|The Bears have returned five interceptions for touchdowns in the last three games, including this one by linebacker Lance Briggs in Sunday's win over the Jaguars. (US Presswire)|
Since Lovie Smith became the Chicago Bears coach in 2004, the emphasis on takeways by his defense has been obvious. The current run of takeaways has only underscored their effectiveness.
Some might think Smith's getting a bit greedy after Monday, though.
"Interceptions, when the ball's thrown your way you're supposed to catch it," he said. "But once we really get good, we'll start yanking that ball out and you'll see a lot more caused fumbles. You'll see fumble recoveries from us."
Only 10 teams have recovered more fumbles than the Bears (4) this year, so obviously Smith has some very high standards. And as the Bears take a 4-1 record into the bye week, the lead the NFL in forced fumbles with 17.
"This year everything is really falling into place and guys are taking the game to another level," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "It's early, and we understand there's lot of football left to play. And we have to set a standard and maintain that standard once we get back from the bye."
It's not just the turnovers. The Bears are tied for the league lead in sacks (18) with Green Bay and Cincinnati. And they rank second against the run, but, more important, they have limited opponents to the fewest rushing attempts per game (18.2). With opponents either trailing or denied the run, they've had to put the ball up against a defense that has five INT returns for TDs the past three games, including two each by Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.
The Bears defense has scored five TDs, only two fewer than their own offense. In fact, through five games, the offenses from Jacksonville, Seattle, Kansas City, Carolina, Miami and Washington have failed to score more TDs than the Bears defense.
"Sometimes it's just how the ball rolls," Tillman said. "You get lucky, you get in certain situations. I think the last two weeks we've been fairly lucky and been in the right place at the right time. We've got some good karma going right now. We want to keep that."
One or two weeks is good fortune, but the Bears have led the league in turnovers-forced since Smith became coach, and it hasn't been close. They have forced 283 since 2004. New England is second with 256, and Baltimore third with 254.
"Great coaches have been talking about taking the ball away forever and ever," Smith said. "I think some places put an emphasis on it and really buy into it. For us, I don't know exactly when we started, but I know it's been a mindset of ours.
"You say, ‘What cannot necessarily guarantee victory each week but has a direct impact on whether you win or you lose?' It always goes back to that turnover ratio. So offensively, ball security. You want explosive plays and to do all types of things, but it's about ball security. On the defensive side, you've got to take the ball away. As you look at a football game, most times at the end of the game, you see guys start yanking the ball and coaches start really talking about, ‘We've got to get the ball back.' How about you start the game like that? You don't have to wait until the end to get those things done.”
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.