Bears safety Eddie Jackson is coming up on 11 months since his last interception, and every day of that drought has been exasperating.
Jackson has been a game-changer since his days at Alabama, and he was an All-Pro with seven takeaways and two touchdowns last season. This season, he has played more than 600 snaps, but all he has is a fumble recovery in Week 3.
It’s driving him nuts.
“This is the longest I’ve ever been in my life without an interception, without a touchdown — ever,” Jackson said. “So it’s getting stressful. I’m just happy we won this last game, but being that type of competitor, you want the ball.
“It’s gonna come. That’s all I keep telling myself.”
Everyone on the defense feels that way. The Bears led the NFL in takeaways last season with 36, including a league-high 27 interceptions, but now sit tied for 14th with 12 takeaways. They’re still fourth in opponent scoring and ninth in yards allowed, but they’re not nearly as scary without the takeaways.
With an offense that doesn’t scare anyone, the Bears depend on defensive scoring, too. Last season, defensive touchdowns and scores that came on short fields bumped the Bears from 22.4 to 26.3 points per game. Their only defender to score this season is safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, on a pick-six against the Redskins in Week 3. It was one of five takeaways that night; the Bears have fewer than one per game otherwise.
With most of the 2018 starting lineup back for this season, how can this be?
“Oh, man, I really can’t even answer that,” Jackson said. “You’ve just got to continue to fly around and just try to make plays on the ball. That’s like a trick question. I really don’t know how to answer that.”
It’s hard to explain other than accepting that turnovers can be random. What prompts a quarterback to make a terrible choice on one hectic play and safely throw it out of bounds on another? And there’s no telling which way a ball is going to bounce on a fumble.
The Bears also haven’t forced many opponents into situations where they’re taking risks to get back into a game.
“They feel like [takeaways] come in bunches,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And then, for whatever reason, they just don’t come as much. We just want to make sure overall [with] the turnover margin that we’re in the plus. And the higher you are, the better.”
The Bears are accomplishing Nagy’s goal there at plus-3, which is 12th in the NFL. That’s skewed, however, because they’re minus-1 outside of the Redskins game.
Facing the Rams on Sunday could help. The Rams are tied for the seventh-most turnovers, and quarterback Jared Goff has thrown 10 interceptions in nine games.
The Bears were close to making interceptions on several plays against the Lions and backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, including two near-picks by Jackson. He just missed getting a step in front of tight end T.J. Hockenson over the middle in the second quarter, but they collided as the ball arrived and neither player had a real chance to catch it. Later, with a minute left and the Lions driving to tie the score, Jackson was in perfect position to grab an overthrow by Driskel, but Hockenson barely got a hand out to deflect it out of his reach.
An inch or two can make all the difference. The point is that Jackson isn’t playing any worse than he did last year. The rest of the defense mostly seems to be maintaining its performance, as well. Sometimes turnovers just don’t happen.
“I feel like I’m still playing well,” Jackson said. “Just trying to get in more positions to make plays, if that makes any sense. . . . Just dominate my square and my man. Whatever I’m in, just got to dominate that.”