Take-aways key for Bears’ maligned defense

Imagine how much flak the Bears’ leaky defense would be taking if it hadn’t contributed 4 touchdowns this season on interception and fumble returns.

The 3 pick-6s, 2 by Tim Jennings and 1 by Major Wright, plus the 42-yard fumble return for a TD by Julius Peppers, help offset the defense’s other lackluster rankings. The Bears are last in average gain allowed per pass play, 31st in sack percentage, 27th in third-down efficiency, 26th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed.

But that same group has taken the ball away 17 times, and only the Kansas City Chiefs (18) have done it more.

“The most empowering thing is turnovers,” coach Marc Trestman said. “If you play smart and create turnovers and take care of the ball, that’s the No. 1 factor in final scores.

“It’s not time of possession (the Bears average 29:48, middle of the pack). It’s not yards gained. It’s turnovers. Turnovers are the most relevant stat, and up to this point we’ve been very good at it, which has enabled us to be in every game essentially and have opportunities to win in the fourth quarter.”

The Bears’ ability to take the ball away increases significantly this week with the return of cornerback Charles Tillman, who missed last week with a knee injury but is back at practice and expected to play.

Since 2002, a year before he entered the league, Tillman has forced 41 fumbles, second only to the San Diego Chargers’ Dwight Freeney, who has 44. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers is fourth with 38.

Tackle Stephen Paea also is expected back after missing two games with a toe injury, and he will provide an upgrade inside.

But the Bears also will be incorporating rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic into the starting lineup after the season-ending chest injury to D.J. Williams.

Fortunately for Bostic, veteran linebackers Lance Briggs and James Anderson provide a safety net and a sounding board. Briggs moved into the Bears’ starting lineup in the fourth game of his rookie season, so he can relate to Bostic’s situation.

“Jon is further along than I was as a rookie,” Briggs said. “He understands all our concepts. He’s going to have to get game experience (and) there are things that he’s still learning how to trust.

“When I was young, Brian (Urlacher) might give me a tip-off, (but) I might be a step late because I didn’t really trust what he was saying. But what he said was right. (Bostic) just has to know that if it’s a tip-off, they’re probably going to run it.”

Washington is especially dangerous running the ball behind powerful Alfred Morris. The Redskins are 10th in rushing yards and second in average gain per rush. They’re even more dangerous with second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III flashing his 6.8-yards-a-carry rookie form after a slow start following January knee surgery.

Briggs refutes any suggestion that RG III is a step slower, noting the QB’s 77 rushing yards Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

“Did you watch the last game?” Briggs said. “The second half, that burst was there; that burst looked pretty good. Don’t be deceived at all. He’s playing better and better each week. Watching him in that second half against Dallas, I saw him pull away from some guys running the ball, so he’s ready.”

The Bears should be ready as well. They’re 12th in rushing yards and ninth in average gain per rush allowed. In four of six games they’ve permitted less than 3.9 yards per run; the league average is 4.1.

“In a lot of the games this year we have stopped the run,” Briggs said. “It’s one of the things that we have done decently.”

ŸFollow Bob’s NFL and Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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