Even with injuries to key players and increased pressure due to an idling offense, the Bears still enter Week 11 having given up the fourth-fewest points in the NFL.
As usual, opponents have been double- and triple-teaming star outside linebacker Khalil Mack, which creates opportunities for Mack’s teammates to make plays. Some have taken advantage of that, but others have not.
"I think that falls on myself," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, "and I've got to do a better job of putting those guys in position to take advantage of those matchups."
Last week, facing an inexperienced backup in the Lions’ Jeff Driskel, the All-Pro Mack found several creative blocking schemes thrown in his direction.
"Coach Ted (Monachino) talked about it a couple days ago: it was everybody and anybody who blocked him this last game," said Pagano. "He might have mentioned it was only the quarterback who didn't. I said probably him and coach [Matt] Patricia, and he probably would have, but he had a boot on, so he couldn't get out there to block him."
Since Oakland’s strategy in a Week 5 win over the Bears was built around quick passes and the quarterback rolling out away from Mack, other teams have emulated the Mack-avoidance approach to notable effect. Since his dominating performance against the Vikings in Week 4, Mack has only registered one sack.
"He's garnering a lot of attention," said Pagano, "and you talk about blueprints, I think everybody is watching the tape and saying, OK. It's like us. We have to do everything we can to make sure (Aaron Donald) on their defense doesn't wreck the game. So everybody is doing that, and you're exactly right. Other guys are going to have opportunities."
One player who might benefit, in theory, is linebacker Leonard Floyd. However, opposing offenses have been just as successful in accounting for Floyd. According to Pagano, Floyd sees his fair share of focus in blocking schemes, and it's incumbent on the interior linemen to take advantage.
"If you're in a simple four-man rush," said Pagano, "and (Mack) is over here and (Floyd) is over here, and they've got a tight end hanging on this side, and they've got a back on this side, you can chip him with a tackle and a tight end over here, and chip (Floyd) over there, and someone inside may get the single and have to win that situation."
One player who seems to have answered the call is defensive tackle Nick Williams, who leads the team with six sacks.
Under center a possibility: With the Bears finding intermittent success against the Lions on offense, particularly in the passing game, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is weighing the different looks and styles that could play to the strengths of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, while helping him to improve his technique.
"It just comes down to feet and eyes," said Helfrich. "You know, we've talked about it a thousand times of just the footwork, and the timing of the quarterback solves every problem. It takes you to your rhythm of decision making. It's going to lead to better ball placement."
One notable possibility, especially in light of a few off-target snaps out of shotgun on Sunday, is putting Trubisky under center more often.
"It's a different set of plays, footwork, timing, just the types of plays are slightly different," said Helfrich. "We're pretty versatile in terms of what we're able to do from the gun, but traditionally, those are your biggest differences."
Coach Matt Nagy said that he was open to going under center more and that the more traditional offense can help quarterbacks calm their feet in the pocket. There are a few tradeoffs, though.
"If you're in a gun, you're taking less steps because you're in the gun versus under center," said Nagy, "but then some of the negatives to that, too, is because you can't see as much because you are under center, so sometimes on play-actions you're turning your back to the defense. So there's a comfortability with that. I think there's positives to both."
Breaking down missed extra-point: Kicker Eddy Piñeiro missed an extra-point for the first time this season against the Lions. The first-year kicker had made his first 15 attempts.
Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said that wind was not an issue.
"He actually hit a straight ball," said Tabor. "I just thought his line wasn't good on that one. Came back next and obviously put it right down the middle, so that was just an adjustment. Same type of ball, rotation, straight as can be. Obviously, he wants that one back, and we expect him to make those."
Piñeiro has been reasonably accurate this season, ranking 16th in the NFL in field-goal percentage, though questions remain about how the Florida native will adjust to kicking in Chicago winter conditions. Tabor is confident that Piñeiro's work ethic will see him through.
"I think his process has been real good," said Tabor. "It's a day-to-day process, and that's why I feel confident in answering it like that. Obviously we don't want to miss any, that's our goal. I know that there's going to be some. But with regards to coming back, finding his line, and it's a matter of hitting your line. I think we can keep improving there, and that's what we'll work on today."