Country fumbles with Flus: How Bears D can play better

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The Bears defense has been effective taking the ball away through the first three games of the season. In each of their two wins, a key turnover has played a pivotal role in locking up a win. It’s early evidence that the H.I.T.S. principle is taking hold at Halas Hall, but Matt Eberflus thinks the team can do even better.

There were several instances when the Bears could’ve recovered a fumble, but missed out on the opportunity against the Texans. First, Eddie Jackson knocked the ball out of Dameon Pierce’s hands as the Texans entered the red zone in the first quarter. Three Bears converged on the ball, but the Texans managed to recover the fumble. They scored a touchdown three plays later. Later in the quarter, Cole Kmet punched the ball out of Jalen Pitre’s hands following Pitre’s interception, but Pitre was able to recover his own fumble with no other Bears around. Finally, the Bears could have taken control of the game earlier in the fourth quarter, when Kindle Vildor and Al-Quadin Muhammad combined to force another fumble at Houston’s five-yard line. Joe Thomas jumped on the ball with Roquan Smith right next to him, but the ball wiggled out between Thomas’ legs and the Texans were able to maintain possession. It could’ve been an instant goal-to-go scenario for the offense. Instead the Texans flipped the field with a punt, and the Bears weren’t able to score on their ensuing possession.

“To me that’s about one of our principles: that’s about hustling,” Eberflus said. “We have to be there to get the fumble recovery. So you could see there’s a little bit of slack in the hustle there on all sides of the ball. When we cause those we need to be sure there’s instantaneous reactions getting to the football and making sure we take all the slack out.

“The guys covering down, they shoulda been down there (on Kmet’s forced fumble). Taking out the slack is just an instantaneous reaction. That means you’re going full speed, max speed the entire rep, from the times the ball’s snapped to the time the whistle blows. So it’s something that we don’t have yet. We’re getting closer, but we’ll never really have that all the way. There’s always one player, two players. We need more to give max effort on every play. But the guys are doing a good job.”

Beyond effort, there is a right way and a wrong way to fall on a fumble in the Bears’ eyes. Eberflus hinted that the Bears could clean up their technique on fumble recoveries and said he made it a talking point with the team. He also explained some of the nuances his coaches are teaching when they go into recovery mode.

“We have what we call a city fumble and a country fumbleー I know you guys will eat this up,” Eberflus said. “A city fumble, picture yourself in downtown Chicago. It’s all crowded in there. There’s a way to dive on that. Then a country fumble is wide open spaces. That’s when you bend your ankles, knees and hips and scoop and score and then go up the numbers. We always have a wall return up the numbers. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

The Bears have taken the ball away five times this year, nearly twice per game. But they’ve also given it away four times. Their +1 turnover differential is tied for 11th in the league. Pretty good. Considering how takeaways have directly impacted two wins this season, if they’re able to do even better in that department like Eberflus believes, they could put themselves in position to win more close games.

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