Role reversal: Bears’ defense trying to keep up with surging offense
The Bears’ growth behind Justin Fields has put a little heat on the defense, which has allowed 70 points in the last two games. “I feel like we’ve been leaving them out to dry,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “Now we’re trying to get back to playing this thing in all phases.”
The Bears’ defense carrying the offense on its shoulders is an old storyline at Halas Hall. But the other way around — that’s a rarity.
“It feels good to see them go out there and do what they do, just see 1 [Justin Fields] and the rest of the guys ball out on offense,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “But for us on defense, I was joking with [Darnell] Mooney today, ‘Man, we’ve been blowing that money for y’all on defense.’ Now it’s time for us to step up.”
Jackson is the lone remaining starter from the top-ranked defense in 2018 under Vic Fangio that carried the Bears to the NFC North title and the playoffs. But even earlier this season, it was the defense carrying the load. Through six games, the defense was tied for 11th in points allowed. The offense was ranked 31st.
But in a sudden reversal, it’s the offense carrying the load. In the last three weeks, the Bears have scored 94 points (second in the NFL in that span). In the last two weeks, the defense has allowed 70 points in losses to the Cowboys (49-29) and Dolphins (35-32). And it could be that way for a while. The defense has lost two stalwarts in linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive end Robert Quinn. The offense has added wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Whether the emotional impact of losing Quinn and Smith played a factor in defensive lapses against the Cowboys and Dolphins, the Bears are past that and trying to re-establish their footing.
“Now it’s time to get back to it and play our type of ball,” Jackson said. “Offense has been helping us out tremendously; they’ve been doing a lot. I feel like we’ve been leaving them out to dry. So now we’re trying to get back to playing this thing in all phases.”
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow wouldn’t call it pressure to keep up, but he certainly feels the responsibility to take advantage of the offensive surge behind Fields.
“You definitely notice it,” Morrow said. “We have not been complementary as a defense. That’s on us. If they put the points on the board, it’s up to us to protect it. They gave us enough points to win, and we didn’t do a good job of protecting the lead. We’ve got to do a better job. And I think we will.”
But how? The defense was a work in progress from the start and now is without Quinn and Smith. They have three rookies starting and playing full-time snaps — cornerback Kyler Gordon, safety Jaquan Brisker and linebacker Jack Sanborn — and Dominique Robinson is in the regular rotation at defensive end. Kingsley Jonathan, another rookie defensive end, played seven snaps against the Dolphins last week.
But Jackson, among others, sees room for growth with the current lineup.
“I feel like [Wednesday] was a great step: We had a great practice, everyone flying around to the ball,” Jackson said. “Coach [Matt Eberflus] called us out on some little things. Hustle, just get back to that. Showing film of guys not hustling like we were earlier in the season. Just trying to get back to that playing style and back to the type of defense we know we’re capable of. So when coach Flus pointed that out, it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s an easy fix.’ Just the hustle part, that right there makes up for a lot of stuff.”
The Bears still have that belief that they can improve quickly. And they don’t have to look far for inspiration.
“Look at our offense,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “At the beginning of the year, it wasn’t going their way. Now they’re ballin’. That’s an example of when it looks ugly, keep pushing, keep pushing and keep believing. Just like it swings one way, it’s going to swing the other way at some point. You just have to keep going.”