LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As good as the Chicago Bears’ defense have been through five weeks this season, coach Lovie Smith said Monday he believes it’s capable of even more down the road.
The Bears lead the NFL with 17 takeaways, are tied for the lead with 18 sacks, have allowed an average of 14.2 points a game and are the first team in the league history to return five interceptions for touchdowns in the first five games of the season.
On Sunday, the Bears scored two defensive touchdowns, recorded three sacks, intercepted three passes and recovered one fumble in their 41-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their defensive performance came one week after they scored two defensive touchdowns and intercepted five passes in a 34-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Yet, Smith isn’t completely pleased.
"You look at our game yesterday," said Smith, whose team was tied 3-3 with the Jaguars at halftime. "There was a half of football we weren’t satisfied with it. But it’s about how you finish. We’ve gotten off to a good start defensively, no more than that. We’re acknowledging the start that we have.
"There’s so many more things (we can improve at.) How many caused fumbles have we taken away? I haven’t seen many of those. Interceptions when balls are thrown your way, you’re supposed to catch it. But taking the ball away, once we really get good, we’ll start yanking that ball out and you’ll see a lot more caused fumbles; you’ll see a lot more fumble recoveries from it. Again, quarter of football (behind us) not much has been decided or done, except for our players to see what we can be if we take care of business."
The Bears are tied for eighth with five forced fumbles and have recovered four of them. They forced 14 fumbles last season, 23 in 2010, 23 in 2009, eight in 2008, 24 in 2007, 32 in 2006, 26 in 2005 and 21 in 2004.
Smith said he’d like for his defense to be more aggressive at forcing fumbles earlier in each game.
"As you look at a football game most times at the end of the game, you see guys start yanking the ball, and coaches really start talking about, ‘We got to get the ball back,’" Smith said. "Why not start the game like that? Don’t have to wait to the end to get those things done."
Takeaways have been a priority for the Bears throughout Smith’s tenure. They had 31 in 2011, 35 in 2010, 28 in 2009, 32 in 2008, 33 in 2007, 44 in 2006, 34 in 2005 and 29 in 2004.
"Great coaches have been talking about taking the ball away forever and ever," Smith said. "I think some places put an emphasis on it and really bought into it. For us, I don’t know exactly when we started, but I know it’s been a mindset of ours. We say, ‘Okay, what can we not necessarily guarantee victory each week, but has a direct impact on whether you win or lose?’ It always goes back to that turnover ratio. So offensively, you want explosive plays and do all types of things, and it’s about ball security. On the defensive side, you got to take the ball away."
Smith hopes those takeaways continue, too.
"I just know we got to keep them going," Smith said. "Guys realize for us to play good defense taking the ball away is part of a good defensive game for us. You can’t wait for them to turn the ball over. You have to go and get it.
"I think it’s just a mindset. We’ve had guys who have been around here a long time that have seen it. When you talk about the career leader in defensive touchdowns (Charles Tillman), another guy (Lance Briggs) a couple away from him, Brian Urlacher has scored a lot of touchdowns around here. Guys have gotten that message. They know how important it is."