While the Bears’ season is just one-fourth over, Vic Fangio’s defense has set a blistering early pace which makes observers wonder if there’s any room for improvement.
The Bears are No. 1 in interception percentage, sack percentage and fewest rushing yards and first downs allowed per game. They’re No. 2 in total yards and points allowed and third in yards per play and yards per rush allowed.
Not to be curmudgeonly, but Fangio, who’s in his 32nd year as an NFL coach, isn’t handing out any awards at the quarter-pole.
“We can always improve,” he said. “Although we've played well, we haven't been perfect by any stretch. So we’ve just got to keep striving to be our best.”
The youngest member of the defense, 21-year-old ILB Roquan Smith, who is the team’s second-leading tackler with 18, harkens back to advice he received in the past.
“I heard a saying when I was young: ‘You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,’ ” Smith said. “I feel like you can always improve. So I feel like there’s definitely things we can do better, and that’s our plan each and every day when we go out to work -- to get better and improve on the little things.”
Maybe there is a little room for improvement in the Bears’ defense, since they’re “only” No. 9 in passing yards allowed and No. 6 in average gain per pass allowed. But just maintaining the pace they’ve set so far would be a tremendous accomplishment over a 16-game schedule, but seven-year veteran ILB Danny Trevathan realizes that’s a long way off.
“It’s just knowing where we’re at (right now) and staying hungry, trying to keep it the whole year,” said Trevathan, who leads the Bears with 24 tackles. “We know that it’s a long season. I’ve been around for a while, along with some other guys, and we know what it takes throughout the whole season. It’s good where we’re at, but we’re not satisfied.”
Sunday’s game against the Dolphins pits the Bears’ defense against an offense that ranks 30th in total yards per game (288.2) and 28th in scoring (19.8 points per game) and in passing yards. But September’s Defensive Player of the Month, Bears OLB Khalil Mack, said the team isn’t overlooking the Dolphins, and the veterans will continue harping on the younger players to stay hungry.
“That’s what you need,” said Mack, who’s only been with the team six weeks but already feels a positive vibe. “We’re in a good spot, but you have to keep looking forward. That’s what you need from the veterans on this team. I feel like the energy and focus level is something we’re trying to sustain. We just want to keep getting better.”
Trevathan knows what’s required, having been in Denver from 2012-15 while the Broncos went to the playoffs four straight years and won a Super Bowl, and he and the other veterans are trying to pass that knowledge along to the younger players.
“We’re always ingraining in them to keep on working,” Trevathan said, channeling his inner Yogi Berra. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Being right here (now) doesn’t mean you’re going to finish this way. You have to go out and put in the work each day at practice, get the most out of each day, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We want to keep this thing rolling.”