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Personnel Switches Pay for Bears Defense

The biggest move the Bears made in the win over Detroit was cornerback Kindle Vildor going to the bench in favor of Artie Burns but there were others and they seemed to pay off in at least one game.

The Bears treated their problems in the secondary by changing up personnel at the risk of a young player's confidence.

It worked, though, and now they'll have to hope the move continues showing promise.

Second-year left cornerback Kindle Vildor went to the bench with veteran Artie Burns starting. Although the numbers indicate only a marginal improvement, the end effect was only 14 points allowed by the defense. So it could be a while before Vildor is in a starting role again if ever.

"We just felt like, right now, you know, he had the bad pass interference there at the end of the game two weeks ago against Baltimore, and he would tell you that he could've done better," coach Matt Nagy said. "But a lot of other things, again, it's life in the NFL as a DB."

Vildor not only had a bad pass interference but also was involved in the blown coverage to give Sammy Watkins the key 29-yard catch to the Bears 3, setting up Baltimore's winning points in that game.

Statistically, Burns wasn't a great deal better but what he did do was improve as the game went along.

It's easy to see why Burns might have struggled early, considering those were the first 49 plays on defense he has had since 2019 with Pittsburgh. Burns had suffered a torn ACL in training camp and missed all of 2020.

He allowed three completions when targeted five times, including a touchdown on a double move early. Later, Burns knocked down a throw on a key play over the middle.

Vildor had been giving up a passer rating against of 138.8, according to official NFL stat partner Sportradar. This was even worse than last year when he saw his first action after Jaylon Johnson's shoulder injury, and gave up a passer rating against of 131.2.

Nagy sought to make it clear the Bears have not given up on Vildor just because he went to the bench.

"The biggest thing for us ... as coaches is to let him know the amount of support and belief that we have in him and that he's worked hard to get to this point," Nagy said. "And we all have ups and downs in our career, and there's some things that go against him on a particular play that might look like it's his fault, or he might have a struggle with, that's not.

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"But there's others that there might be more of it, that he can get better at. But, in the end, as long as he knows that we're going to coach him as best as we can, that we support him and believe in him, that's the only thing that matters."

Last week defensive coordinator Sean Desai had a talk with Vildor and the details weren't divulged at the time but apparently it must have been when the 2020 fifth-round pick was told why he would be a backup now.

Nagy suggested this could be a case where Vildor ultimately benefits from watching.

"Then when he gets back out there and does his thing cause he works hard and he practices hard—he's a good kid and he's young—so you learn through these and you understand that sometimes when you're on the sideline you're able to see some things that maybe you weren't able to see before," Nagy said. "So, he'll improve from this."

The real question is whether it improves the Bears pass defense overall.

Burns' rating against when targeted Thursday was very close to Vildor's, at 137.5.

Numbers say they've done a decent job overall but in this case figures are deceiving. They are eighth against the pass but much of this is due to being No. 1 in sacks (37) even with Khalil Mack out injured. It hasn't helped generate turnovers, as only the Raiders and Jets have fewer interceptions than the Bears (5).

Vildor wasn't the only change made on defense personnel-wise, but the others occurred due to injuries. Xavier Crawford handled slot cornerback and Christian Jones played after inside linebacker Roquan Smith left with a hamstring injury. Angelo Blackson fit in on the line for injured Akiem Hicks.

There was also an attitude change, according to safety Eddie Jackson, whose return from  a hamstring no doubt helped keep the back of the defense organized.

"For the defense, I feel like we gave up two touchdowns on some plays, but we were still having fun and that was just the message during the game: 'Y'all having fun?' Nobody seemed like we were having fun. Put a smile on your face. It's not over.

"There was no doubt in our mind that we weren't going to win that game. Bringing a presence like that, the energy, character, flying around, making sure everybody's comfortable being in sync in the back end, trying not to let things happen like the week before against Baltimore happen, finish the game strong."

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