The H.I.T.S. principle still beating at Halas Hall
The Bears have fallen from a tie for seventh to 30th in the NFL in points allowed since losing Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith. But three takeaways against an Eagles team with an NFL-low 10 turnovers was evidence the Bears’ struggling defense still has some bite.
About that H.I.T.S. principle . . .
Matt Eberflus’ pet acronym that is the foundation of his defensive philosophy — hustle, intensity, take the ball away, smart/situational football — is designed to get the most out to players and in theory, give his defenses the best chance to max out with or without the likes of Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn.
When Eberflus introduced it to the Colts upon being named the defensive coordinator in 2018, the H.I.T.S. principle seemed to work like magic. With a modest roster, the Colts improved from 30th in points and yards allowed under coach Chuck Pagano and coordinator Ted Monachino in 2017 to 10th and 11th under Eberflus. The Colts’ best player was a rookie — linebacker Darius Leonard, a second-round pick.
It hasn’t prevented a statistical free fall since Quinn was traded in Week 8 and Smith in Week 9. Since a 33-14 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 7, the Bears have fallen from a tie for seventh to 30th in points allowed and from 12th to 22nd in yards.
But if there has been any constant this season on the Bears, it’s that belief in the H.I.T.S. principle is as strong as ever.
“I think it is,” linebacker Nick Morrow said last week. “If you had a tape from [last Wednesday’s] practice and saw how many punches we had on the ball . . . we got in trouble because we were punching the ball out of the quarterback. Not Justin [Fields], but the other quarterbacks when they were doing their zone-read stuff. So I think the buy-in is still there.”
This defense still has a long way to go and needs a lot of help, but three takeaways against the Eagles last week — as many as the Bears had in the previous six games — provided at least some evidence the H.I.T.S. principle is still a thing. Kyler Gordon and DeAndre Houston-Carson intercepted Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. And defensive tackle Mike Pennel forced a fumble that Gordon recovered.
The Bears allowed 421 yards and 25 points in the 25-20 loss. But when you’re rebuilding, you take the small victories. The Bears had two interceptions of Hurts, who had thrown three in his first 13 games. The Bears had three takeaways against an Eagles team that had just 10 giveaways this season. Hurts came in leading the league with a 108.4 passer rating. It was 64.6 on Sunday.
“We had three turnovers, so I come out of that going, ‘Hey, nice job. We get what we emphasize,’ ’’ defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “We [wanted] to make sure we stop the run. We did that for the most part, except the third down where we let the quarterback out. But we stopped the run. The quarterback [had] a 64.6 [passer] rating. So there are some spots where we’re heading in the right direction.”
There’s a lot of work to do, though. One of the reasons why Justin Fields’ actually modest progress this season can be celebrated as a launching point for the rebuild is that it’s assumed Eberflus will get his side of the ball right.
Even considering the departures of Quinn and Smith in the second half of the season, the Bears have underperformed. That’s why the final three games might be more important for Eberflus’ defense than for Fields. We know Fields is moving forward. But this defense has a lot more to prove.