Bears Defense Back on Track

Chicago's defense struggled mightily through the season's first five weeks, yet played its best game of the season against the Vikings. Will the unit be able to carry the momentum to London?

After five weeks of subpar showings, the Bears' defense finally turned in a performance it could be proud of in Sunday night's victory over the Vikings.

So why wasn't anyone whooping it up after the game?

"It was just a step in the right direction, and there's still a lot of work to be done," said defensive end Israel Idonije, whose third sack of the season was one of five by the Bears. "The focus now is to put up another great game this week and continue to stack up those really great performances back to back and be consistent.

"We started slowly, but we still believe in who we are as a defense. We believe in the defense and how good we can be. We're still working toward getting out of the hole we put ourselves in."

Thursday night, the Bears take their show on the road when they fly to London for Sunday's game with the Bucs. That would seem a great opportunity to build on the Week 6 accomplishments, considering the Bucs aren't significantly better than the Vikings offensively, at least on paper. Tampa Bay is 25th in scoring, 16th in total yards, 14th in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards.

But the 4-2 Bucs sprung a 26-20 upset Sunday on the Saints, who whipped the Bears 30-13 in Week 2.

And the Bears are still a long way from becoming as dominant on defense as they were last season. Despite their stingiest effort of the season, they still are 28th in total yards, 25th in passing yards and 22nd in rushing yards allowed. The silver lining is that they are 11th in points allowed. But, even after holding the Vikings to 53 rushing yards on 17 attempts the Bears are No. 32 in average gain allowed per running play.

"We did have a slow start, (but) it's about what we've done lately," coach Lovie (Glass is Half Full) Smith said. "We saw improvement from last Monday night to Sunday night. I think you would say we made improvements."

Smith is pleased that his defenders aren't satisfied after one impressive outing, and he admits the defense remains deficient in one very important category.

"You want them to talk about still getting better or a lot of things we did wrong during the course of the game," he said. "But if you play hard -- as much as anything that's one of the things that we did a better job of -- you get more guys around the ball. If one guy loses a gap or misses a tackle, you have someone else there to make the play. We did a better job of gang tackling (Sunday night)."

--Even though safety Chris Harris went from starter to inactive to requesting a trade in seven days, coach Lovie Smith claims his demotion wasn't a snap decision.

"Nobody loses their job so quickly," Smith said. "There is a period of time that you go through and for us, I as the head football coach, felt like I knew what Chris was, (and I) wanted to get a chance to see what some of our other players could do. No more than that. Your play is based on production that you have when you're out there. I feel pretty comfortable with the decision I made."

But Harris isn't comfortable is his nonexistent playing role, and his agent, Albert Elias, has received permission from Bears general manager Jerry Angelo to seek a trade by Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline.

The Bears are unlikely to get much in compensation for Harris, 29, even though he tied for the team lead with five interceptions last season. The seven-year veteran missed three weeks with a hamstring injury before returning for the Week 5 game, in which his play was deemed inadequate against the Lions.

Major Wright, the Bears' third-round draft pick in 2010, started in place of Harris Sunday night and had four tackles. He is seventh on the Bears with 27 tackles.

Monday afternoon, Smith said he had not spoken to Harris regarding a trade.

"I don't get into much of that stuff," Smith said. "Chris was there on the sideline (Sunday night) being 'coach' Harris as much as anything, helping his football team win. That's the last time I saw Chris. I don't know a whole lot more than that.

"He's a part of our football team, one of our 53 guys. During the course of the season, you can't dress everyone each game. There are some inactive players each week. We make those decisions based on a lot of things. In Chris' case, at the safety position, if you're not playing a lot on regular downs, it's about special teams."

Harris does not have a role on special teams.

--The Bucs left for London Monday, but the Bears won't leave until Thursday night after practicing at Halas Hall in the afternoon.

Coach Lovie Smith has considered different itineraries that other teams have used in preparation for international games and doesn't believe adjusting to the time change in time for the Sunday game will be a problem. London time is six hours ahead of Chicago so, while the game will be broadcast at noon Sunday, it will be 6 p.m. over there.

"I don't think that's going to be much of an issue," Smith said. "We're going to go there earlier than we normally would (for a road game). But it's a business trip for us. We didn't go over there earlier because we want to go through our same game-week routine with our practice field, with our equipment, our meeting rooms, all of that, and do what we normally do when we play a road game. Go out in the week and play the game. That's how we're looking at that game."

--After scoring on a 98-yard kickoff return and a 48-yard reception, Devin Hester left the field in the fourth quarter with a chest injury and did not return. He wasn't available to the media after one of his most spectacular games.

"Whenever Devin Hester isn't on the field and doesn't finish, I'm concerned," coach Lovie Smith said. "But we weren't too concerned about it and we aren't still. It shouldn't be serious. We're going to put it in the bumps and bruises section."

Tight end Kellen Davis (elbow), who was added to the injury report late last week, reinjured himself during Sunday's game while catching two passes for 27 yards. He is expected to play this week.


--WR Devin Hester suffered a chest injury in the fourth quarter Sunday night and was not available post-game in the locker room. Before that, he had a 98-yard TD return for a touchdown, five receptions for 91 yards, including a 48-yard TD, and a 27-yard punt return on his only opportunity.

--PK Robbie Gold was 3-for-3, connecting from 51, 26 and 22 yards. If he makes two more without a miss, he will become the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history.

--P Adam Podlesh placed two of his three punts inside the 20, including a 51-yarder with no return, and he had a net average of 38.3 with no return yards.

--WR Dane Sanzenbacher caught just one pass for 13 yards, but it was his third TD reception of the season, tops on the team. The undrafted rookie is tied for second on the team with 17 receptions.

--WR Roy Williams' three catches and 50 yards were more production than he had in the previous four games, one of which he missed with a groin injury.


PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus - Jay Cutler played exceptionally well for the second straight week, but this time it resulted in a victory, as he received much better protection. He was sacked just once while completing 21 of 31 passes for 267 yards and a 115.9 passer rating. From the very beginning, Cutler distributed the ball evenly, connecting with seven different receivers just in the first quarter. Rookie Dane Sanzenbacher had just one catch, but it was for a 13-yard TD, his team-best third receiving touchdown. WR Devin Hester had his biggest receiving day of the season with five catches for 91 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - Matt Forte continued his excellent season with 87 yards on 17 carries for a 5.1-yard average, and Marion Barber got his most extensive work this season with 11 carries and 32 yards. The offensive line did an excellent job creating running room, especially on Barber's three-yard TD, when he went in untouched.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus - The Bears matched their season high with five sacks of Donovan McNabb, including one in the end zone by rookie Stephen Paea for a safety. But they allowed him to complete 19 of 24 passes, although very few of them did much damage. Julius Peppers had two sacks playing on a sprained knee. The Vikings had just two completions of more than 20 yards and nothing longer than 30.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus - Adrian Peterson was limited to 39 yards on 12 carries for a 3.3-yard average, and his longest run was just eight yards. In addition to his pass coverage duties, CB Charles Tillman (11 tackles) provided strong run support. The Vikings had just 53 yards on 17 attempts for a 3.1-yard average.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Devin Hester added to his NFL record with his 16th kick-return touchdown, when he went 98 yards with a kickoff. He also had a 27-yard return on the only punt he handled. PK Robbie Gould was 3-for-3, including a 51-yarder. P Adam Podlesh allowed zero return yards and averaged a 38.3 net on three punts, two of which were inside the 20, including a 51-yarder.

COACHING: B - The Bears showed up ready to play and offensive coordinator Mike Martz did a better job of allowing Cutler to get the ball out of his hand quicker and providing better protection on longer routes. Changing both safeties was a gamble, considering one was rookie Chris Conte, but he and second-year player Major Wright worked much better than the previous week's veteran tandem of Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather. The fifth different O-line grouping of the season worked well in pass protection and in the run game.

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