Bears defense bends, then snaps back and breaks Cardinals in third straight dominant performance


In a Bears championship season a long time ago, one in which the Bears’ defense ruled the NFL, that unit was trotting off the field after a stop and the offense coming on, when defensive end Ed O’Bradovich snarled at the offense, “Just try to hold ‘em.”

Matters are far from that in 2018 but while the Bears offense struggles to find its stride and identity, the other side of the football has established both, underscored in a 16-14 win on Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals in which the Bears defense allowed first-quarter mistakes and 14 Arizona points, then shut the Cardinals down with 120 yards over seven scoreless possessions, four ending in Bears takeaways.

“They feel like they can be in a different league of their own,” coach Matt Nagy said after his defense held a third straight opponent to fewer than 300 yards of offense.

As readers of this space know, the ancient James Bond axiom on occasion is invoked: once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

So it was in Sunday’s win that the Bears defense for the third straight game generated at least four sacks and linebacker Khalil Mack delivered a sack and forced fumble. For the third straight game the Bears allowed less than 75 rushing yards, holding Arizona to 53 after giving Seattle 74 and Green Bay just 69.

“Three weeks in a row now, they’ve done some special things,” Nagy said.

Enemy action indeed. With an arrow squarely pointing in an upward direction.

The defense that collapsed in the fourth quarter against Green Bay and allowed the Seattle Seahawks back into last Monday’s game with touchdown drives of 75 and 99 yards in the fourth quarter closed down on the Cardinals. Arizona rolled to 101 yards in the first quarter.

“Our defense was not used to that,” Nagy said. “We haven’t been giving up those plays.”

Then… nothing.

“We just rallied the guys together,” said Mack, with four sacks on the season, tying for team-high with five solo tackles, one for a loss and a forced fumble. “In those situations you just know you can’t let the offense score any more points.

“The way we rallied was very positive.”

The unit had little to no impact pressure on Bradford in the first quarter, during which he beat the Bears for TD passes of 35 and 21 yards, both times exploiting coverage mismatches and mistakes. Bradford found tight end Ricky Seals-Jones running loose in what appeared to be a breakdown five plays into Arizona’s first possession and Seals-Jones completed the 35-yard play untouched. The score came two plays after wideout Christian Kirk turned a short toss into a 30-yard gain.

One play after the Arizona defense had forced a Mitch Trubisky fumble, the Cardinals got running back David Johnson in space against linebacker Danny Trevathan. Bradford’s touch pass to Johnson for 21 yards gave Arizona a 14-0 lead and their final points of the game.

The defense sacked Bradford twice in the second quarter, including one in which defensive lineman Akiem Hicks forced a fumble that the Cardinals recovered. It also allowed zero net yards while forcing three punts.

The group was just getting started. On Arizona’s first four possessions of the second half:

  • Safety Eddie Jackson intercepted Bradford at the Chicago 33, from where the Bears offense scored a touchdown on a Jordan Howard run
  • Cornerback Sherrick McManis, pressed into service at nickel back in a shuffle necessitated by Prince Amukamara’s hamstring injury, intercepted Bradford at the Arizona 44, from where the Bears scored on a Cody Parkey field goal
  • Mack forced a Bradford fumble, recovered by linebacker Danny Trevathan at the Chicago 16
  • Cornerback Bryce Callahan intercepted rookie Josh Rosen, the latter making his NFL debut as Arizona made a change looking for a final spark

Jackson “added” a pick-six with 22 seconds remaining but the interception was nullified by an offside call on Mack.

The offense was able to score 13 points off the Arizona turnovers, opportunities not lost on members of a unit looking to catch up to teammates currently in that “different league of their own.”

“They have our back,” said wide receiver Allen Robinson.

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