On the first defensive snap of Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Eddie Jackson punched the ball loose from running back Todd Gurley.
It was the exact type of play that the Bears have lacked over the past six weeks, a fact for which Jackson has publicly chided himself.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, speaking to Jeff Joniak on the Bears Coaches Show on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM and 105.9 FM Monday night, praised Jackson’s resilience this season.
“It’s been kind of a drought with the turnovers,” said Pagano, “especially with 39. He’s been frustrated. We’ve all been frustrated. The great thing about Eddie and the rest of his teammates is that they continue to come to work every single day. They had a great week of preparation.”
Every week, the defense convenes for “Turnover Thursday” to watch clips, curated by the players, of each recent interception and fumble committed by the upcoming opponent. This past week, the team paid close attention to Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who has accounted for 43 turnovers since the start of last season.
The attention paid off when linebacker Roquan Smith intercepted a Goff pass in the first quarter.
“They ran a bootleg,” said Pagano. “[Smith] found the crosser and stayed with it and got turned around. That thing came in hot. What a job he did of collecting that ball and holding onto that ball.”
Pagano was impressed by Smith’s ability to keep his focus on the ball, even as cornerback Kyle Fuller, who leads the Bears in interceptions with three, collided with the linebacker attempting to make a play on the ball.
Stepping into a leading role in the absence of injured fellow linebacker Danny Trevathan, Smith had a productive game, adding 11 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a pass defended in addition to the interception.
“There were a ton of stats of the stat-sheet when the game was over,” said Pagano. “He played fast. He was physical. He was decisive.”
Smith’s energetic play helped stymie the Rams offense for much of the game, holding the Rams offense to three-and-outs on four of the first five possessions of the second half.
“Their game plan was to run it,” said Pagano, “move the quarterback around, take some shots down the field but keep it third-and-manageable. We had some third-and-ones, third-and-twos, third-and-threes, and the guys did a great job of getting stops in those critical situations.”
Pagano acknowledges that there is still work to be done. Linebacker Khalil Mack was able to apply pressure at times but did not record a single tackle. The Rams, like Bears opponents before them, have been designing game plans to limit the impact of the All-Pro linebacker.
“That’s kind of the blueprint that everyone’s following,” said Pagano. “It’s week to week. When we go in, we’ve got to face a great back coming up on Sunday, so we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that [Saquon] Barkley doesn’t beat us, and every one of our opponents is going to make sure that Khalil Mack doesn’t wreck the game.”
Pagano said that the defense would not take solace from a strong performance in a loss. They were back at work Monday to look at ways to make a more significant impact on the game.
“We always talk about ‘disappointed but never discouraged,’” said Pagano. “The great thing is we got to come in today, and we get to go back to work. We have another opportunity. These guys are special.”