With season in jeopardy, Bears need to ‘takeaway’ a win against Packers
BY ADAM L. JAHNS email@example.com December 10, 2012 8:47PM
Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
win, lose, flaw
Since Lovie Smith took over the Bears in 2004, takeaways have been a way of life and a way to wins or losses.
49-10 The Bears’ record with a positive turnover margin.
13-34 The Bears’ record with a negative turnover margin.
17-18 The Bears’ record if equal.
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It was argued long ago that the Bears’ interception returns and fumble recoveries would suffer a drop-off as better-coached and more talented teams appeared on the schedule.
Some in blue and orange refused to hear it, but a dry spell has taken place.
So what now?
The Bears have lost four of their last five, and their playoff outlook has changed. The Green Bay Packers can clinch the NFC North with a victory Sunday at Soldier Field. And coach Lovie Smith was asked about his future Monday at Halas Hall.
“I think every day I’ve been here, each day I think, all of us come to work, [and] we’re going to do the best job that we possibly can,” Smith said. “All of our futures are tied. It’s all based on wins and losses, and I’m OK with that.”
Under Smith, wins and losses are largely based on takeaways. It’s why Smith refers to turnover ratio in most, if not all, of his opening statements. And it’s why players often recite Smith’s mantra — even after losses such as the 21-14 defeat against the Minnesota Vikings.
As cornerback Kelvin Hayden put it: “As a defense, every time we step on the field, we are trying to force a turnover.”
Since Smith took over in 2004, the Bears are 49-10 with a positive turnover margin. This season, the Bears had a whopping plus-16 turnover ratio in their first eight games and went 7-1. In their last five games, the Bears are minus-3 and have gone 1-4.
Where have the takeaways gone?
“I don’t think it’s as simple as, ‘Why this?’ ’’ Smith said. “It doesn’t work like that. We’re continuing to play hard, but sometimes they don’t come. You go through spells where they just don’t happen. You keep playing, and eventually they’ll come.”
The problem is, the Bears need them desperately because they haven’t proved they’re capable of winning without them. They’re guilty of relying too much on an unreliable aspect. The decrease in takeaways has exposed several weaknesses:
† Opponents are able to run the ball against them. Before the 1-4 slide, the Bears were ranked sixth in rushing defense, but they’ve gradually declined. Opponents have surpassed 100 yards the last five games, outgaining the Bears 709 to 563 on the ground.
† The offense struggles to put up points on its own. There’s a reason why the Bears rank near the bottom in total offense but have scored a decent amount of points. Jay Cutler and the offense have benefitted from numerous takeaways.
The Bears have scored 109 points off turnovers. But in the last five games, the Bears have scored only 24 off takeaways — just 10 in their last four losses. After eight games, the Bears were averaging 29.5 points. In their last five, they’re averaging 14.4.
† The Bears don’t play catch-up well. The Bears are 0-3 (Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Vikings) when trailing after the first quarter. It alters their game plans. Bears running backs totaled 36 carries in the first meeting with the Vikings, but on Sunday, they had only 15.
“Of course, our plan is always to run the ball more,” Smith said. “But I think you have to do what . . . you feel like you need to do to get points on the board, and [passing is] the direction we felt like we needed to go.”
There are ample reasons for the lack of takeaways, from injuries to opponents being more mindful of ball security to better play-calling to better offensive lines. But if they don’t come back, last season’s terrible ending might repeat itself.
“We haven’t gotten enough takeaways lately,” Smith said. “That trend has to change.”