LeGere: Bears' defense, secondary are on the rise

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore (10) is tackled by Chicago Bears defenders as he rushes the ball in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Baltimore.

    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore (10) is tackled by Chicago Bears defenders as he rushes the ball in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Baltimore. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/21/2017 6:08 PM

After a modest start, the Chicago Bears' defense is becoming a force.

Even more surprising, the Bears' long-maligned secondary is playing a primary role.

 

In last week's overtime victory over the Ravens, the Bears held Joe Flacco to a 48.8 passer rating and intercepted him twice. The picks by safety Adrian Amos and nickel corner Bryce Callahan were the Bears' first of the year. They had just 8 interceptions in each of the last two seasons.

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who's in his third season with the Bears, said he sees the secondary as the most noticeable area of improvement on the defense.

"Those guys been playing their butts off all year, and our front seven been playing great, too," McPhee said. "It's just our chemistry, us bonding together as one and laughing, joking and whatever bad plays we have, we try to make it good by watching it together and going over it."

The Bears' defense has put up some impressive numbers. After holding each of its past four opponents to 300 yards or less, coordinator Vic Fangio's group is No. 6 in total yards allowed and No. 8 in passing yards and first downs allowed. They're also 12th in sacks after taking Flacco down three times.

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But it's the 3 turnovers last week -- linebacker Danny Trevathan recovered a fumble that Christian Jones forced -- that make the difference between good and great when you're talking defense.

"You have to force turnovers to be a great defense," McPhee said. "You have to score defensive touchdowns to be a great defense, which we did both Sunday."

Amos weaved 90 yards through the Ravens for a touchdown, making the first interception of his three-year career extra special. Callahan went 52 yards with the first interception of his three-year career, setting up the touchdown that gave the Bears a 10-0 lead.

"Those were big yards," Fangio said. "The return yards off takeaways are the truly hidden yards in football. Those 142 yards were instrumental in that game, and we had a lot of guys doing some good blocking after we got the interceptions, and we had guys doing some good running (with the ball), so those were direly needed in a game that went into overtime."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Improving the secondary was a priority in the off-season, when free-agent cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara were added. At safety, Quintin Demps came aboard in free agency, and Eddie Jackson was drafted in the fourth round.

"We addressed an area where we had not really addressed," coach John Fox said. "We had one of our few first round picks get healthy (Kyle Fuller). It helps to have those types of players. That's No. 1."

Demps is on injured reserve with a broken arm, which paved the way for the return of Amos. Cooper hasn't played on defense the past two weeks because of a back injury, but is close to 100 percent. The play of Amukamara and Fuller has mitigated Cooper's absence and demonstrated the improved depth that allows this year's defense to better overcome injuries that in the past have been devastating.

Fuller's performance has been the most encouraging and possibly the least expected after he missed all of the 2016 season following arthroscopic knee surgery in the preseason. Fuller already has 7 pass breakups, 1 more than the next two Bears combined.

"No. 1, first and foremost, he's healthy, so he's able to prepare and practice and do the things necessary to perform well on game day," Fox said. "He's put a lot into it, and I think you saw the paybacks for that last weekend."

Amukamara's ankle injury kept him out the first two weeks and ushered in Fuller, who has played well enough to remain in the starting lineup.

"I see them getting better," Fangio said of the defensive backs. "I see Eddie Jackson getting better and better. I've been telling you guys for weeks I like where Kyle Fuller is right now, and that's happening more and more. We've got Prince back, (and) he's playing good.

"Coop should be back this week. He was dressed last week, but he still wasn't 100 percent. Adrian got off the schneid there (with his interception), just in the nick of time. Hopefully that springboards him to playing even better, but we'll see. It's a week-to-week operation here."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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