’
General manager Ryan Pace deserves time to remake his roster, but more still can be expected from this group. There are well-paid players to demand more from: outside linebackers Jared Allen, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, cornerback Alan Ball and safety Antrel Rolle.
And there are high-round picks who need to play like it: Goldman, defensive end Ego Ferguson, inside linebacker Shea McClellin and cornerback Kyle Fuller.
‘‘I’d just say there is room for improvement,’’ Fox said.
There should be hope with Fangio involved. His 49ers defenses ranked first, 14th, sixth and fourth in takeaways in his four-year span in San Francisco, according to Pro Football Reference.
But is the talent here to do the same?
It’s Week 2, and time will tell.
‘‘You get 16 opportunities, and we’re into our second one,’’ Fox said. ‘‘I look for improvement.’’
QB Jay Cutler
Cutler still will be asked to asked to manage the game, but could more downfield attempts be coming?
RB Matt Forte
The Cardinals held the Saints to 54 yards rushing last week. What will Forte be able to do better to get loose?
S Adrian Amos
The rookie was solid in his debut — Aaron Rodgers stayed away from him in coverage. But Cardinals QB Carson Palmer could go after him.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
The Bears insist the savvy 12-year veteran hasn’t lost a step. He led his team with six catches for 87 yards last week.
S Tyrann Mathieu
‘‘He’s got a really good spacial awareness,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘He’s got everything you want in kind of a DB and a nickel-type guy.’’
DE Calais Campbell
He’s an absolute monster at 6-8, 300 pounds. A Pro Bowl player last year, he will give
the Bears’ offensive line plenty of problems.
– Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase on Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson
“It’s almost like the receivers are telling him what route they’re running before the play. The guy’s a phenomenal player, and he’s a tough matchup for whoever ends up on him.”
Left tackle, No. 74
Kyle Long’s move to right tackle and the struggles he had against the Green Bay Packers headlined everything for the Bears’ offensive line last week.
But Bushrod quietly had a good day. His balky back held up fine, and he graded out well. The only black mark for him was a holding penalty.
‘‘At the end of the day, we didn’t win,’’ Bushrod said. ‘‘You always feel like you can do something better, something extra. But physically, I was all right. I made it through. That’s all I can really ask for. I felt good out there for the most part.’’
With Long still in transition, it’s great news for the Bears that Bushrod feels well and can play well. He had his right leg stretched out early during the Packers game and sat out Friday’s practice after two full days of work.
‘‘The maintenance has never stopped,’’ he said. “You have to do whatever you can do to make sure you’re ready to go.”