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Bears in feel-good mood after one win

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Turning corners can be a tricky thing, so defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is trying to keep the Chicago Bears defense from getting ahead of themselves although the numbers at the season’s quarter mark are encouraging.

“Turn the corner — that is a pretty strong statement,” Fangio said. “We still are 1-3. They feel better. “Winning has cured more ills than penicillin and winning just feels better.”

One victory heading into Sunday’s game at Kansas City has the Bears defense looking better than it has since possibly before Marc Trestman became head coach for two years in 2013, as the 3-4 scheme appears to have taken hold.

Statistically, the Bears are better than those numbers on the scoreboard. They rank seventh in overall offense and ninth in rushing yards.

They have a better pass rush and are fourth against the pass (189.8 yards a game), despite playing three playoff teams from last year — Green Bay, Seattle and Arizona. This adds to the overall sense of accomplishment even if the win total doesn’t reflect the improvement at this point.

The two biggest reasons for the improvement during the past two weeks are obviously Fangio and linebacker Pernell McPhee, with defensive end Jarvis Jenkins a close third.

Fangio’s ability to understand his personnel and get the players to grasp the new scheme has been apparent since training camp began.

“It’s almost like he wrote the book on defense and how it’s played,” Jenkins said. “Obviously everyone has their different mentalities, different styles of defense, but he just understands it and understands the game in a way that we can go out and play fast and physical.”

McPhee’s contribution has gone far beyond the two sacks and an interception for big plays he has contributed on the stat sheet. His ability to explode to the ball and be forceful off the edge has strengthened both the pass rush and the run at the same time.

In recent years, within the old 4-3 scheme, Bears defensive ends always seemed to be able to do one or the other.

Jenkins has three sacks in two weeks and rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman is coming off what Fangio described as his best game. The front line improvement has made it possible for the Bears to play pass defense even with cornerback Alan Ball out with a groin injury and safety Antrel Rolle missing time due to an ankle injury.

“We’re getting rushes,” Jenkins said. “Those guys don’t have to cover for so long.”

The improved rush hasn’t resulted from blitzing — or at least from blitzing more than one man.

“A big part of this defense is getting a four-man rush,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “A lot of teams, even teams I’ve been a part of, we did a lot of blitzing: five-man pressure, six-man pressures, fire zones. But a big part of this defense is, ‘hey, let’s get pressure with four and that’s what you saw on Sunday against Oakland.”

Players laughed off the suggestion they had experienced some frustration prior to the win over Oakland because of their struggles. Particularly on defense, they viewed this as a long-term building project which would take some time to develop.

Apparently it’s developing faster than they thought. If they haven’t turned a corner, then at least they’re starting to realize what needs to be done.

“I don’t care if you’re in a 4-3, a 3-4,” Acho said. “I don’t care what kind of defense you’re in. It’s all about chemistry and we have a lot of faces, new players, guys we just picked up, traded for and so on.

“But we’re starting to jell together as a unit and understand each other better. This is just the beginning.”

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular season meeting. Bears lead series 6-5. No team has won consecutive games in the past seven matchups. The last time was in 1977, 1981 and 1987 when the Bears won three straight. Kansas City won the last game 10-3 in Soldier Field in 2011.

GAME PLAN

–With the Chiefs capable of inflicting much damage with their pass rush, the Bears are certain to attack much the way they did against Green Bay’s 3-4. They will want to run, throw screen passes and get the ball outside quickly on short routes or zero routes. Look for plenty of shallow crossing routes, as well. It’s been one of the Bears’ most effective strategies to get yards after catch so far.

That should help Cutler avoid sacks, especially with so much uncertainty on the offensive line.

Normally the best defensive approach to facing the West Coast style Andy Reid attack is playing more cover 2 and looser coverage overall. In this case, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has had some problems standing up to the pass rush, especially in the red zone. With that knowledge, the Bears could be expected to blitz more often than in the past few games, at least early to rattle him. Expect them to do it up the middle because it tends to get Smith to make rash decisions.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Bears LT Charles Leno Jr., who had his first start last week, vs. Kansas City’s LB Justin Houston, who has had 46 sacks in the past 52 games.

Houston is a sack machine, capable of completely wrecking Jay Cutler. The Chiefs move Houston around and are sure to try to get as many mismatches with an inexperienced player on that side of the line.

–Bears C Matt Slauson, who had his first game at the position last week, vs. Chiefs NT Dontari Poe, who had back surgery in July.

When the Chiefs defense played stronger its first two games, Poe’s ability to cave in the middle of the line on the pass rush proved big. Slauson has the muscle and weight to combat the 6-3, 346-pounder, but doing it while trying to handle line calls in a noisy Arrowhead Stadium can prove a difficult task for even the most experienced center.

–Bears DE Jarvis Jenkins, who has three sacks the last two games, vs. Chiefs RG Zach Fulton, who was moved into the lineup last week to replace Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff.

Jenkins has been establishing himself the last two games as the defense begins to settle into the new scheme. Fulton started all last season at guard but got moved to center in preseason before being put back at guard last week. His strength is strength. This is going to be a very physical matchup since both players tend to get physical.


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