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Across The Middle: That’s More Like It

| October 18th, 2017

They did it. They finally did it. The Bears defense delivered a dominant performance; the kind of performance I’ve been begging for.

The Bears have a good defense. I don’t think that’s disputable. But they were far from great and really hadn’t shown any signs of that changing until last week. Their fine performances  always included major blemishes.

Not Sunday. Sunday they were terrific.

This is what we should expect. The Bears are in Year Three with a defensive head coach and a coordinator who came in with a sterling reputation. They’ve rebuilt the entire roster with players the coach and coordinator had a big role in picking out. They should be great and they had just been good until last week.

Maybe the only difference is the takeaways. But, that’s a big difference. If they take the ball away even once against Atlanta or Minnesota — two teams that certainly give their opponents opportunities, especially with Case Keenum quarterbacking one of them — they’d have two more wins.

Don’t get me wrong, the defense isn’t why the team is in a big hole. But, like in 2014, when the offense was supposed to win games, this is a defensive team. With that in mind, I don’t think giving up an 88-yard touchdown to a tight end in Week One was acceptable. I don’t think allowing Tampa Bay to take momentum was OK. I don’t think letting Jordy Nelson kill them should be tolerated and I don’t think Case Keenum leading to 75-plus-yard touchdown drives should be allowed.

With a rookie quarterback and no receivers, the Bears need the defense to win games, not just keep them in it. Last week, they did just that and we should see more of it.

He Is Who I Thought He Was

I missed a lot on my ranking of the Bears roster, but I’m one of the few who isn’t surprised that Kyle Fuller is playing well. Why? Because he’s a good player.

After a slow start, Fuller was terrific in 2015. He was hurt last year. There was no reason to think he’d stink.

I didn’t think Fuller would make the Bears roster because I didn’t think the coaching staff liked him. Vic Fangio flat out called out his toughness and willingness to play last year — a move that soured me on Fangio has a candidate for a head job — and John Fox didn’t seem to have Fuller’s back. They brought in two solid corners and were obsessed with either Bryce Callahan or Cre’Von LeBlanc playing the slot. The writing was on the wall. Then they hit the field.

Fuller isn’t a shut down corner, there are so few of them that that shouldn’t be the expectation, even for a first round pick. But he’s a solid player and that goes a long way.

Catching On

I don’t blame the Bears for shuffling through young wide receivers, but it isn’t going to make a difference.

Tanner Gentry was fine as a UDFA in camp, asking him to make plays against top-10 defenses is a little different. The same can be said about Tre McBride or the three receivers they currently have on their practice squads (should they get called up). No team can lose its top three receivers and not have major issues at the position. But it’s rare to find a good receiver on the street this time of year. They have to try, but it isn’t going to make a difference.

Dowell Loggains and the rest of the offense needs to figure out how to use the actual solid NFL players they have. That means playing big with two tight ends, as they’ve done, but also playing their best receiver, Kendall Wright.

Wright is second on the team in catches (20) and catch percentage (76.9) behind only Tarik Cohen in both. Yet, against Baltimore he played just 31.3% of the snaps. In fact, he’s only played more than 60% of the team’s snaps in one game this season.

I know he can’t run block but I don’t think the run blocking of any of their receivers is going to make a difference. If they’re going to see a significant increase in their passing offense, they’re going to have to get him more involved. He’s the only NFL-caliber receiver they have.

Bring On The Panthers

Is Cam Newton back? I have no idea. Nobody does, not even the Panthers.

After seeming to be back to form, Newton had a horrendous game against Philadelphia that really made all followers, male or female, scratch their heads. I know he’s still dangerous but there’s also a decent chance the Bears can build off last week and take the ball away. If they stop Cam, they’ll stop the Panthers.

This is going to be another stiff test for Mitch Trubisky. After a bad year last year, Carolina’s defense is great again.

Luke Kuechly is as much of a difference maker as any defensive player in the league. But will he play?

I thought Julius Peppers was done three years ago. I was sure he was done after last year. He has 6.5 sacks this year. It doesn’t make sense.

If you’re expecting the offense to break through and control this game, you’re expecting too much. If the Bears are going to win this week, the defense is going to have to do the heavy lifting. We know they can. It’s time to see it again.

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