Bears' defense good, but they're still not satisfied
The Bears' defense will spend a good portion of its bye week resting, but not resting on its laurels.
While the group has played fairly well so far - tied for 11th in points allowed, 14th in yards allowed and fifth in sacks - no one is satisfied.
"It's still early," said defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who is second in the NFC with 41/2 sacks. "We've got a lot to improve on. We can't get too excited about the way we've played because we've still got 12 games to go. Three-and-1 doesn't do anything for you."
The 3-1 Bears trail the first-place, 4-0 Minnesota Vikings by a game in the NFC North. Asked for his early evaluation, Smith said he has been pleased with some aspects of the defense's play, but disappointed in other areas.
"I think we've played at a 3-1 pace," Smith said. "I'm not trying to run around the question, but that's saying that we're not where we need to be, especially with takeaways.
"I'm disappointed with the takeaways but pleased at how hard they've played, how they've finished games. We're going to be a good football team, (and) we're a good defense, but we can take another step, and that's what we'll do this second quarter (of the season)."
Smith has stressed the importance of defensive takeaways since he came to Chicago, but the Bears have just 6 so far, which is tied for 14th in the NFL and leaves them dead even in the turnover-takeaway department.
Even in last season's non-playoff campaign, the Bears were plus-5.
Still, there are some bright spots. The defense has survived, so far, the loss of six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and less serious injuries to linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) that temporarily knocked them out of the starting lineup.
"I'm pleased with how the linebackers have stepped up," Smith said. "I mean, how many teams can go to their third middle linebacker (Nick Roach) and keep things running smoothly.
"Nick Roach has played well, I'm proud of Jamar Williams, Hunter Hillenmeyer, all of the guys that have had to step up."
Urlacher initially was replaced by Hillenmeyer until he was hurt in Week 3, which forced Roach into the middle.
Roach first filled in for Tinoisamoa at strong-side linebacker, starting on the first series of the first game. When he slid over to the middle, Williams moved in on the strong side.
"A lot of young guys have come in like Nick Roach and Jamar Williams," Ogunleye said. "And you're seeing (defensive end) Mark Anderson playing (much) better. "These young guys are coming in and doing a really good job."
That should make the defense even stronger when it gets back close to full strength. Even though this year's bye is early, it should allow Tinoisamoa and Hillenmeyer to return at full speed for the game at Atlanta on Oct. 18. So it comes at an advantageous time.
"A lot of things didn't happen the way we wanted them to happen with all the injuries," defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. "(The bye) is perfect for us right now to get everybody back.
"The games have been ugly. We're winning ugly, but it's a win. When you look at a 'W,' you don't see next to it, 'Well, these guys had 300 yards in the first half.' It's a 'W,' or it's an 'L.'
"We have 3 'W's' right now, and we plan on building on that and constantly helping this organization get better and get to the Super Bowl."