Stats Don't Tell Whole Story of Bears ‘D'

The Chicago Bears have one of the top-ranked defenses in the league, but there are still concerns about that defense playing a full game.

So much for the big, tough Bears defense coming to the rescue of the poor, little offense.

The offense has been poor, no doubt. No NFC team has scored fewer points than the Bears' 62. But while the defense continues to look like a monster on paper, it folds like a paper bag at crunch time.

The Bears are No. 3 in the NFL in yards and first downs allowed per game, tied for third in yards per play, fifth in third-down percentage and tied for fifth in points allowed. But because the defense didn't hold a 10-6 lead on Sunday, the Bears are 1-3.

But the beauty of the NFC North is that by defeating the 1-3 Vikings at home at noon on Sunday, the Bears would be no worse than second place in the division. If the Lions lose to the Panthers, a Bears victory puts them in first place.

With the Bears starting a rookie at quarterback and another at wide receiver, struggles on offense are expected. But the Bears defense is supposed to be one of the league's up-and-comers, filled with players at or approaching their prime. More was expected of the defense, but it has failed to live up to expectations.

"I am definitely disappointed in that," coach Lovie Smith said. "One of the strengths of our team is our defense. As you look at the stats, I'm not going to say the defense has played badly. We're at the top of just about every category, but still it comes down to how you play in the end. You have to close it.

"We're set up to avoid the big play. Teams have to earn it a little at a time. We're not set up to give up big plays like that. We're not supposed to lose games like that, so yes, it's disappointing."

It's not just that the Bears are allowing big plays; they're allowing big plays for touchdowns. Each of the past four touchdowns that the defense has permitted, and five of the six they have allowed all season, have been pass plays of 28 yards or longer. The sixth TD was an 18-yard pass.

The defense has been outstanding in the red zone (inside its 20-yard line). The Bears have allowed just nine drives to penetrate the red zone and have permitted a league-low one touchdown from inside the 20. The Browns advanced into the red zone just once last Sunday and were forced to settle for a field goal.

"It seems like once a team gets inside the 20, they are inevitably not going to score a touchdown on us," Bears middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "We've just got to eliminate those big ones where they are getting the ball in from the 30 or 40."

It's outside of the red zone where the red flags go up. If it continues, the Bears will be waving white flags soon.

In just 38 seconds last Sunday, starting with 3:02 left in the game, the Bears allowed TD passes of 33 and 28 yards, quickly turning a four-point lead into a 10-point loss. In the previous game, the Bears closed to within 17-7 of the Bengals in the fourth quarter, but 94 seconds later the defense allowed a 40-yard TD pass.

"We always give up the big play," Bears safety Mike Brown said. "That's our problem on defense. We've got to find a way to fix it, or we are going to continue to lose every game that we play. It seems like when we make our mistakes it's in the critical parts of the game. Everyone makes mistakes, it just seems like we find a way to make them in the most important parts of the game.

"Every game it's two or three plays. If we make those plays, or let's say we don't even make those plays and they drop those passes, you'd be talking about how great this defense is. We're in the top five in most categories."

On paper they are; on the field, they're still 1-3.

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