Fundamentals at core of defensive struggles

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith voiced displeasure about the lack of takeaways and sacks this preseason, but ultimately, shoddy basic execution prevents such extras from entering the picture.

That’s the message hammered home to the players throughout the week leading into Saturday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, and one of the main reasons for the club’s horrid defensive performance Monday night in the their loss to the New York Giants.

“We’re not ready to play the first game yet,” Bears linebacker Nick Roach said. “In the game last week, nothing was really good enough to win. Clearly, [the coaches] were disappointed. We were disappointed in how it went, but realize it’s not the end of the world, and we still have a long way to go before it counts.”

Time’s ticking away, though, with the preseason opener at home against the Atlanta Falcons rapidly approaching.

“[The emphasis this week at practice] was more technique, fundamentals. We just wanted to hustle more. The tackling, the physicality will come,” Tim Jennings said. “It wasn’t just tackling [that caused a subpar performance against the Giants]. It was more execution, technique and mental errors. We feel like if we had guys in position where they were supposed to be, there wouldn’t have been so many missed tackles."

Plagued by execution errors and mental busts, the Bears allowed the Giants to rack up 380 yards, and 16 first downs, in addition to an embarrassing 97-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter by Da’Rel Scott.

Scott’s run put the finishing touches on a rough outing for the Bears in which they surrendered 218 yards. Not acceptable for a defense that ranked ninth overall in 2010 and No. 2 against the run. Two quarters prior to Scott’s burst, Brandon Jacobs shook second-year safety Major Wright on the way to an 18-yard score that put the Giants ahead 10-3 just six seconds into the second quarter.

“We didn’t tackle well. Some of the things are angles,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “We kind of overshot the ball a little bit. Really, they’re a good cutback team. The backs aren’t overly fast, but they are cutback guys. So that was a big part of it. We just didn’t quite get that done.”

Chicago’s starters also struggled on third-down defense in allowing the Giants, in the first half, to convert 3 of 9 in those situations. In 2010, the Bears forced 57 three-and-out drives (29.1 percent), which ranked just second in the NFL to the New York Jets.

And over the past eight years the Bears rank No. 1 in the NFL (26.56 percent) in snuffing out opponents on third down, a source of pride for Smith and the rest of the defense.

So far this preseason, though, Chicago’s opponents are converting 39.3 percent on third down, which ranks the Bears at No. 14 in that category.

The Bears sit at No. 26 in sacks with just two -- both by Amobi Okoye -- and are one of 14 teams this preseason with one interception or fewer.

“Defensively, we haven’t taken the ball away. There’s been one takeaway in the preseason. That’s just not us,” Smith. “Those are areas that we need to improve. So this is a big game for us. We’re playing against a good opponent on the road. In an ideal situation, you want to play that third game on the road in a hostile environment.”

Marinelli stressed that the Bears can’t force a turnover such as a stripped ball “without an attempt,” adding that the defense needs to return to its “stamp, that we can count on a certain effort, a certain level of tackling; all the things that we do.”

But for that to transpire, the Bears need to strip everything back down to the bare essentials of consistent defense. Like most weeks in which the Bears produce a subpar performance on defense, that’s what the unit did in prepping for Saturday’s game against the Titans.

“The first [thing] I’ve always believed is you go right back to your fundamentals, right back to your base,” Marinelli said. “See what you have to correct -- show it to them -- and make sure you explain it to them correctly. They’re men. You show it to them. Then you make sure drills are done right, make sure the tempo and pace [are] correct. Then you get better.”

The players continue to stress they’ve made easily-correctable errors over the first two games, but acknowledge the need to tighten up in several areas with the regular-season opener against the Falcons on the horizon.

“We always want to keep improving,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got a couple of weeks to get it right, and hopefully we have everything corrected when Atlanta comes to town.”

The team plans to take the first step in that progression by installing a game plan for the Titans. So spectators should count on seeing a much different version of the defense at LP Field; rife with blitzes and more variations of coverages.

“The starters are gonna play most of the game, from what I know. So we definitely want to put together a [good] performance, let the coaches know where we’re at,” Jennings said. “We’re gonna run a good scheme, a good game plan. So we’ve got to make sure we go out there and execute well. We had a great week of practice, and I think we’re well prepared.”