Stopping the Defensive Slide

Bears defense has seen enough regression and has a 2018 style of play in mind as they finish up preparations for Sunday's game with the Los Angeles Rams.
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The Bears defense dropped from best in the league in 2018 to fourth in points allowed and then 14th last year, so players see Sunday night's game as the culmination of a restoration project.

It comes against a Rams offense they were embarrassed by last year, but cornerback Jaylon Johnson sees a different culture surrounding this year's defense under defensive coordinator Sean Desai.

"One-hundred percent," the second-year cornerback said. "I mean, it kind of just started at the top with coach Sean coming in. Now it's something that he's preached to us since Day 1, is that it's going to be our defense and we're going to make it what we want to make it and just as the leaders of the group we kind of really sat down and figured out who we're going to be as a defense and what it's going to take to do it. 

"So we hold each other accountable and to that level and to that standard every day."

It might be a bit dramatic and also says little for the climate under former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, but improvement will be more from within says the more experienced Robert Quinn. 

"I think the culture's always been kind of there," Quinn said. "I think maybe more of the accountability—again, you think of Bears, you always think of defense. 

"It's just more guys holding each other accountable. Jaylon, only in his second year, guys getting older realize how precious this game is and each mistake, whoever makes it, is going to cost themselves or the team. 

"Faces change all the time, and you just want to make sure you're not the one not doing your job. So I guess, again, just goes to that accountability thing. Whatever the coaches call, do your job and make no excuses."

The Bears defense has only six starters remaining from the first 12 of 2018 on the defensive side, and Johnson is among those who've been told what the team was like in a season when they made a strong push to win a division title. 

The way that defense was provides some incentive for this defense, even if this year's group realizes they can't be exactly like that defense was.

"Because clearly that 2018 team and defense was something special and I feel like we're tired of hearing, 'When can we get back to that? When can we get back to that?' "Johnson said. "So I mean, just for us, it's about being who we are and playing tough, sounds, physical football each and every week and that’s how we attack practice, that's how we attack everything we're doing. So just trying to get back to that and kind of take that doubt out of peoples’ minds about what type of defense we are."

When Bears coach Matt Nagy thinks back to that 2018 group, he realizes this defense has players three years older.

"It's not like they're old," Nagy said. "We still have a nucleus of guys. And some young guys, too, that are coming up that are becoming third- and fourth-year players. It's a good mix. "

 Nagy brought up Khalil Mack's attitude as typical of the veterans.

"I go back to Khalil," Nagy said. "Khalil, forget just him as a person, he wants to have the best defense in the NFL. Every year we talk about that. 

"So the mentality that they have is wisdom, and passing that on to these younger guys, that's why I feel the confidence, combining that with what Sean wants to do and how we're going to do it, I think it's a mindset. And that's a mindset we're started in training camp and now we've got to transfer that on game day and do that for the whole season.”

To Nagy, the goal is not so much playing like it's 2018 but 2021 with the same intensity.

"Yeah, we're not going to live in the past, that's been made very clear and not just from me but from Sean as well," Nagy said. "That's what I love about Sean, Sean doesn't care about that. This is going to be Sean Desai's defense and whatever scheme that is and how we do it, the players know that and they've known that from the very first meeting. 

"So is there things we can take away from the mentality we had that I loved in 2018? 100 percent and I think Vic (Fangio) and the rest of our coaching staff that year did a great job of emphasizing that. But we're literally going to try and make our own mark this year and that was the past, and that was a great year but we're ready to see what we can do this year with a lot of similar players."

There are two ways Nagy wants to see from that 2018 style.

"The takeaways, the turnovers, and then also too there was a little bit of swag out there that I think this team had and I love that about these guys," Nagy said. "When you're having fun, you're cutting it loose, you're playing fast, you have success you know that can help out so many ways. And I think when you see the good teams in this league that have that you want that. So that's what I would like to get back."

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