MONSTER’S MASH: A case for the (run) defense

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28: Trenton Cannon #40 of the New York Jets is tackled by (l-R) Roy Robertson-Harris #95, Sherrick McManis #27 and Roquan Smith #58 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on October 28, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jets 24-10. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST – Nothing makes a longtime coach happier than a good, old-fashioned run defense.

Certainly, someone with decades in the game like Vic Fangio believes in that. While the turnovers and sacks have caught the attention of most of the Bears’ fan base, it’s their success against the ground game that has been a constant in 2018.

Through seven games the Bears have allowed 83.1 points per game, the third-lowest in the NFL. Their 3.7 yards per carry average is the fourth-lowest in the league, and they are the only team to not allow a rushing touchdown all season.

Against the Jets – a game in which the Bears’ had just one sack and no turnovers – their rushing defense shined as they allowed just 57 yards on 24 carries in a 24-10 victory.

While some will criticize the lack of sacks and turnovers, Fangio believes that everything with the Bears’ defense starts with a strong run defense. That’s even with more teams going with more-pass heavy offenses over the past decade.

“It’s still important because most of the offenses in this league if they can bludgeon you with the run, they will,” said Fangio. “Now sometimes there’s not as much patience as there used to be around the league with that. Then if you’re not doing well against the run, then you start playing stuff that makes the passes even better for them.

“The value of the run has gone down a little bit, just because of the way teams are playing, but if it’s not there,  it will bother you.”

Fangio got a blow to his run defense late this week when Bilal Nichols exited workouts with a knee issue and didn’t travel to Buffalo for the game. The rookie has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2018 season, making 14 tackles, a half-sack, and a forced fumble in six games.

RETURN OF THE MACK WATCH

Once again, the wait for Fangio and the rest of the Bears continues when it comes to Khalil Mack.

After his 70-game appearance streak ended last week due to an ankle injury, the linebacker once again is out for Sunday’s game in Buffalo.

It’s a difficult game for Mack to miss since it would deny him a return to the city he played his college football. It was at the University at Buffalo that the linebacker, once a lightly-recruited high school player, made a name for himself.

Yet the biggest thing for Mack being on the sidelines was adjusting to just watching a contest. Remember, this was the first time he’d ever missed a game in the NFL.

“It felt different. Like a coach. I just wanted to do what I could and just help them guys understand what was going to happen,” said Mack. “Give them the best feedback I could and be a great teammate.”

Was he anxious?

“It was a real uneasy feeling being over there,” Mack admitted when asking that question. “But at the same time, I’m glad we got the win.”

ALLEN’S IN THE SAME SITUATION

While they are on different sides of the ball, Mack has had a partner in dealing with injury woes.

Allen Robinson played through a groin injury against the Patriots, but like the linebacker sat out the Jets game in hopes of speeding the injury recovery.

Like Mack, Robinson is out for Sunday’s game against the Bills, having participated in just one practice during the week. It’s a major loss for the offense considering that the receiver caught 25 passes for 285 yards and a pair of scores in six games.

“Being sidelined is probably one of the worst things in sports,” said Robinson, who knows something about that.

He all but one series of the 2017 season with a torn ACL, missing out on the Jaguars’ run to the AFC Championship. Yet there is the thought that sitting out might be better for Robinson considering a critical stretch of games coming up for the Bears.

After Sunday, the Bears will face three NFC North opponents (Detroit twice and Minnesota once) in a 12-day stretch that could go a long way in determining a division champion. Robinson said that’s not a focus of his rehabilitation, but rather getting as close to full health as he can, as quickly as possible.

“My main focus is getting to 100 percent,” said Robinson when asked if the stretch coming up against NFC North opponents was on his mind as he plans out his recovery from the groin injury. “They have a good plan for me since the day I got here, so I trust their plan and what they have in place.”

STAT OF THE WEEK – 16

The number of years since the Bears have played the Bills in Orchard Park.

When the Bears traveled to play Buffalo in 2010, the game was played in Toronto, with the visitors winning it 22-19 at the Rogers Centre.

In that last game in Orchard Park on September 29, 2002, the Bills beat the Bears 33-27 in overtime. Their last win at New Era Field came on October 7, 1979, when they beat Buffalo 7-0.