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Bears pass rush aims to produce more pressure

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Through their first four games this year, the Bears led the NFL with 18 sacks and ranked second with eight interceptions, matching their season total in each of the previous three years.

Since returning to action from their Week 5 bye, only one of those two trends has continued. In back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Patriots, the Bears defense has recorded three more interceptions but has mustered only one sack.

All-Pro Khalil Mack has been hobbled by an ankle injury he sustained early in the Miami game, but that's not the only reason the pass rush has dissipated as of late.

"It may affect our overall performance, but it's no reason for a guy over here and a guy over there to have a bad down because [Mack isn't 100 percent]," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "For anybody to use that as a crutch is just looking for a reason.

"Whether he's out there playing at his best or playing at something less than his best because of an injury, it doesn't affect the way the other 10 guys have to do their jobs. Now can the result be better? Yes, for the unit. But it still shouldn't affect the way you do your job, and I just don't buy that that's the reason this guy is not playing as well or that guy is not playing as well."

In last Sunday's 38-31 loss to the Patriots, the Bears frequently dropped Mack and fellow outside linebacker Leonard Floyd back into pass coverage. Fangio told reporters that that strategy had nothing to do with Mack being hampered by his ankle injury.

"We had the plan to mix in some three-man rush … because [Tom Brady] likes to get the ball out quick and try to intermix that in there with everything else that we did," Fangio said. We rushed three, four, five, even six a few times. It was just part of the plan to mix it against a good quarterback."

One reason the Bears weren't able to generate much pressure on Brady was that they rarely put the Patriots in predictable passing situations. On 13 third-down plays, New England needed 1, 2, 4, 7, 5, 2, 2, 1, 3, 2, 2, 1 and 6 yards for a first down.

While the pass rush hasn't yielded as many sacks as earlier in the season, the Bears are still recording interceptions—with cornerback Kyle Fuller accounting for all three of the defense's picks in the last two games. The Bears are tied with the Browns and Dolphins for the NFL lead with 11 interceptions, while Fuller is tied with nine players for tops in the league with three, one shy of his career high set in 2014 when he was a rookie.

Seven other Bears have interceptions this season. Eddie Jackson has two, while Mack, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Lynch, Danny Trevathan, Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis have one apiece. The Bears haven't had eight different players with an interception in a season since 2012.

"We've done a better job," Fangio said. "The guys have caught the ball better in certain situations where it really demanded a good catch. The opportunities we've had, guys have taken advantage of them better, and we've had more opportunities, which reflects positively on the way they're playing. And we've worked hard. The defensive backfield coaches have worked hard trying to improve these guys' ball skills."

As the Bears prepare to host the Jets and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold Sunday, they'll look to continue intercepting passes at a high rate while generating more sacks. To accomplish that, Fangio feels that his players must win more one-on-one battles up front and do a better job of defending quick passes.

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