Through the first four games of 2018, the Bears’ defense allowed on average 295 yards per game, 5.1 yards per play, 3.9 yards per run, a 33 percent third down conversion rate and 16 points per game.
Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins was, with that backdrop, a bloodbath of an aberration. Or so the Bears hope.
The Dolphins — quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler, who’s been more of a punchline than a threat over the last few years — racked up 541 yards, averaged 7.2 yards per play and 5.2 yards per run and converted eight of 17 third downs (47 percent) en route to score more points in one afternoon than the Bears had allowed in their last two games.
“Everybody knows that’s not the type of defense we play — we don’t miss tackles, I don’t think we’ve ever had that during the whole season,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We gotta come in and work on that and get ready for next week.”
It wasn’t just that the Bears allowed that level of production — it was how it happened. Albert Wilson had 155 yards on six catches, and turned a pair of short passes into 43- and 75-yard touchdowns, both of which led to Miami tying the game in the fourth quarter. Frank Gore carved up 101 yards on 15 carries, with a Miami offensive line missing its starting left guard and center generating an excellent push for the future Hall of Famer.
“It all starts with stopping the run,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who suffered an ankle injury but stayed in Sunday’s game, said. “I feel like we didn’t do a good enough job with that today.”
Gore’s 100-yard game was the first by a running back against the Bears since Latavius Murray hit that mark in Week 5 of 2017, and Miami’s success on the ground did open up plenty for Osweiler.
But that doesn’t completely explain how the Bears didn’t notch a sack and only were credited with four quarterback hurries (the Dolphins committed, and succeeded, to selling out to stop Mack’s pass rush). It doesn’t explain how poor the Bears’ tackling angles were all afternoon, and how many missed tackles this group piled up when they did get in position (anecdotally, it felt like a Dolphins player hurdled a Bears defender at least once a quarter).
“I missed a couple that I make usually 100 percent of the time,” safety Adrian Amos said. He was only talking about himself, but he hardly was the only player to uncharacteristically miss a tackle on Sunday.
No Bears player was willing to admit the impact of the hot and humid conditions on Sunday, but this was a defense that looked gassed, especially in the second half. And while the conditions on the field were the same, they weren’t on the sideline — the visiting sideline at Hard Rock Stadium was engulfed in sunlight all game, to the point where Bears staffers had to hold up what appeared to be folding tables over the benches on the sideline to create some makeshift shade.
“It was hot,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “It was hot out there. You gotta play the game anyway. You don’t get a choice. You gotta play. They’re playing, we gotta play too.”
“There’s a lot you can say about it,” outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “We haven’t played in a week, the weather is quite different from Chicago — it’s a lot of things you could say but at the end of the day you gotta execute, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”
The Bears’ defense responded well to blowing a 20-point lead in Week 1’s brutal loss to the Green Bay Packers, holding the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to incrementally fewer points each week. This group will have to respond against the diabolical Bill Belichick-Tom Brady New England Patriots offense in Week 7, which presents a far greater challenge than an undermanned group led by Russell Wilson did in Week 2.
There’s no reason to hit the panic button on the Bears’ defense, not when they’ve only had, really, two bad quarters out of 20 all year (though on the other hand, that those both came in the fourth quarter in road games is a little concerning). The Jacksonville Jaguars, widely considered to have the NFL’s best defense before the season, gave up 40 points to a Dallas Cowboys offense that hadn’t shown much promise before Sunday. These things can happen.
And there’s plenty of confidence within the Bears locker room that it won’t happen again.
“This is a building block,” Jackson said. “This is a huge building block for us, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I’m going to keep repeating that because we hold ourselves to a very high standard. We just gotta put this one behind us. It’s going to be tough. Everybody’s seen it. It’s going to be tough for us to do, but we’re looking forward right now. We got a long season ahead of us.”