Through three games, the Bears defense has created five takeaways: three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. In last Sunday's game against the Texans, safety Eddie Jackson recorded his second pick of the season while linebacker Roquan Smith had the game-changing interception in the final minutes.
While coach Matt Eberflus is excited about the apparent payoff of establishing the "HITS" principle this offseason – the acronym standing for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart – there's still room for improvement.
"Obviously establishing our HITS principle, I think that's been going well," Eberflus said. "It's not where it needs to be by any stretch of the imagination. We've been hustling. Our intensity has been good. I think you can see that. That's visible. In terms of taking care of the ball, we need to improve that just a titch, but we're taking the ball away OK right now. Not great, but it's OK."
The Bears are in the top half of the league in total turnovers forced, but against Houston, the defense still left multiple takeaway opportunities on the field.
With 5:31 left in the first quarter, Jackson forced a fumble by punching the ball out of running back Dameon Pierce's hands. But in a swarm of players, the Texans were able to recover the ball, saving a drive that they later scored a touchdown on. Eberflus refers to that type of fumble as a "city fumble."
"We have what we call a city fumble and a country fumble," Eberflus said. "A city fumble, picture yourself in downtown Chicago. It's all crowded in there. There's a way to dive on that. Then a country fumble is wide open spaces. That's when you bend your ankles, knees and hips and scoop and score and then go up the numbers. We always have a wall return up the numbers. There's a lot that goes into it."
The Bears forced another fumble just a couple minutes later following quarterback Justin Fields' first interception, which was a deep ball up the middle intended for tight end Cole Kmet. After Texans safety Jalen Pitre picked off the overthrown ball, Kmet stripped it from his hands, but Houston was able to recover the ball once again.
In the fourth quarter with Houston backed up against its 9-yard line, the Bears forced Pierce to fumble again as defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad punched the ball out. On another "city fumble," the Bears were unable to recover it.
"To me that's about one of our principles: that's about hustling," Eberflus said. "We have to be there to get the fumble recovery. So, you could see there's a little bit of slack in the hustle there on all sides of the ball. When we cause those, we need to be sure there's instantaneous reactions getting to the football and making sure we take all the slack out."
Injury Report: The Bears listed seven players on the injury report Wednesday. Running back David Montgomery (ankle), cornerback Jaylon Johnson (quad), linebacker Matt Adams (hamstring) and safety Dane Cruikshank (hamstring) all did not practice.
Players that were limited in practice were Smith (quad), receiver Velus Jones Jr. (hamstring) and tight end Ryan Griffin (Achilles).
Johnson, Jones, Adams, Griffin and Cruikshank all missed last Sunday's game. Montgomery, who left the game in the first quarter, is still day-to-day, according to Eberflus.
Eberflus told reporters Wednesday, "hopefully Velus can be up for this game. We'll see where that goes in terms of the injury that he's had. Hopefully, that can happen this week."
While the Bears are down another receiver after placing Byron Pringle on injured reserve Tuesday, N'Keal Harry is eligible to come off IR Monday. Harry has been sidelined since Aug. 6 after injuring his ankle during training camp.
Increasing defensive pressure: Last Wednesday Eberflus discussed his philosophy about blitzing, stating: "I've never been a big pressure guy. Sometimes it's been high in certain games, but overall, it's only been around 25 percent, right in there I want to say."
Eberflus is committed to the four-man rush and still feels comfortable with the defensive line enforcing most of the pressure, but he's still looking for more from the unit. Through three weeks, the Bears have tallied just six sacks. Defensive end Trevis Gipson leads the way with 2.0 sacks.
"We need more," Eberflus said. "We need more, and again, it can come from all levels. We need it to come from pressure players, safeties, linebackers, nickels, and front. So, it's gotta come from everybody. Certainly, we want our four-man rush to get going there and we will get that going, but certainly we need to have some from other spots as well."