Slow-starting Bears defense needs a wake-up call

The Bears’ second-half defense is one of the most promising indicators for Matt Eberflus and his coaching staff.

The Bears have consistently been better in the second half than the first through Eberflus’ first five games. Their plus-54 points differential from the first half (80 points allowed) to the second (26) is the best in the NFL. Their 26 points allowed in the second half is the fifth fewest in the league. The Bears have allowed fewer points in the second half in each game.

Those numbers indicate two coaching traits that bode well for the Bears long term under Eberflus: that Eberflus’ philosophy of conditioning a resilience in hishis players built on mental and physical toughness is paying dividends; and that the Bears’ coaching staff is making effective halftime adjustments.

Sunday’s 29-22 loss to the Vikings, though, exposed one flaw in that narrative –the first half/second half disparity is too great. The Bears’ slow starts defensively are not only putting pressure on a formative offense, but also their own defense.

After allowing three touchdowns and 307 yards in the first half against the Vikings, the Bears responded as expected in the second half. They stopped the Vikings on their first two drives — a blocked field goal and cornerback Kindle Vildor’s interception.

But after Cairo Santos’ 51-yard field goal gave the Bears a 22-21 lead with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Bears’ defense wilted. The Vikings’ drove 80 yards on 17 plays for the winning touchdown. The Bears’ defense was on the field for 74 plays. After allowing 7.0 yards per play in the first half, they allowed 4.1 yards per play in the second. But it was all for nought.

“There were some huge adjustments that we made [in the second half]. Just got to get to them a little quicker,” linebacker Roquan Smith said.

Because of those slow starts, the Bears have trailed in the first half of each games this season — against the 49ers (10-0), the Packers (24-3), the Texans (14-6), the Giants (14-6) and the Vikings (21-3).

“Just got to start faster,” Eberflus said. “Keep [doing] what we’re doing in the second half and just start faster. Your next question is going to be, ‘How?’ We’ve got to bring it to the attention of the coaches and the players and set it up for practice.”

Eberflus said he didn’t think the Bears were coming out flat. “Our guys are ready to go,” he said. “I see it as just executing, setting our guys up as coaches [to have] success in the beginning. We can do a better job.”

It sounds like it will be up to the coaching staff to figure this one out, because there doesn’t appear to be any reason for such a disparity.

“If I knew the answer, I’d tell you,” linebacker Nick Morrow said. “We’ve just got to to execute at a higher rate earlier in the game. I don’t know if there’s any true answer because it’s not a different set of players on the field in the second half. It’s the same players, the same coaching staff. So we just gotta play better in the first half. We gotta figure it out.”

With Justin Fields and the offense still on training wheels, the defense was expected to be an anchor in Eberflus’ first season. While hardly a disaster, it’s been a bit of a disappointment. But this defense still has a chance to be more like the second-half team than the first.

“Every man has to look himself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, when the game starts, I’ve got to be ready,'” Smith said. “Because if [you’re] not, guys in this league are going to take advantage of you. Even though we are a second-half team, we have to be a first-and second-half team.”

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