|Bears' Lance Briggs gets a pick-6 against Jacksonville. The Bears have six interceptions for touchdowns this season. (US Presswire)|
At times, it's almost hard to believe this is the same Chicago Bears secondary playing the same scheme with the same players as last year.
It goes beyond the six interception returns for touchdowns, which is the most ever in the NFL through seven games of a season.
- Quarterbacks have a league-worst 62.0 passer rating against them; last year it was 79.3 and seven teams were better.
- They're tied for the league lead interceptions with 16, only four off last year's season total.
- Last year they gave up 20 pass plays 30 yards or longer and have given up just four this season. They allowed nine 40 yards or longer and hadn't given up any this year until Carolina Sunday got two in a 23-22 Bears victory.
Part of the improvement is having safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright with more experience and fully healthy.
"Both those safeties are so athletic and fast, we'll be able to do a little bit more," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said.
Added CB Tim Jennings: "It's success as at an all-time high because we are all comfortable back there. We all know each other's style of play.
"It's very important that you have that chemistry in the back end. Guys feed off each other."
But some is a change in tactics. Jennings and CB Charles Tillman are being allowed to challenge more aggressively the slant passes and skinny post patterns that burned the Bears in their cover-2 zone defense so often in the past. Quarterbacks went to three-step and five-step drops and tried beating the cover-2 inside this way.
“We're playing it more aggressively, but also we're prepared a lot more and know that teams have been kind of having some success with those quick games and those slant routes," Jennings said. "So I think (secondary) coach Jon Hoke has been putting us in a lot better position and preparing us during the week to put us in the right position and get close on the plays. (Opponents) know the weakness of the defense. Some of those quick passes are the weakness in the defense, so we kind of anticipate it a little bit and tighten down our coverage and realize our D-line is playing good.
"So the ball has got to come out quick, so why not scoot up an extra yard or two and be closer on those slant routes.”
The touchdown craze -- two by Tillman, two by LB Lance Briggs, one by Wright, and Sunday Jennings' first career TD return -- is the result of defenders being in the right position and the pass rush getting heat on the QB. Cam Newton was pressured on both his INTs Sunday, and since DE Julius Peppers joined the team in 2010, the Bears have 13 TD returns.
It doesn't hurt that the coaches constantly stress returning fumbles or interceptions for TDs. Jennings said he was surprised at the emphasis when he came to Chicago after playing in a similar system with the Colts. Simply, the Bears teach the turnover and return.
"If there's something else you tell me," coach Lovie said. "But for us, there's an emphasis on it and we practice it. There's no more than that.
"We've been practicing. Some years, some games they don't come, others they do, but all you can do is keep practicing that and just hope that more and more guys buy into it and they come. Which they are right now."
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter: @CBSBears.