Through seven games of the 2014 season, the play of the Chicago Bears defense is as difficult to forecast as the city's weather.
Are they the unit that limited Atlanta to only one run of longer than 10 yards in Week 6 and had four takeaways versus San Francisco in Week 2? Or are they the group that never forced Green Bay to punt in Week 4 and allowed Miami to rack up 393 net yards in Sunday's 27-14 loss at Solider Field?
Even the players aren't sure of the answer.
"The most disappointing part about it is that we have no identity," cornerback Tim Jennings said from the team's locker room following the defeat. "We still don't know who we are. We win on the road, we lose at home. And that's the most frustrating thing about it, we have no identity just yet."
Versus Miami, the defense had issues in multiple areas. In the passing game, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill worked the middle of the field well and constantly found open receivers with room to run. He completed his first 14 passes of the afternoon and finished with 277 passing yards and two touchdowns, giving him a career-high passer rating of 123.6.
Tannehill also did damage on the ground. Predominantly using zone-read plays that caught Bears defenders out of position, the quarterback was part of a rushing attack that gained 137 yards, which included a 30-yard scamper by Tannehill himself on a key 4th-and-1 at the end of the third quarter. Starting running back Lamar Miller led the way for the Dolphins, running for 61 yards and scoring a touchdown.
The poor play versus the run was disappointing for the Bears, especially given that the team was coming off its best performance of the season in that department. Against the Falcons last week, Chicago allowed just 42 rushing yards, good for just 3.2 yards per carry. Miami averaged 4.2 yards per rush on Sunday.
"We just have to do a better job executing on a few player here and there. We have to get that rushing total down, it has to come down," safety Ryan Mundy said. "Particularly playing against the zoned-read, you have to make sure that everyone is in their gap and fitting up the run correctly, as we've seen throughout previous games this year. So I don't know exactly what happened on those plays – I'll have a better answer after we watch the tape – but we need to do a better job executing overall."
Versus the Dolphins, the Bears were playing without a pair of key defenders, as linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were held out because of injuries. In the third quarter against Miami, the team suffered another setback when rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller left the game with a hip injury.
The absences from the lineup were no excuse, however, for a unit that allowed the Dolphins to hold the ball for more than 37 minutes in the game, the most time of possession for a Bears opponent in a regulation game since Sept. 25, 2011.
A sliver of positivity for the Bears defense came courtesy of Jeremiah Ratliff. The defensive tackle took down Tannehill on the game's very first play from scrimmage, one of the seven tackles and 3.5 sacks he made on the afternoon. The sack total marked a single-game career high for the 10-year veteran and the most sacks in a game for a Chicago defensive tackle since Jim Osborne had four on September 4, 1983.
After missing three weeks while dealing with the effects from a concussion, and being held without a tackle versus Atlanta, Ratliff made his presence felt versus Miami. But while teammate Jared Allen called him a "beast," Ratliff himself was more focused on looking to solve the up-and-down nature of the Bears defense.
"My hat's off to Miami, they played a great game. They ran the ball well, which is bad for us. And they did what they were supposed to do," Ratliff said. "But we have to be consistent, as a unit. We can't be flash players, we have to be consistent.
"We lost the game and we just have to get ready for next week; come back strong and be consistent from that point on. That's what we need to do."