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Bears See Need for Roquan Smith, Defense to Get Physical

Back-to-back poor defensive efforts against the run lead to some tough talk at Halas Hall about the defense's play.

Known for his offensive coaching, it's not often Bears coach Matt Nagy dabbles over on the other side of the ball.

When he ventured there Wednesday, it wasn't splendid news for defensive players in general and more specifically for linebacker Roquan Smith.

"He can definitely play better and he knows that," Nagy said of Smith. "That's where we're at right now.

"And he's gonna; I think he will."

Nagy wouldn't venture into the territory of Smith's earlier personal issue again and blame that for poor play. The unknown issue kept him out of the Minnesota game. 

Overall Smith's level of play has been down from his rookie season.

This isn't even the first time Nagy has said something about Smith's play. After the second game in Denver, he mentioned Smith could improve, as well.

Nagy isn't about to leave Smith out on a limb by himself in taking criticism.

"He's doing everything he can," Nagy said. "None of it is because of lack of effort or want or any of that, and none of it is because of the lack of talent.

"We all look at each other, we all want to help each other out. And we feel like we all can coach and play better."

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said if Smith's play has declined, it's not permanent

"It might not look like it right now – he's still wreaking havoc," Trevathan said. "He's just not making plays as much, as often, as he's used to." 

Trevathan blamed this on Smith's position switch from mike linebacker to playing the back side interior in a 3-4, or the jack linebacker position. Last year, Smith played most of his snaps at the mike spot.

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Concern over Smith in general has been expressed en masse via social media this week after he tweeted out a profound quote by journalist Norman Cousins: "The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live."

The quote wasn't explained and followers took it to mean something negative. Smith hasn't been available to speak with the media this week.

Smith has 39 tackles in five games, one for loss, and one pass defensed. He played 69 percent of defensive snaps last week, a low for any game this year by 20 percent.

The defense as an entire group struggled for two straight games after an impressive start, and now they are 10th in the league. They haven't been this low in the defensive ratings since Week 7 last season.

"There hasn’t been that physicality," Nagy said. "They know that. Again, none of it is because of a lack of want. A lot of it just comes down to there are certain plays and certain parts of the game that it's not getting done, and it was before.

"This is no excuse, but we lost Akiem Hicks on the inside, so there's a little bit there. Now, we had our guys step up (for Hicks) against Minnesota, and that's what we're going to continue to need on that front line with the D-line, to not get to second level. When you stop that, then second level is open, and you can make plays. It's a little bit of everything right now. It all gets magnified when you lose, in every area."

Trevathan had to agree about Hicks' absence last week,  and said it did change his game. However, he doesn't think this means it will happen again.

"When you have a guy that affects the game the way he does, you have to change your style of play a little bit," Trevathan said. "You got to know the guys that (are) in front of you. 

"That's why this week is very important. I've got a sense of the guys I'm playing with (now) I know what type of game they bring to it."

Nagy didn't leave his defense to take all the blame for diminished play. He pointed out the lack of help they've had, chiefly from the offense. Last week their own special teams burned them, as well.

"There's a little bit of everything there with the way they're playing, and at the same time, getting help from other sides of the ball," Nagy said.

Twitter@BearsOnMaven