Once-improved Bears defense is taking steps backward

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Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (AP Photo) — Uncredited

Just two weeks ago, defenders of the 3-10 Bears could point to the defense for signs of improvement.

They could point to a defense that was No. 7 in total yards allowed, and even an almost-respectable 19th in rushing yards allowed.

But 3-10 became 3-12, and even the numbers that pointed to progress have plummeted, leaving little to be optimistic about looking forward to 2017. In total yards allowed, the Bears' defense has dropped to 12th in just two weeks after allowing 929 yards to Green Bay and Washington.

In rushing yards, the Bears have dropped to 27th after being gashed for 226 and then 208 yards in back-to-back stampedes that also included seven touchdowns on the ground.

It's worth noting that the week before Washington gashed the Bears for 208 yards, they managed just 29 against the Carolina Panthers.

And it's interesting to note where those seven rushing touchdowns came from. Two were by a quarterback (Kirk Cousins), and two were by a wide receiver who was converted to running back mid-season (Green Bay's Ty Montgomery). There was one each from a fourth-string running back (a 61-yard scamper by Washington's Mack Brown), one by a backup (Washington's Chris Thompson) and one by a player only recently picked up off the street-free-agent scrap heap (a 42-yard jaunt by the Packers' Christine Michael).

The one constant this season has been the Bears' almost ludicrous inability to take the ball away.

The Bears, as a team, have forced 10 fumbles this year. Former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman forced that many in 2012 by himself.

No NFL team has recovered fewer fumbles than the Bears' three, and only the Jacksonville Jaguars have fewer interceptions than the Bears' seven. The Bears' total of 10 takeaways are the fewest in the NFL.

Combined with their 26 giveaways (17 interceptions, nine fumbles) the Bears' minus-16 turnover-takeaway differential is the second worst in the NFL, ahead of only the Jets.

This Bears defense is historically bad when it comes to forcing turnovers. Last year's team established the franchise low for takeaways with just 17, but that's seven more than this year's squad has with just one game remaining. The Bears also had a franchise-low eight interceptions last year, which is one more than they have this year.

Coach John Fox and his staff have frequently talked of making progress after taking over a 5-11 team they inherited from former GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after the 2014 season.

Last year, under Fox and Ryan Pace, the Bears improved by one game, to 6-10, but now they have backpedaled to 3-12.

It would seem impossible to put enough spin on that to make it look like progress, but that hasn't stopped Fox from trying.

“Sometimes,” Fox said, “when you come into a situation, you take some steps back before you take some steps forward. In my opinion, we are in a way better position to be in striking distance moving forward.”

A couple weeks ago, Fox could have used the defense to make his point. But even that isn't a legitimate argument anymore.

“A lot of it is who you're playing,” Fox said Saturday after his team allowed a season-high 41 points. “How you execute and the matchups, you have to be reflective of that. You're going to run into those type of games. That's why they call it a team game. You have to have all three phases operating on all cylinders.”

In other words, the Bears cannot defeat a good team. Their only victory in the past seven games came against the 2-13 San Francisco 49ers.