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Defense focused on creating takeaways

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Amid a three-game losing streak, little criticism has gone toward the Bears' defense.

Over the past three games, the defense has held its ground, keeping losses to the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans close. However, there is one area in which defensive players feel they are falling short: creating turnovers.

"We're talking about it ad nauseam," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "Over and over. They do it in individual [drills in practice]. Trying to punch the ball out, intercept the ball."

After forcing three turnovers against the Carolina Panthers in the Bears' most recent win, the defense has only managed one takeaway over the three-game skid. Since Eddie Jackson returned a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Rams, the team has gone eight quarters without forcing a turnover.

"We haven't been able to get those turnovers in a time of need," said safety Tashaun Gipson Sr., "and for us, we pride ourselves on that. It's something where we know we have to get better. It's one of those things where you control what you can control."

Gipson, the only player on the team with multiple interceptions, has built his career around an ability to force turnovers. Gipson has recorded 25 career interceptions, including six during his 2014 Pro Bowl season.

"I've been on some not-so-good defenses where we mysteriously had takeaways," said Gipson. "A lot of takeaways. I've been on some really good defenses that had a lot of takeaways. And I've been on some good defenses with not many takeaways. There's no rhyme or reason. The way the turnover game work, man, it's just a weird thing."

Gipson pointed out that the lack of turnovers does not reflect the talent or past performance of the players on the roster. Several starters remain from the 2018 defense, which led the NFL with 36 takeaways.

However, despite the unit's relative continuity, takeaways have been in short supply the past two seasons. Last season, the Bears finished 22nd in the league with 19. This year, they rank 20th with nine.

"It's just about being opportunistic and right place, right time," said Gipson. "It's not that we don't have the players on defense, man. Obviously we have guys on every single level who is top tier at their positions and perennial Pro Bowlers and All-Pro. So it's not a lack of talent. I think we'd all agree with that."

Jackson, who recorded 10 interceptions during his first three seasons in Chicago, has forced two fumbles this year, returning one for a touchdown. He has also had two pick-sixes called back due to penalties, but has yet to have an interception count in 2020.

Last week against the Titans, Jackson admitted that he got too aggressive while attempting to knock the ball out of Titans receiver A.J. Brown's hands. Brown was able to keep possession and slipped away from Jackson for a substantial gain.

"You don't ever want to press," said Jackson. "You just want to sit out there, and you want to play your game. Sometimes they just come to you. And sometimes you have to go out there and make it happen."

If the Bears can change their trajectory, it may be due to a turnover renaissance. The team currently ranks sixth in yards allowed per play and ninth in scoring defense. A few key plays in the remaining seven games could help the defense rediscover its elite status of 2018.

"In '18, they were very opportunistic, and that was a great defense," said Gipson, "and they were able to take the ball away. And when those things align, it's hard to beat the Chicago Bears. It's one of those things, the one part of this defense where we have to continue to do a better job."

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