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Bears defense’s next step needs to be a big one vs. potent Falcons

Chuck Pagano’s crew showed improvement against the Giants but is still looking to put it all together. “That’s what makes good teams great and great teams the best,” safety Tashaun Gipson said.

Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn nearly sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on this play, but Jones was able to shovel a pass to Dion Lewis. Quinn had a sack and forced fumble in the Bears’ 17-13 victory last Sunday at Soldier Field.
Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn nearly sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on this play, but Jones was able to shovel a pass to Dion Lewis. Quinn had a sack and forced fumble in the Bears’ 17-13 victory last Sunday at Soldier Field.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

After allowing 426 yards to the Lions in the season opener, the Bears’ defense looked more like the dominant unit it’s expected to be last week.

Robert Quinn had a strip-sack on the first series, Deon Bush had an interception on the second series and the Bears held the Giants to 295 yards in a 17-13 victory.

“We’re just so used to always holding everybody to 90 total yards of offense — everybody gets a little spoiled,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “That didn’t happen in Week 1. We were better last week. If you hold any offense under 300 yards and to 13 points, you’d take it every single day of the week.”

Pagano knows his defense will have to take another step — probably a much bigger one — against the Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons (0-2) are fifth in the NFL in scoring (32.0 points per game) after putting up 39 points in a 40-39 loss to the Cowboys.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is off to a hot start. He threw for 425 yards in a loss to the Seahawks in Week 1. He threw four touchdown passes against the Cowboys. He has four prime targets in Julio Jones (11 catches, 181 yards), Calvin Ridley (16-239, four touchdowns), Russell Gage (15-160, one touchdown) and tight end Hayden Hurst (8-110, one touchdown).

“We’re gonna have our work cut out,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said. “But . . . you get hyped for these types of games. Good on good and show everybody how the game goes.”

Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and two-time All-Pro, is nursing a hamstring injury. But if he’s healthy — and even if he isn’t — it’ll be the biggest test for the cornerback trio of Kyle Fuller, Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine.

“For the secondary, we know it’s a big week,” safety Eddie Jackson said, “with [Jones], Calvin, and even [Gage] has come along well. So we’re going to have our hands full. We’re up for the challenge. We’re going to play our game, stay on top of our keys and control the game very well, and things will go in our favor.”

The Bears’ defense has earned the right to feel it controls its destiny, even against top-flight offenses. And despite ranking 17th in the NFL in yards allowed, the defense has some factors in its favor. Quinn will be playing in his second consecutive game instead of his first in nine months. Johnson, impressive in his first two NFL games, will be playing in his third. And, as a unit, the rust of an abbreviated offseason is off.

“I think we’re really close [to playing four consistent quarters],” Gipson said. “That’s what makes good teams great and great teams the best — putting it together.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but I’ve been playing football for eight years, [and] this is the first time we’ve all been in a unique situation like this [COVID-19 pandemic]. There are a lot of plays that we take [the] onus on, but I think once people continue to get into the groove of things and into the flow of football instead of tagging off and thudding your own teammates — these are live bullets on Sunday — I think we’ll be able to put it together.”

Rising to the challenge was a hallmark of the 2018 defense, and to a lesser extent in 2019 without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks for much of the season. This will be the first test of that crucial characteristic in 2020.

“We’re gonna have to play lights-out,’’ Pagano said. ‘‘These guys can score points, as many as anyone in the league right now. Where we went from Week 1 to Week 2, we’re gonna have to take another huge jump.”