The Bears could finish Sunday’s game against Drew Brees with only one or two sacks and still improve their pass rush.
This isn’t the week to count on big statistical production rushing the quarterback because Brees’ release is so efficient.
But even if the defensive linemen can’t hit Brees, hurrying him will help. The Bears felt they had their best rush of the season last Sunday at Ford Field. Although they sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford only once, they forced him to throw high on some early third-down passes, leading to punts. Stafford has been sacked only three times while Brees has been sacked 12 times.
Defensive end Julius Peppers had his best game against the Lions but was still well short of dominant. He hasn’t been his best and players the Bears are accounting on to ascend — Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin — haven’t made enough impact plays, something that will be necessary against the high-powered Saints. They have two quarterback pressures each.
The Bears have only six sacks, third-fewest in the league, and while it’s hardly a tell-all when it comes to the pass rush, it’s a good place to start. Bears opponents are averaging 8.3 yards per pass, tied for fourth-worst in the league, and their opponents’ passer rating is 87.7, 15th in the NFL and 16 points higher than last year.
One of the problems is the defense isn’t getting enough prime opportunities. The Bears have forced opponents into third-and-10 or more only 12 times. Only the Falcons, Jaguars, Packers and Raiders have fewer. That’s a 3-0 fastball for pass rushers — the chance to pin their ears back and go. The Chiefs entered Week 5 with 25 snaps of third-and-10 or more. Not coincidentally, they are No. 1 with 18 sacks. Being better on third down requires being better on first and second and the Bears rank 24th on first down allowing 6.0 yards, a problem Lions running back Reggie Bush exacerbated last week.
“A big thing for us is to get them to third down,” Wootton said. “On third-and-long, they have to do those five-step (drops). Even if you are winning a rush, when it is coming out quick it doesn’t matter.”
The Bears have been successful condensing the pocket and that push against Brees must start up the middle to prevent him from stepping up. That could allow the ends to turn the corner and get home. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker believes Wootton and McClellin are making strides.
“They are progressing,” Tucker said. “It’s not necessarily showing up in sacks and things like that but we had a more coordinated rush (last week) in terms of being able to keep the quarterback in the pocket most of the day and we were able to get some collapse and get our hands up. It’s not anything magical or earth shattering. It’s continuing to work hard to get better.”
It starts on first down.
What is most interesting to note about Brandon Marshall is the Bears’ wide receiver actually has been targeted more through four games — 41 times according to Pro Football Focus — than he was a year ago when he had 37 targets through the first four games. While Alshon Jeffery’s targets are up from 18 through four games in 2012 to 31, that difference comes from Devin Hester (13 to 0) and Earl Bennett (13 to 9). At the same time, the Bears are dramatically more involved with mid-field targets. Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth had 29 targets with 18 catches through four games in 2012. Forte, Bush and Martellus Bennett have 57 targets for 43 catches. The passing game is evolving and Marshall remains most involved.
Four former first-round picks have been traded since the season started, a group Colts running back Trent Richardson headlined. Last week, offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Levi Brown and linebacker Jon Beason were dealt. Monroe is the best of the most recent three, a starting left tackle going from the Jaguars to the Ravens on a rental basis. The Ravens gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks for Monroe, who will be a free agent at the end of the year.
“It’s really abnormal,” one general manager said of the flurry of early deals. “Teams know they are really bad early. Usually it takes time but you have new GMs taking over in these places and they’re building for the future. The Ravens get a starting left tackle. Who (trades a left tackle)? I don’t know if I make a trade if I’m 0-4 Pittsburgh (for Brown) but maybe they figure they don’t want to get their quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) crippled.”
The shame of it for the Bears is there doesn’t appear to be defensive tackle help available.
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