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Bears defense trying to establish identity

– The Chicago Bears defensive players believe Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. might be off base after he referred to them as “a bunch of thugs” this week.

“We’re far from it,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “I wish we were.”

The Bears’ defense is actually searching for some toughness after giving up 159 yards rushing in a 40-32 loss to the Lions last week, one week after allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers 379 passing yards in a win. Facing the New Orleans Saints and the league’s fourth-ranked offense Sunday at Soldier Field hardly seems the ideal situation for regaining their edge.

It’s not quite an identity crisis because the Bears have forced a league-high 14 turnovers, much as it always did under former coach Lovie Smith. However, the big chunks of yardage yielded in different ways has them turning to basic football to combat the problem.

“Last week I didn’t feel like we did as good a job of tackling, and it showed,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is rally to the football because in any team people are going to miss tackles. So the biggest thing is getting those population tackles, getting people to the ball because when one guy misses then the next guy will be there.”

Coach Marc Trestman finds the tackling problems nothing unusual at this time of the season.

“It’s a (repetition) thing, and we’re not the only team going through this,” Trestman said. “This is something that is really universal throughout the league early in the season, and teams do get better as we move along. I think we’ve tackled well, but we still want to get better at it.”

Part of the problem stems from different personnel. With defensive tackle Henry Melton out for the season, the Bears have had to shift the defensive line.

Last week, Wootton moved inside at times to defensive tackle, or nose tackle Stephen Paea played there, in addition to defensive tackle Nate Collins – who also played some nose tackle along with new acquisition Landon Cohen.

“Definitely, I feel like as a unit, especially up front, we haven’t gelled and clicked together as much as we’d like to,” Wootton said. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is just go out there and practice every day and become more comfortable with each other – we’ve got different guys in there.”

Stopping New Orleans will be almost a 180-degree swing for the Bears’ defense from the problems they had Sunday. Saints quarterback Drew Brees ranks second in passing yards and fourth in completion percentage. The Saints covert 45.3 percent of their third-down plays, sixth in the league; the Bears defense is tied for 21st stopping third down conversions (39.6 percent).

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