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Third-and-long actually bad for Bears' defense
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/31/2010 12:01 AM

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One of the primary goals of any defense is to put its opponents into third-and-long situations.

The Bears have done a good job of that.

Unfortunately for them, they've done a lousy job of preventing teams from converting those third-and-longs.

On the Arizona Cardinals' first touchdown drive Saturday, they converted a pair of third-and-8s and a third-and-7.

On their second TD drive, they scored on a third-and-goal from the Bears' 13.

For the game, the Bears allowed 8 of 15 third-down conversions (53 percent), which would have placed them at the very bottom of the NFL last season.

"It's the same thing every week - third down," Bears cornerback Zack Bowman said. "That's one thing that really sticks out to us. It's not the third-and-shorts. It's the third-and-longs that we've got to get off the field on. So that's our focus."

Coach Lovie Smith was asked if it was soft coverage or lack of pass-rush pressure that doomed the third-down defense against Arizona.

"We don't play soft coverage," Smith said, before admitting, "It's normally a combination of that: pass rush and the coverage part.

"That was the case. Eventually you get a guy in a position where he has to make a play. Most of the problems that we've had have been plays that, for the most part, we'll make later on."

That could be wishful thinking, considering the Bears were 27th last season in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 41.2 percent of the time.

The week before the loss to the Cardinals, the Bears allowed the Oakland Raiders to convert 47 percent of their third downs. Bowman said the common denominator isn't facing great offenses.

"It's us," Bowman said. "It's not them; it's us. Either we're missing tackles or we're not making plays on the ball. That's what's killing us right now on third-and-long."

The Bears have intercepted just 1 of the 61 passes that have been thrown against them in the past two games.

The starters aren't expected to play beyond the first quarter in Thursday night's preseason finale, so it will be difficult to identify any improvement in the Bears' third-down defense.

But Smith remains confident that there will be improvement by Sept. 12, when the Detroit Lions visit Soldier Field for the regular-season opener.

"It's simple execution really, (but) there's no quick fix or anything for it," Smith said. "In the preseason, you look at a lot of different things. We put guys in situations we won't normally do during the regular season.

"We've had a lot of third-and-longs. If we get those third-and-longs during the course of the season, we'll be in good shape.

"We don't like some of the things we've done right now, but everything we've done has been geared toward being ready for Detroit. By doing that you find out some things you don't like that you need to correct, and that's what we'll do."

When it comes to third-down defense, the Bears have a lot of correcting to do in 12 days.