All season long, Bears coach Marc Trestman has discussed the importance of winning the turnover battle. He has preached that not only does the Chicago offense have to protect the ball when it has possession, but the defense has to create takeaways when it is on the field. As simple as it sounds, the recipe for success has been difficult to follow.
On Sunday versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears followed Trestman's plan to perfection. Chicago won the turnover battle 4-1 and was able to turn the game-changing defensive plays into offensive points, eventually winning 21-13. Two of Chicago's three touchdowns came directly after its defense forced a takeaway.
Appearing Monday evening on WBBM-AM 780's "Chicago Bears Coaches Show," Bears general manager Phil Emery talked about the team's performance, highlighting the strong job the defense did to follow through on Trestman's wishes to win the turnover battle. "For our defense to improve, we have to play faster, we have to consistently be more physical and we have to be smart about what we are doing," Emery said. "What we did on Sunday was execute at a higher level."
Speaking publically for the first time since Oct. 27, when he and Trestman gave their bye week 'State of the Bears Address,' Emery discussed several topics, but focused especially on the resiliency of the players and coaches inside the locker room. Earlier in the season, Chicago lost three consecutive games, including two in a row where the opponent scored more than 50 points. Since then, the Bears have won consecutive games, both of which came in comeback fashion after trailing by double-digits.
Emery said the wins against Minnesota and Tampa Bay have proven to him the great leadership this Bears team has. Despite the many criticisms the team faced following the three-game skid, the Bears did not throw in the towel. Instead, they got back to work and went about correcting the issues that plagued them earlier in the year, a sign of the backbone the entire roster and coaching staff possess.
"I'm going to state the obvious: We went through a three-week period that was extremely disappointing. It was brutal for our fans, for us, for everyone in this building," Emery said. "What I've learned is, we really have a mentally tough group. You can't understate that. There's a lot of things we need to get better at, that's obvious. But there is a belief in one another in this building. Players do trust one another. There is true leadership among them. Not only the individual players, but leadership as a group. And true leadership and teaching skills from our staff, to be able to bounce back from where we were at.
"To be down in the last two games and step up to win the games, I really feel good about the mental toughness of our group, that they do have trust in one another."
One player in particular who jumped out to the general manager is defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Through his first three professional seasons, Paea has battled injuries and inconsistent play. This season, however, he has started all 11 games and been one of the Bears top defensive players.
Versus Tampa Bay, Paea had a pair of sacks, giving him six on the season. That is the same number of sacks Paea had in his first three seasons combined.
"Nobody has ever questioned Stephen's talent," Emery said of the 300-pound lineman. "There's a lot of power there and he's playing to his strengths. The thing that he's learning, and where he's getting better every week, is playing with leverage. Because he's a shorter guy, and he's learning to use that to his advantage."
Now the Bears prepare for the final stretch of the season, with five regular season games remaining, starting with Thursday's game at Detroit. With a 5-6 record, Emery is well aware of the mountain his team must climb to return to the playoff chase. But the toughness and character it has shown in all three phases of the game in recent weeks has Emery optimistic that his group has what it takes to be a factor.
"We've suffered through some hard times," Emery said. "But we do believe we have the talent and abilities to get it done."