The defense has been the answer for Bears problems in 2012. But while everyone was staring at the offense in the three-quarters debacle against the Carolina Panthers, the defense was a question.
Indeed, blame defense for no small part of the mess that the Bears found themselves in against the Panthers. While the offense couldnt stay on it, the defense couldnt get off it.
Like the offense, the defense turned its game on and around in the fourth quarter. A three-and-out plus Tim Jennings game-changing interception helped save the afternoon.
But the defense held the Carolina offense without a first down on only one of the first nine possessions. For the game, the Panthers had six drives of 45 yards or longer and Carolina sustained drives of eight (twice) 11, 12 and 17 yards, part of why the Panthers after three quarters held a 369-61 advantage in yards and were on the field effectively 30 of the first 45 minutes.
Field goals, schmield goals
The feel-good perspective would be that none of those drives ended in touchdowns. The defense held the Panthers to field goals.
Even when things werent going well, defensively we kept them to field goals and didnt let them get as many touchdowns, said coach Lovie Smith.
When someone drives 80, 74 and 63 yards on you, and drives from their 20 for a late go-ahead field goal, you didnt hold them to anything.
With the game in its hands after Tim Jennings interception, the defense allowed the Panthers to control the ball for 11 plays and move down the field for a go-ahead field goal with a little more than 2 minutes to play, albeit with 15 yards of help on a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Israel Idonije.
The Bears ran just 53 total plays on offense; that was a problem. The Panthers ran 77 plays; that was a bigger problem. Only the Detroit Lions (84, second 2011 game) and New England Patriots 78) had more snaps in regulation over the last two-and-a-half seasons.
As ineffectual as the offense was, that groups failure to stay on the field isnt an excuse for the defense dragging. The 17-play and one of the eights were in the second quarter, and the Panthers wet 80 yards in 12 plays on their first possession of the third quarter, after the defense had halftime and a couple minutes of Bears possession to rest.
If the defense was tired on those drives, the strength and conditioning coach should be fired (he shouldnt).
How they think
The Lovie SmithRod Marinelli scheme is sometimes characterized as bend-dont-break. Not exactly.
The front four plays a one-gap, up-the-field attack approach. It is not a wide-body, two-gap style. Behind them, the mindset is about controlling the game.
Sooner or later somebody is going to make a play, Jennings said. We know its tough to drive the field on us. Were going to give up plays but we want to keep things in front of us and hopefully theyre going to break before we do. Thats our mentality.
The problem on Sunday was that the Panthers werent breaking. Carolina converted seven of its first 12 third downs and had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer; the Bears had three.