Chicago Bears defense looks to stay hungry
While the Chicago Bears' season is just one-fourth over, Vic Fangio's defense has set a blistering early pace, making observers wonder if there's 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 Thursday. "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 inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the team's second-leading tackler with 18, hearkens back to some advice he received.
"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 some for improvement in this Bears' defense, since they're "only" No. 9 in passing yards allowed and No. 6 in average gain per pass allowed. Just maintaining the pace they've set so far would be a tremendous accomplishment over a 16-game schedule, but seven-year veteran inside linebacker 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 at Miami pits the Bears' defense against an offense that ranks 30th in total yards per game (288.2) and 28th in scoring (19.8 points) and in passing yards. But September's defensive player of the month, Bears outside linebacker 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 only has 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."
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.