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The Bears’ defense won’t return to dominance until it starts taking the ball away again

The Bears need to go from being good to being dangerous. They need, in a word, takeaways.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack bats Carson Wentz’s pass Sunday.
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack bats Carson Wentz’s pass Sunday.
Elsa/Getty Images

Khalil Mack was asked a simple question Friday: when was the last time the Bears’ defense truly dominated a game?

“Man, geez, I’m a tough critic, man,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of the toughest critics …”

The Vikings game in Week 4, maybe?

“Even then you see a lot of things that we could have done a lot better …” he said. “We put ourselves in situations to dominate, and you’re asking me about dominating so it’s … Yeah it’s coming. I haven’t felt it yet, but it’s coming.”

The Bears need it to come Sunday at Soldier Field against the Lions.

They need to go from being good to being dangerous.

They need, in a word, takeaways.

The Bears defense, in many respects, doesn’t look much different from exactly one year ago. They ranked fourth in the NFL yards per play through eight games last year — and again this season. They were fourth in points per game at this time last year and rank sixth this season. They allow almost 8.6 more rushing yards per game than at this point last season, but 6.4 fewer passing yards.

There are differences — the Bears were flagged for one offside penalty through eight games last year, versus 10 this season — but far more similarities.

“It’s damn near identical up and down the deal,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “The biggest discrepancy is the 11 to 21.”

That’s the takeaway total had this year — where they rank 13th — versus last season, when they were second in the NFL through eight games.

“Sometimes, just like win streaks and losing streaks, they come in bunches. …” said coach Matt Nagy, who knows something about both. “You saw early on in the season we had a few games there where we were getting them, we had a bunch of turnovers. ...

“And then for whatever reason, they just don’t come as much.”

Mack feels like there have been fewer chances this season — by their opponent’s design.

“You just have to understand it, man — especially going against experienced quarterbacks, you know they try to put their team in situations where they don’t give the ball away and make too many risky plays,” Mack said. “So they’re doing everything they can to come in and manage the game, and so we kind of see that.”

That’s not the Lions’ way — in two games last year, the Bears intercepted Matthew Stafford four times and forced his team to fumble once.

“You can talk about last year all day, but that ain’t really going to have anything to do with what happens on Sunday,” Mack said. “You’ve got to do everything it takes to keep him on the bench because he’s a good quarterback and he’s got a lot of weapons.”

The Bears bemoaned being unable to get off the field last week, giving up four third-down conversions as the Eagles bled 8:14 off the clock to seal the game with 25 seconds left.

The Bears defense can’t play dominate without some help from the offense. Nagy thinks being up two touchdowns early — a tall task, given their struggles — would allow his defense be more aggressive.

“Let’s try that one time and see how that goes,” he said with a smile.

A late lead, too, would open the up more takeaway chances.

“That hasn’t happened as much,” Nagy said, “where you’re up double digits and teams are in one-dimensional mode.”

At this point, the Bears would be happy any kind of win.

“So it’s up to us to take the ball,” Mack said. “And that’s just going to be the attitude — to go out and take it.”