Confident Bears Defense Hungry To Be Better

September 27, 2018 - 3:59 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- There was a look on the face of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio last Sunday that struck star linebacker Khalil Mack.

The Bears were boarding up their bus at State Farm Stadium fresh off a defensive-driven 16-14 victory over the Cardinals and had every reason to enjoy it. Mack passed by Fangio, who gave him a momentary glare before shaking his head. It resonated with Mack, who thought back to the pick-six by Eddie Jackson that was called back by his offsides penalty, the few missed tackles that haunted him and the plays he left on the field.

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Despite a road victory over the Cardinals, both Mack and Fangio were immediately considering what they could've done better. 

"I'm still mad about certain plays that I gave up last week," Mack said. "That's the kind of mindset we have in this locker room. That's the thing that's most special to me."

Added Fangio of Mack: "This guy does not have an ounce of prima donna in his body."

That kind of demeanor is spreading around Halas Hall. The impact of Mack has certainly been felt on the field by the Bears, whose defense ranks first in sacks (14), fifth in yards surrendered (289 per game) and eighth in points allowed (18.3). Mack has contributed with four sacks, a forced fumble in each of his three games and that pick-six in the season opener.

Mack has "elevated everybody else on that defense," coach Matt Nagy said, which is easy to see on the field. But his presence in the locker room, in team meetings and on the practice field is a galvanizing force.

"You can say it's special, but we're still trying to get better every week," Mack said. "There are still things we need to work on defensively. You see the growth.

"But this is a new week, and we're ready for the next challenge."

Under Fangio's watch the last three seasons, the Bears had a defense that gradually improved from one of the league's worst units and into the top 10. Schemes from Fangio were ultimately blended with the arrival of talent, and the Bears developed a defense poised for even more growth. Then came the arrival of Mack on Sept. 1 and the elevation of his teammates.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara joked that his tongue-in-cheek goal of 10 interceptions this season was a little bit more realistic with Mack in the picture. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks grew excited for fewer double teams. A defense that struggled to create game-changing plays is now second in takeaways with eight through three games. 

Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan used the term "top defense ever" in explaining his goal to reporters this week, and why should he strive for anything less? Confidence is flowing for this group.

"It's a combination of preparation and execution," Hicks said. "That gives us a feeling of accomplishment and therefore makes us more confident."

The Bears face a unique challenge this Sunday as the Buccaneers arrive at Soldier Field boasting the league's top offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to start at quarterback, and Jameis Winston will likely be the backup as he's fresh off a three-game suspension. Fitzpatrick just became the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards in three straight games, and Tampa Bay has averaged 34 points and a league-best 473.3 yards per game.

The Buccaneers have their offense rolling as Fitzpatrick continues to author big plays by hooking up with the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. But the Bears are ready for the task at hand. 

In fact, they're looking forward to it.

"We feel confident," cornerback Kyle Fuller said. "We just want to keep rolling, continue to go and get better every day."

There's logic behind the Bears' belief.  It was only last Sunday that Mack became full-go with his reps. Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith is still settling in with this defense, while edge rusher Leonard Floyd is still healing his fractured right hand.

The Bears have seen their defensive line tandem of Hicks and Eddie Goldman thrive early on, established the league's top pass rush and have a secondary with solid continuity. There's a lot more than Mack making this group one of the league's best. 

And directing them is a leader in Fangio who remains just as demanding of his players. With early success to their name on defense, the Bears are becoming even hungrier.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​