Clearly, they’d had enough of being nice to the Packers and Lions and everybody else in the NFL. Their passive days appear long gone.
At just past the midway point, the Monsters of the Midway are downright monstrous again on defence. And as far as takers go, the NFL hasn’t seen the likes of these Bears in some time.
Heading into their Sunday night homefield showdown against the similarly 7-1 Houston Texans, the Bears lead the NFL in takeaways with 28. The New York Giants (at 26) are the only other team with more than 20.
Breaking down the takeaways into their constituent categories, Chicago leads the league both in recovered fumbles (11, tied with New England) and interceptions (17, tied with the Giants).
And because these takers are seldom giving in return, Chicago also leads the league in turnover differential, at +16.
That’s how a defence ranked sixth in total yards allowed, 16th against the pass and sixth against the run winds up second against the score (at 15.0 points per game allowed).
You might drive the ball on these Bears occasionally, but they’re gonna take the ball back a lot of the time. Ask Tony Romo. Or Matthew Stafford.
“We have 25 sacks and 28 tackles-for-loss, too,” Bears head coach Lovie Smith said this week. “But if we continue to take the ball away like that, good things will continue to happen.”
Most of the taking has been done by the Bears secondary. The front seven harasses like few others in the league, but the back end has been nothing short of amazing through Week 9.
Cornerback Tim Jennings leads the league in interceptions, with six, and is tied for the NFL lead in passes defended with 15. And the other starting corner, Charles Tillman, leads the league in forced fumbles, with seven.
Major Wright is one of the league’s best strong-safety interceptors, with three, and free safety Chris Conte has one pick.
All told, the Bears secondary has intercepted 14 passes and forced eight fumbles.
Now, about those fumbles. Unforced fumbles are random. Forced fumbles are not, and the Bears lead the league in that category too – with 17.
Tillman alone had four last week in Chicago’s 51-20 pulverization of the Tennessee Titans. Four.
“I’m like everyone else – I’m amazed (by that) too,” Smith said. “And not just that he’s able to knock the ball out, but I mean it seemed like just about every time a running back or anyone with the ball comes near him, he’s gonna get a punch on it.”
That’s right. Tillman punches at the ball. It’s totally legal. On one play last Sunday, he punched at the ball four times before forcing it out of a Titan’s possession.
“Everybody talks about stripping the ball,” Smith said. “But when (as teammates you) have a chance to see the best of all time doing it, play after play, you want to join him in on that.”
With all those loose balls bouncing around, it stands to reason that two of the five players tied for the lead league in fumble recoveries are Bears – defensive end Julius Peppers and sixth-DB Kelvin Hayden have three apiece. Linebacker Brian Urlacher has two.
Asked this week why the Bears are so good at forcing takeaways, Urlacher said, “That’s all we do in practice. If the running back runs past us and we don’t strip, we get yelled at. If the ball is on the ground and we don’t pick it up, or if it’s an incomplete pass or a fumble, it just doesn’t happen. You have to pick it up and run with it.
“Picks, we score every time in practice. That’s just our culture around here. That’s what we’re taught; it’s what we do, and what we do in games.”
Indeed they do. In yet another eyebrow-raiser, the Bears have scored seven defensive touchdowns – the most ever by an NFL team after eight games.
None of this, though, will scare the Texans worth a damn.
Theirs is one of the league’s most stout, opportunistic defences too. If Jennings isn’t the league’s defensive MVP to this point, it’s only because Houston end J.J. Watt is, with his league-leading 10.5 sacks and 10 pass-knockdowns for a lineman.
Which brings to mind another lyric from Had Enough – an ominous warning that comes right before the climactic strings solo in the song’s bridge. It’s a good thing the song is so old, and so obscure, that no Bears or Texans offensive player will be listening to it on the bus ride into Soldier Field:
“Here comes the end (cue another spaz-tastic Keith Moon drum-fill) / Here comes the end of the world …”