LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman offered a vote of confidence for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker this week -- and he really meant it.
This vote of confidence was not the typical "kiss of death," that such endorsements can often be. Heading into Sunday's home game with the Baltimore Ravens, Trestman realizes his defensive coordinator is taking fire for a group ranked next to last against the run and 26th overall. Trestman has to walk the fine line between being realistic by pointing to all the defensive injuries suffered and using them as an excuse.
"I can tell you Mel has done an amazing job in my opinion," Trestman said. "He has been consistent with the guys in terms of his passion, the way he's teaching. He's a positive guy. My thought as I talked to the team on Monday, I thought our defense played well enough to win under unusual circumstances because of the situation of having so many players out. They gave our team a chance to win.
"I think that starts with Mel and our staff getting the guys ready, continuing to work with them to try to improve. Are we where we want to be? No. We're always trying to get better. But I think he's done an outstanding job in the classroom. On the field he's excellent and I think he's done a great job being on the field and managing the team for the last couple of games on the field as well. It's very impressive to watch."
The Bears have lost 17 games by starters due to injuries, and the list is going to keep growing due to linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps tear) being out for this week and foreseeable future. Defensive tackles Henry Melton (knee) and Nate Collins (knee) and linebacker D.J. Williams (pectoral muscle) are done for the season.
The Bears will rely on Zack Bowman to replace Tillman at starting cornerback. Bowman produced an interception against the Giants in his only start this season replacing Tillman, but in the past had failed as a starter.
"Very confident in Zack," Tucker said. "He's a veteran player. He's played in some games and done a good job when he's gone in. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Zack to get the job done."
The Bears have trumpeted their "next man up" mentality all season, but now with one Pro Bowl cornerback out and Pro Bowler Tim Jennings still on the other side, it will be an invitation to attack Bowman.
As the injuries have mounted, a predictable decline in their turnovers forced has occurred, as well. They've produced one forced turnover in each of the last three games after forcing 17 the first six.
The run defense has been the real problem of late, with four straight games of 123 yards or more allowed and almost 150 yards a game over the last six. The injuries have players unfamiliar with each other and the scheme out of their lanes of assignments at times, and it enabled Lions running back Reggie Bush to help beat them a second time last week.
"It's honestly not like we're getting driven off the ball," defensive lineman Corey Wootton said. "It's just that we're not fitting in our gaps. When you're not disciplined, the thing that should be a 1-yard gain or possibly a tackle for loss turns into a 20-yard gain. That's where we need to clean that up because it's starting to become a problem."
The Bears defense seems to be in a mode where if something bad can happen, it will. They just came off their two best games defending the pass in successive weeks -- 219 and 113 yards -- but the running game burned them in both. Earlier in the year, it was the other way around.
Players like David Bass, Christian Tupou and Landon Cohen have had to log extended time up front for the Bears line due to injuries, so the breakdowns are understandable.
"It can't be any excuse for why we're not getting stuff done, for why we're not having the success we want to have," said linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who'd be playing special teams only if not for the season-ending injury to Williams. "It's got to be next man up and we can't have that dropoff."