The Chicago Bears defense is coming off its best performance of the season.
In Week 6, the Bears held the Jacksonville Jaguars to just 317 total yards and 55 yards on the ground, and carried a shutout through three quarters. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit was backpacking the Bears to victory, carrying an offense that struggled to post points. An untimely Tracy Porter slip resulted in a game-winning 51-yard TD to Arrelious Benn late in the fourth quarter, sullying an otherwise stellar performance from a Chicago defense that has been pummeled by injuries this season.
"We had played, really overall, had played pretty damn good," Fangio said today. "And even the first touchdown was set up by some unfortunate stuff. We let a route get out of there, a basic route that should have never happened. And got an unfortunate penalty from a timing standpoint and that drive there is just as disappointing as the last one. But up until then, we had played pretty damn good. Had a bunch of three-and-outs. I don’t know what the yardage standpoint would had been up to that point but it had to be pretty good.”
Kyle Fuller is on IR, Pernell McPhee has been on PUP all year, Leonard Floyd has only played four games, Eddie Goldman has been out for three weeks, Lamarr Houston is on IR and Danny Trevathan is playing with a cast after missing two games. And those are just the big names, as a number of role players have been dealing with injuries as well.
Yet despite the fact seven defensive starters or full-time contributors are on the current injury report - which doesn't include Houston, Fuller or McPhee - Fangio's unit continues to improve on weekly basis. The Bears currently rank 11th in the NFL in total defense and 10th in passing defense, while the run defense has jumped 12 spots (31st to 19th) in the rankings the past three weeks.
"Well, hopefully we are progressing," said Fangio. "I think we’ve had some pretty decent performances early on. We got beat up pretty good in Dallas, but it seems like everyone has been lately. I think we’re progressing. It’d be nice to get everybody back and get guys playing and contributing in the roles you have envisioned for them and not be having wholesale changes before and during the game. The ones during the game are even a little bit more harder to deal with. But I think there’s progress being made."
-The Bears are improving defensively but lack of consistent pass rush is still an issue. That has improved of late - they've tallied seven sacks the past two weeks combined - due in large part to Willie Young, whose 6.0 sacks rank 4th in the NFL.
"He’s winning his one-on-one battles more times than he’s not," said Fangio. "He’s playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of aggressiveness and assertiveness. I think that he’s a guy that’s been a leader through example for the defense, making good plays and playing with a lot of energy."
-Chicago's pass rush could receive a major boost this week if OLB Pernell McPhee returns to action. The Bears have not yet decided whether McPhee will play but against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, his presence on passing downs would be substantial.
“Any time you lose a good player, and he was a good a player the first half of last season as you guys saw, it’s going to have a negative effect," Fangio said. "We have this whole cottage industry in the off-season about the draft and free agency, right? You get a good player and then he’s no longer there. It has an affect on you.”
-The Bears could be without both of their starting cornerbacks this week, as both Bryce Callahan (hamstring) and Tracy Porter (knee) have not practiced this week. Rookie CB Deiondre Hall, who has missed the last two contests with an ankle injury, has not returned to practice either.
If all three sit out Thursday night's matchup against the Packers, expect to see Jacoby Glenn and De'Vante Bausby at the boundary corner positions, with CreVon LeBlanc in the slot.
Glenn has struggled of late and was penalized three times against the Jaguars.
When asked if he can continue to trust Glenn, Fangio's answer didn't exude confidence: "Well, you know, we have to."
-Aaron Rodgers currently ranks 25th in the NFL in passing yards per game (234), 20th in passer rating (88.4) and 26th in yards per attempt (6.46). For a quarterback many consider the best in the game, those rankings would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Rodgers' numbers have fallen off the past two seasons, yet Fangio still sees the same player who has a 13-4 career record against the Bears (including playoffs).
"I still see the great quarterback that he is with the release and the scrambling and the mobility and the creativity and the accuracy," Fangio said. "They’ve gotten beat by maybe the two best teams in the NFL currently in Dallas and Minnesota and, you know, tight games. They’re still the same offense they’ve always been and he’s still the same quarterback he’s always been.
"Watch the tape. The guy is still the same player that he’s always been."
-Few are predicting the Bears to beat the Packers on Thursday Night Football, which is similar to the last time the two teams met at Lambeau Field, in Week 12 last year, which was also a Thursday contest. Yet the Bears pulled off the 17-13 upset victory due in large part to a solid defensive performance that held Rodgers to just 202 passing yards and forced two turnovers.
"Well I think anytime you play any good offense, if you can keep the big plays to a minimum, that always helps," said Fangio. "If you can take the ball away a couple times that always helps. I think that’s the key."
The Packers turned the ball over four times in last week's loss to the Cowboys. It's a template the Bears will have to follow.
"The biggest thing offensively for us was to take care of the football," Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said today. "When you're playing a good football team and you turn a ball over four times, I don't know how much further you need to go than that, particularly when you have turnovers in the red-zone area and when they occurred.
"We have to take care of the football. That's the biggest, No. 1 focus of ours coming out of the game offensively and frankly, we haven't done a good enough job all year. Our players understand that, we understand as coaches and we have to get our players to take better care of the football."
-ILB Danny Trevathan is playing with a cast on his left hand, which has limited him on the field the past two weeks. Against Jacksonville, he played just 43 of the 60 defensive snaps, coming off the field occasionally on obvious passing situations.
"[We] just [wanted] to get a better matchup in coverage because he’s affected some with that cast," said Fangio. "I think Danny’s been doing OK in there. His cast has definitely affected him some but he’s having a go at it."