At midway point, how Bears’ ‘D’ has matched last year’s takeaway total
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Mark Ingram took the handoff and ran left. When he got to the Saints’ extra blocker Sunday — a lineman playing between the tackle and tight end — he made a jump-cut left and plunged forward, between safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson.
Amos approached on Ingram’s left, noticed his head was down and reached in for the ball. With his back facing quarterback Drew Brees, he ripped at it. The ball fell to the ground, and Amos recovered the forced fumble.
“We’ve been more comfortable with each other in trying to swarm the ball,” Amos said.
It was the Bears’ 11th takeaway this season, matching their total from all of last season.
“I would say the turnover light has come on,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “And you don’t want it to go off.”
At the bye week, the Bears defense looks nothing like last year’s unit. Credit the takeaways, which have snowballed since Week 6.
During the past three weeks, the Bears have:
• Recovered four fumbles, one more than they had all last season.
• Intercepted four passes after posting zero in the first five games this year.
• Totaled 226 return yards off interceptions, more than triple last year’s total of 73.
• Totaled 80 return yards off fumbles, almost quadruple last year’s total of 21.
“Usually stuff like that comes in bunches,” said Amos, who returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown in a win against the Ravens. “We’re trying to get after it all year. It just sparked off one game and then it just starting coming.”
What made Amos’ strip Sunday so impressive was the circumstances. Ingram had fumbled earlier in the fourth quarter, so he undoubtedly made a concerted effort to hang onto the ball. With 2:18 to play in an eventual 20-12 loss at the Superdome, the Bears needed it back for a chance to win the game.
“It’s a combination of playing good defense and having that awareness,” defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said.
Donatell and other Bears assistants produce a 10-minute takeaway video that they show their players in the middle of each week. It features the weaknesses of their upcoming opponent and reinforces dynamic plays the team has made.
In describing how players become more aggressive when they’re comfortable, coach John Fox referenced both a racecar driver on a new track and children who think a return car trip is shorter, because they recognize their surroundings.
“It’s like cracking on a rock,” Donatell said. “And it’s finally starting to crack. Guys are getting excited.
“We think two things: It builds energy and it can help your team win.”
Amos was hesitant to say the defense had a new identity — “I’m big into wins and losses; we lost, so we need to play a little better,” he said — but there’s no question this year’s defense is exponentially more dangerous.
Hicks, though, sees a change in the team that starts with quarterback Mitch Trubisky and extends to a defensive unit that can win them games.
“I couldn’t even put it into words — It’s just a completely different mindset,” Hicks said. “This team, it’s a completely different culture.
“We’re reaching some of the points we aspired to get to, as far as creating our identity as a team.
“Now we have Trubisky. And he’s developing as a young quarterback. I just look forward to his growth and the offensive growth. Expectations are high going forward.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.