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Sunday, December 15, 2013
Bears defense finally bails out offense

By Michael C. Wright
ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- Naturally, nobody on the Chicago Bears defense walked away from Sunday's 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns totally satisfied with the way they performed.

But for once, they weren't answering questions about the defense giving away games.

Zack Bowman
Zack Bowman had two picks and a score in Chicago's win over Cleveland.
"It feels good, actually," said cornerback Zack Bowman, who finished with two interceptions, including one he returned 43 yards for a touchdown. "Obviously there are things we've got to do better. But after the game, nobody was talking about it. We got the win."

The defense also accomplished some of the objectives outlined during the week at practices and meetings.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker set goals for the defense to hold the Browns to fewer than 100 yards rushing (they finished with 93), 17 points or fewer, and generate takeaways.

"I think we hit two of those," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said. "It's a good start. Not to try to take away from the effort, but we need to win the turnover battle."

The Bears definitely won the matchup against Browns receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon had racked up 774 yards receiving in the four games prior to Sunday's, but with Tim Jennings as the primary man in coverage, the receiver caught just three passes (despite being targeted 10 times) for 67 yards and a touchdown. The majority of Gordon's receiving yardage came on a 43-yard score in trash time.

Cameron, meanwhile, was coming off a game against the New England Patriots last week in which he produced a career-high 121 yards receiving, which marked his second 100-yard game of the season. Against the Bears, however, Cameron caught three passes for 23 yards.

For two weeks in a row, Jennings has drawn the likes of Dez Bryant and Gordon and has limited them to a total of 79 yards on six receptions, with each scoring only one touchdown.

"It's unbelievable. This is two weeks in a row," Bowman said. "He had Dez last week, and he had Gordon this week. I'm just speechless, man. He's one of the best corners in the NFL."

The job Jennings did on Gordon played a significant role in Chicago's success against the Browns. Gordon didn't catch a pass until the first play of the second half.

"Just to try to limit those guys from making the big plays was huge. Coach has done a good job of mixing it up, giving a Cover-2 look, Cover-3 look, man-to-man look. So anytime we can mix it up to try to take those guys out of the game, we've got a good chance to try to win," Jennings said. "Our D-line and the guys are starting to click. We're putting some pressure on the quarterback and making him get the ball out quicker. So we're able to take those big-play receivers out of the game a little bit."

The Bears failed to sack Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, but the forced him to throw faster than he wanted, resulting in errant passes picked off by Bowman.

Bowman's 43-yard interception return for a touchdown with 13:48 left in the third quarter marked the sixth time the Bears scored a touchdown on defense. The club has now won 12 consecutive outings in which they've scored on defense. The Bears are now 26-2 since 2005 in games they score a defensive touchdown.

Bowman's first pick of the game came on a pass intended for Cameron.

"When we score on defense, we win games," Bowman said.

Chicago also snuffed out the run, which is an accomplishment for the NFL's 32nd-ranked rush defense facing a Cleveland rushing attack that ranked No. 27. The Bears prevented a team from finishing with a 100-yard rusher on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 20, when they limited Alfred Morris to 95 yards.

The game also marked the first time since Oct. 6 the Bears kept a team to fewer than 100 total rushing yards.

Linebacker James Anderson was credited with a team-high 11 tackles, to go with a quarterback hit and a pass breakup.

"It was definitely good," defensive end Corey Wootton said. "A big point of emphasis was keeping them under 100 yards. I thought for the most part, except for a play here or there, we played pretty good run defense. It was good to have Rat[liff] in there. He made some really good plays. It was definitely a good performance stopping the run."

Can it continue? It's not likely against a red-hot Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack led by LeSean McCoy. But the Bears feel like they've at least now set a standard, according to Ratliff, who was credited with two tackles, including one for lost yardage and three quarterback hits.

"We know we can get three-and-outs and hold a team to under 100, and hold them to 17 points or less," Ratliff said. "So now, it's a standard now. That's something we're expecting out of ourselves. If we want to be the defense we really want to be, there's some things we need to get done. That's holding a team to under 100 yards rushing, holding a team to 17 points or less, and of course winning the turnover battle."