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Steve Wilks Bears Turnover Mentality From Chicago

Cardinals would love to imitate dominant 2006 Bears defense

Steve Wilks, then the defensive backs coach with the Bears, speaks with CB Charles Tillman on the sideline during a game.
Steve Wilks, then the defensive backs coach with the Bears, speaks with CB Charles Tillman on the sideline during a game.

The Cardinals put on a takeaway clinic Sunday night in Dallas.

Name the turnover – muffed punt, pick-six, strip-sack, interception, forced fumble, etc. – and they forced it in a 27-3 laugher over the Cowboys. Eight takeaways in all, increasing the total to 16 in three preseason affairs.

A few minutes after the game, coach Steve Wilks was asked if a turnover streak like this was unprecedented in his coaching career.

Wilks didn't need to think long. He had definitely seen it before.

"Back when I first started, that was the mantra in Chicago," Wilks said. "That has stayed with me ever since."

Wilks' first foray into the league came as defensive backs coach in 2006 with the Bears.

That was the team that made the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback; the team that had Charles Tillman punching footballs out of receivers' hands; the team with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs wreaking havoc at linebacker. (And, yes, the team that was who Denny Green thought they were.)

The Bears forced an NFL-high 44 turnovers in 2006. The Chargers – 48 takeaways in 2007 – are the only team to surpass that single-season total in 11 subsequent years. So when Wilks preaches about an active and advantageous defense, the Cardinals know the bar is set high.

"They were a very opportunistic defense, man," said safety Antoine Bethea, who played against the Bears in the Super Bowl as a rookie safety with the Colts. "Flying around. They were interesting to watch."

Cornerback Bené Benwikere said Wilks – whom he played for previously in Carolina – has used cut-ups of those Bears stars as examples to follow.

"I saw a lot of clips from things he showed over the years," Benwikere said. "Different videos. And then when I was coming up and watching YouTube, different plays from Urlacher and Charles Tillman. Danieal Manning had a lot of picks, a lot of forced fumbles, a lot of aggressive tackles. There were a lot of good things you saw of them just flying around. That's how you hit and how you play football."

The Bears were masters at the art of the takeaway, and the Cardinals have followed that path this preseason.

Some turnovers are luck, as evidenced by the three fumbles pounced on that weren't forced. But much of it is skill, too. Cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted a pass last week in practice. A few days later, he noticed a similar look and took a pick-six 30 yards to the house against the Cowboys.

"It's really the standard that we've set," Wilks said. "It's what we emphasize, what we teach and what we preach as coaches – taking the ball away. We create drills for that. Coach (Al) Holcomb and the defensive staff work on that daily. The things we do during practice – picking up loose balls, and when we do get interceptions, it's the mindset of scoring. You see guys run all the way to the end zone."

Chicago isn't the only place Wilks helped coach an advantageous defense. The Panthers led the NFL with 39 takeaways in 2015 on their way to a Super Bowl appearance.

The Cardinals have followed those blueprints in the preseason and plan to keep at it.

"It's (called) forcing turnovers," Benwikere said. "It's about going out and trying to impose your will, having that mindset that you're going to get the ball. It's about trying to take it away, making something happen. It's constantly searching for a way to get the ball out, and being relentless with it."

Images of the Cardinals' eight forced turnovers on Sunday against the Cowboys

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