Bears Defense Thinks They're Due for Turnovers

Turnovers seem more random than planned but the Bears defense is planning to be ready when the opportunities come this year after two straight years in the bottom half of the league at takeaways.
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Over his three previous seasons, Bears coach Matt Nagy usually talks defense about like former defensive coordinators Chuck Pagano and Vic Fangio talked  offense.

Nagy talked about beating defenses, and occasionally delved into how he liked Khalil Mack pressuring offenses or Eddie Jackson's coverage, but not much too deep in defensive philosophy or goals. After all, he's an offensive guy.

Nagy has a defensive objective this season. It might have eventual offensive ramifications, but it's something to aim at on the defensive side.

"A ton of takeaways and turnovers," Nagy said. "A ton of them. Everywhere you look, I want that ball coming out. I want fumbles, interceptions, tipped passes."

They would like it to become like during the 2018 defense, with so many turnovers forced that it becomes almost contagious. That defense took it away 36 times in Fangio's final year as coordinator. They had 27 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries to lead the NFL.

"I mean like, when they go to bed at night, just think about intercepting the football, you know?" Nagy said. "Stripping that football, be like, crazy about it. Everywhere you go.

"We have to get takeaways this year, and I think we got a lot of guys that are ready for it."

Being ready for it and accomplishing it are two different things. Turnovers seem to be a more random statistic than others.

No team has repeated as league leader in forcing turnovers since the Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" era teams from 1972-74. In fact, no team which led in forcing turnovers has finished in the top five at takeaways the following year in the last 15 seasons.

In Vic Fangio's final year, the Bears took the ball away 36 times. They had 27 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries in 2018.

But they tied for 22nd by causing 19 in 2019 and then were 25th in 2020 with 18.

"I feel like we didn't turn the ball over as much and I feel that that's what the game's about, being able to take the ball away and create turnovers and get the ball back to the offense," said cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who is still looking for his first career interception.

To be more ready for the opportunities when they arise, the Bears plan to pay more attention to the possibility turnovers could happen.

In Lovie Smith's coaching era, they usually ranked somewhere near the top of the league at this but it was easier when Charles Tillman was using his "Peanut Punch," to knock loose the ball and the cover-2 zone was able to produce interceptions. They also picked up the ball and returned it on every incomplete pass during practice.

"I know Sean, coach Desai, is really excited to do some emphasis drills with that," Nagy said. "We went through that a few years ago, and you can see what that can do. That can really help out.

"But we as coaches, we've got to talk about it. You can't just go out and expect it to happen. So that's what I know Sean has a plan for."

Still, the Bears talked about it a lot in 2019 and 2020 when Pagano was defensive coordinator and it didn't happen. While Fangio's defense produced a league-high 36 in 2018, two seasons earlier during John Fox's second year as head coach they caused 11 turnovers. That was the lowest total in the league. Two years earlier in Fangio's first year as defensive coordinator, they took it away 17 times which was 28th in the league. So it's been feast or famine.

Linebacker Roquan Smith said it's more a matter of being prepared rather than thinking they can force the issue.

"We just gotta come out each and every day and push ourselves to our limits and even after we get to our limits, go even more," Smith said. "I feel like if we do that everything else will take care of itself and turnovers, they come in bunches and once they start coming, they'll just continue to come."

Top NFL Teams Turnovers Forced

1972 Pittsburgh 48

1973 Pittsburgh 55

1974 Pittsburgh 47

1975 Buffalo 45

1976 New England 50

1977 Houston 54

1978 Miami 53

1979 Houston 50

1980 Oakland 52

1981 Green Bay 54

1982 L.A. Raiders 29

1983 Washington 61

1984 Seattle 63

1985 BEARS 54

1986 San Francisco, Kansas City 49

1987 Philadelphia, New Orleans 48

1988 Minnesota 53

1989 Philadelphia 56

1990 BEARS, Kansas City 45

1991 Philadelphia, New Orleans 48

1992 Pittsburgh 43

1993 Buffalo 47

1994 New England 40

1995 Arizona 42

1996 Cincinnati 44

1997 N.Y. Giants 44

1998 Atlanta 44

1999 Philadelphia 46

2000 Baltimore 49

2001 Cleveland 42

2002 Green Bay 45

2003 St. Louis 46

2004 Buffalo 39

2005 Cincinnati 44

2006 BEARS 44

2007 San Diego 48

2008 Baltimore 34

2009 Green Bay 40

2010 N.Y. Giants 39

2011 Green Bay, San Francisco 38

2012 BEARS  44

2013 Seattle 39

2014 Houston 34

2015 Carolina 39

2016 Kansas City 33

2017 Baltimore 34

2018 BEARS 36

2019 Pittsburgh 38

2020 Miami 29

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