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4 positives from Bears' first three games

Bears running back Khalil Herbert
Bears running back Khalil Herbert

It's a small sample size, but with the calendar flipping to October this weekend, here are the Bears' four biggest positives from their first three games:

(1) The running game has been ultra-productive.

The Bears enter Week 4 ranked second in the NFL in rushing, averaging a robust 186.7 yards per game. Their 560 yards on the ground in their first three games are their most since 1989 when they had 595.

The rushing attack fueled the Bears to a 23-20 win over the Texans last Sunday at Soldier Field. Despite the loss of starting running back David Montgomery in the first quarter due to an ankle injury, the Bears rushed for 281 yards, their most since Sept. 30, 1984, when they compiled 283 yards against the Cowboys.

After replacing Montgomery, Khalil Herbert ran for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. The second-year pro credited the offensive line for opening gaping holes. On Thursday, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy also lauded the line.

"From the very beginning, when we walked in in training camp, we made it the focus of who we wanted to be and the way we wanted to play the game—and they have taken that by the reins, for sure," Getsy said.

"Our play style reflects that, the way they are firing off the football, the way they are finishing. That was the No. 1 thing we said we were going to do. We wanted our tape to look a certain way and those guys have definitely accepted that challenge and done a really nice job."

While pleased with the offensive line and running backs, Getsy stressed that others have also contributed to the successful ground game

"It's not just them," he said. "Our receivers, we're asking a lot of them to do a lot of dirty work. It's the quarterback; we put a ton on him to get us into the right play. It's not like we just call a play and run it. He handles a lot of things every single play. All that goes into what we've been able to do so far."

(2) The Bears have outworked and outlasted their opponents.

In training camp, multiple Bears players described some of coach Matt Eberflus' demanding practices as the hardest they've ever participated in. The intense, grueling workouts—which are part of the "HITS" principle Eberflus has instilled at Halas Hall—have helped enable players to outwork and outlast their opponents.

The Bears are one of three NFL teams—the Bengals and Broncos are the others—that have not allowed a second-half touchdown this season.

"That's our foundational piece," Eberflus said. "We want to have the mental and physical toughness in the second half. If you're in shape and you have good stamina—both physical and mental stamina—I think you're able to execute a little bit better and finish plays a little bit better. And that's certainly how we practice."

The Bears have only permitted 12 second-half points in three games, all on field goals by the 49ers (1), Packers (1) and Texans (2).

"I hope that it's a byproduct of how we practice," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams, "about mental toughness, about the guys' attitude coming out at halftime. I hope it's a reflection of that, that we preach stamina, mentally and physically."

The second half-performances by the defense have helped the Bears rally to win each of their first two home games. They scored 19 unanswered points in the second half in Week 1 against the 49ers to turn a 10-0 deficit into a 19-10 victory and forced the Texans to settle for a pair of field goals in rallying for a 23-20 win in Week 3.

(3) Eddie Jackson has reverted to his Pro Bowl form.

The playmaking safety made an immediate impact after being selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Alabama. His five defensive touchdowns in 2017-18 tied for the most by a player in his first two NFL seasons. In addition, he was voted first-team All-Pro and named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 after registering a career-high six interceptions and three defensive TDs.

After being held without an interception for two full seasons in 2020-21, he vowed to rebound this year—and has done just that. Jackson has recorded key interceptions in wins over the 49ers and Texans, and the Bears are now 12-0 all-time when he picks off a pass in a game. He further displayed his ball skills by forcing a fumble versus Houston.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Eberflus said. "In terms of hustle, during training camp, he didn't miss a beat. He was there every day. He grinded it out, and that's where I think he's really reaping the benefits of that.

"He's got that foundation of that wind that you need to have to play the right way. The physical shape that he's in right now is very good. He's as lean as he's ever been, and he's in the best shape of his life, and he's really doing a good job with leading our secondary and leading our team."

It's evident that a rejuvenated Jackson is playing with confidence.

"You can tell his swag is different," said rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, "especially his leadership, him just coming in here and making sure everyone is doing everything right and making sure he's doing himself right. Good or bad days, he's always been a leader. Now, he's making plays out there. As long as your leader is consistent, everybody else is going to follow. That's what I've seen this year."

The Bears hit the Halas Hall practice fields Wednesday afternoon as they continue preparing for Sunday's road game against the New York Giants.

(4) Roquan Smith is playing like a beast on defense.

The two-time second-team All-Pro linebacker enjoyed his best game of the season last Sunday against the Texans, registering 16 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a key interception that set up Cairo Santos' game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired. Smith also dropped running back Dameon Pierce for a 3-yard loss on third-and-1 from the 2, forcing Houston to settle for a field goal that tied the score 20-20 late in the third quarter.

"His plays give momentum," Brisker said. "Those big hits get the defense excited, get the crowd jumping. I feel like it's a huge boost when he makes great plays and especially big hits. That gets the defense jacked up."

In their first season in a new defense, Smith and his teammates appear to be feeling more comfortable with the scheme with each passing week.

"I think everyone's getting a little bit better and you're playing faster in terms of knowing what to expect," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "Roquan's always been a good player, so those plays that he's making he's made them before. [He's] just being more comfortable with playing, that's all."