Chicago Bears: Pass rush
Run defense: The Redskins kept the Bears off balance all game with their ability to run the football. Alfred Morris averaged 5 yards per carry, while Robert Griffin III averaged 7.6. By establishing the run, the Redskins kept the Bears on their heels, thus opening up other facets of the game. Typically, the Bears shut down the run, making opponents one dimensional. But Chicago hasn’t been able to accomplish that objective consistently this season. Certainly, injuries along the front four contribute to the problem, but until the Bears solve the issue, teams will continue to gash them on the ground before taking chunks through the air via play action.
Feeding Forte: They don’t seem to be involving Matt Forte enough early on, and that’s diminished Chicago’s ability to find a rhythm. In six first-half drives, the Bears handed off to Forte just four times, including only once in each of the first two possession. Forte didn’t receive back-to-back attempts until the team’s second drive of the second quarter. By then, Washington held a 17-10 lead. Forte carried four times for nine yards and a score in the first half, yet finished the game with 91 yards and three TDs on 16 attempts. The offense should run through Forte from the onset.
Veterans on the front four: Given the injuries, inexperience and inconsistency on the defensive line, veterans Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton need to step up and start carrying the group. Peppers finally showed up on the stat sheet with seven tackles, while Paea and Wootton contributed two tackles apiece. Still, that’s not enough. The team needs even more, especial in the pass-rushing department. One of the best to play the game at his position, Peppers hasn’t contributed a sack since September.
Chicago killed itself on the first play from scrimmage when Matt Forte doomed a drive with a fumble for a 10-yard loss, and New Orleans responded with a field goal to put the Bears at a disadvantage early. On Chicago’s next drive, ineptitude in blitz pickup resulted in another fumble that the Saints turned into another field goal. By the time the Bears started playing productive football, they were trailing 13-0 with 5:57 left in the first half. That’s too late.
Injuries to front four: With Henry Melton out for the season and Stephen Paea missing Sunday’s game because of a turf toe injury, the front four suffered another blow when Nate Collins left with a knee injury. That’s two starters and a backup ailing from injuries. Unheralded players such as undrafted rookie Zach Minter and Landon Cohen need to step up, along with players such as defensive end Corey Wootton, who is now being forced to play out of position. The personnel department needs to help in this area, too, by beating the streets for suitable talent to acquire, and that will be a difficult proposition.
Podlesh rebounds: The Bears brought in six punters for workouts Tuesday after Adam Podlesh produced a rancid performance against the Lions in Week 4, finishing with a net average of 28.8 yards. But Podlesh bounced back with a decent outing against the Saints. He finished with a net average of 44.8 yards, including a 54-yard effort in the first half, his best outing since Nov. 19 of last season.
Rush improved, but not enough: With the injuries mounting, it’s likely the pass rush will continue to be an issue for this team. The Bears sacked Drew Brees twice and have registered six sacks over the past three games. But the club needs to apply even more pressure. There’s no way Brees should be allowed enough time to complete nearly 83 percent of his passes.
Over the course of the 2011 regular season, the Bears gave up 20 pass plays of 30-plus yards and nine pass plays of 40-plus yards, including a pair of 70-plus yard touchdown bombs to New Orleans' Devery Henderson and Detroit's Calvin Johnson.
There have been only two completions of 30 or more yards against the Bears defense over the first six games (Jacksonville's Cecil Shorts, 34 yards and St. Louis' Danny Amendola, 30 yards) and neither were harmful in the grand scheme of things.
Why the turnaround?
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman credits the improved play of safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright and the work of the coaching staff for all but eliminating the busted coverages that previously plagued the defense.
"Just talking from a safety standpoint, Major Wright and Chris Conte have done a phenomenal job of not giving up the big plays and letting guys get behind them like they did last year," Tillman said. "A lot of that credit goes to (safeties) coach (Gill) Byrd, he's done a great job of coaching those two guys and they've done a great job of receiving the coaching. So I tip my hat to all three of them."
The ultimate litmus test for the secondary will be when the Bears face Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith on Sunday. Smith got behind the Bears defense last year for a 53-yard gain, the latest in a long line of downfield plays he's made against the Bears in his career.
But the secondary can't do it alone.
It would be a mistake to overlook the role the Bears defensive line has played in limiting opponents in the deep passing game. A defensive back’s best friend is a pass rush, and the Bears’ talented and deep defensive line has provided ample pressure in the early parts of the season.
In an ideal world, the Bears generate their pressure from the front four which allows the other seven members of the defense to drop back into coverage. That plan has worked nearly to perfection. The Bears are currently tied for No. 1 in the league with 17 sacks and fourth in yards per pass play (6.2) when they send four rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Additionally, 11 of the team's 21 interceptions have occurred when the Bears have exclusively sent pressure with the front four.
"I don't think teams have tested us deep a whole lot," Conte said. "But I think teams will. That just shows that our defensive line is getting after the quarterback and not giving him enough time to really get those throws down the field. I would say the pass rush is the biggest reason for all that."
With 10 defensive linemen on the roster, the players know the team typically dresses seven for games.
Maybe it’s not. Either way, the Bears are pleased with the results on the field.
The Bears entered the game Sunday tied for second in the NFL in sacks (8) before tacking on six more on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Israel Idonije led the Bears with 2.5 sacks. Amobi Okoye, Nick Roach and Stephen Paea tacked on one apiece while defensive end Julius Peppers added another.
Playing opposite Peppers, Idonije experienced somewhat of a down year in 2011 because of health issues. Now fully healthy, Idonije said “it’s nice to be able to make plays.”
Peppers said relentless play is an expectation for the club’s front four and “that’s nothing to be patting anybody on the back about.”
“We should be playing like that,” Peppers said. “We’re going to continue to play like that throughout the season.”
“We need to get pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “If it’s not sacks, then it’s pressure on the quarterback that changes the game. He’s the one that has the ball. He’s going to make decisions a couple of plays later. If he’s hurt, he’s going to make tough decisions.”
Adam Caplan of thesidelineview.com first reported the visit.
Okoye has garnered interest from several teams around the league, but has not ruled out re-signing with the Chicago Bears, per the source.
In his first year with the Bears, Okoye recorded four sacks and 27 quarterback pressures from his three-technique defensive tackle spot. Okoye and starter Henry Melton provided the Bears an inside pass-rushing presence that had been missing in the years since Tommie Harris stopped playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Okoye is still a very young 24 years old after being selected 10th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2007 NFL Draft. After four seasons with the Texans, Okoye got released last summer but was promptly picked up by the Bears on a one-year deal.
Read the entire story.
The Bear spoke much this past offseason about the need to be able to run the ball once inclement weather hits the area. That scenario is approaching. It’s expected to rain at Soldier Field on Sunday, and the field likely won’t hold up well under the wet conditions, which means the club’s high-powered passing attack should probably take a back seat to the running game. By establishing the ground game, Chicago can slow down Washington’s relentless rush somewhat, which will enable the Bears to execute some play-action passes as the game progresses. The Bears should give the Redskins a steady dose of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor because of their differing styles. Corral McNabb
Donovan McNabb isn’t totally comfortable in Washington’s offense. So he’ll naturally look for ways to buy extra time in the pocket with his feet, and try to hit Chicago’s defense with deep throws. The Bears need to make sure they keep the quarterback in the pocket and their defensive backs over the top of the Redskins’ receivers. If Chicago can do that, it can count on McNabb making mistakes. McNabb is completing just 58.1 percent of his passes, and he has been sacked 14 times. The quarterback displays issues with footwork at times (because of his tendency to scramble and throw on the run), which greatly affect accuracy and velocity. Protect Cutler
The Bears expressed optimism about utilizing, for the second consecutive week, a starting offensive line featuring center Olin Kreutz, left guard Chris Williams, left tackle Frank Omiyale, right guard Edwin Williams and right tackle J’Marcus Webb. This combination gave up six sacks last week. Interestingly, 65.2 percent of Jay Cutler’s sacks on the season have come in his past two starts. Lack of communication has been the main issue, especially on the right side where the Bears are starting a second-year player (Williams) and a rookie (Webb). So the Bears need to overcommunicate on blocking assignments against Washington’s 3-4 front, which has proven adept at confusing offensive lines with movement and alignments.
Three keys for the RedskinsWork the middle
The Bears will likely keep safety help over the of Washington outside receivers Santana Moss and Joey Galloway, which should open things up down the seams with slot receivers and tight end Chris Cooley. While Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher usually holds his own covering the deep middle zone between the safeties when they’re in Cover 2, the Redskins should test the linebacker as much as possible with Cooley. On early downs, the Bears will likely utilize base personnel, which could make them vulnerable to bootlegs. So if McNabb can buy enough time to cause breakdowns in coverage, the quarterback can hit the Bears deep down the middle of the field. Pound the ball
At 6-1, 218 pounds, Ryan Torain is somewhat of a bigger back. Such backs have given Chicago’s defense problems in the past. While the Redskins won’t be able to reel off substantial gains initially, if they continuously pound the ball through the teeth of the Chicago’s defense, it will eventually devote an extra defender or two to stopping the run, which will make them vulnerable on play action passes. The Bears have fared well against the run so far this season, but they’ve also shown a tendency to break down as a game wears on, especially when they’ve spent too much time on the field due to ineffective play on offense. Respect Chicago’s special teams
Devin Hester leads the NFL with two punt returns for touchdowns and currently ranks third in punt return average (17 yards). Still, for the most part, teams haven’t stopped kicking to him. The Redskins need to buck that trend to prevent Chicago from potentially winning the game with just one or two plays on special teams. Washington also needs to be wary of Bears kick returner Danieal Manning, who ranks ninth in kickoff return average (27.3 yards). Manning has returned 15 kickoffs for 40 or more yards since 2008, which ranks as the most in the NFL during that span. So neutralizing Manning would go a long way toward limiting Chicago’s average starting field position.
Matchup to watch: J'Marcus Webb vs. Brian Orakpo
The staff raves about Webb’s physical attributes and nasty demeanor, which will finally be put to the test Sunday against Brian Orakpo, one of the league’s elite young pass rushers.
It’s a given the Bears will deploy extra personnel to helping out on whatever side Orakpo lines up on. But when left alone with Orakpo, who possesses an explosive first step, Webb can’t whiff on pass-rushing moves, and definitely needs to make sure to block him to the whistle.
Orakpo is expected to line up in several spots throughout the game. But the Redskins will definitely try to test Webb, who struggled last week against the Seahawks. Lack of communication was a major issue for Webb last week, and the club can’t afford a repeat of that performance from the rookie.
The Redskins have won 11 of the past 14 meetings between the teams since 1986, in addition to each of the last three.
Johnny Knox has caught seven passes of 20 or more yards this season, which ties for seventh in the NFL. Seven of Knox’s 18 receptions on the year have gone for 20 or more yards, giving him league’s the sixth-best percentage on such catches among players with at least 10 receptions.
Quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t converted a third down (0 for 22) in eight quarters.
By the numbers
7: Chicago’s conversion percentage on third-and-10 or longer (2 of 27).
8: Wins by the Bears since 2004 (8-18) when they’ve rushed for 74 yards or fewer.
21: Points scored by the Bears off turnovers. Opponents, meanwhile, have scored 17 points off Bears turnovers this season.
16: Chicago completions this season of 20 yards or more.
1: Chicago replay challenges reversed in 2010 on challenges made by Lovie Smith. Since 1999, the Bears have called for 82 challenges with 28 being reversed.
"When you talk about defensive end, first off, you say can a guy rush the passer," Smith said Friday. "That's what we've seen from him. [He's a] live body, athletic, with speed off the corner. We don't have a lot of guys like him, as far as what he brings to the table.
"Eventually, when you get on the 53-man roster, you have a chance to some day get up. He'll have a chance to some day get up.
Turner, elevated from the Bears practice squad Tuesday, was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Nebraska who finished his collegiate career with 17 sacks, which ranks eighth in Cornhusker history. The 6-3, 259-pound defensive end first caught the team's eye during organized team activities, and followed that up with a solid training camp.
"It's my dream to play in the NFL, to play with Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Tommie Harris and all the other great guys," Turner said. "This week has been a dream come true."
In addition to refining his pass rush skills, Turner spent extra time after practice working with Bears special teams coach Dave Toub, a strong indication the Bears are preparing to dress Turner on game day.
"Early in my college career I played all special teams, so I'm familiar with special teams and understand the importance of special teams," Turner said.
Read the entire story.
Read the entire story.
Read the entire story.
THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Left tackle Chad Clifton participated in the Packers' last two practice sessions leading into the game, but his sore knee has been a well-documented cause for his struggles over the last two weeks. The Bears need to line up Julius Peppers on Clifton's side often and have the defensive end try a variety of pass-rush tactics ranging from finesse moves to the full-on bull rush to see if Clifton's injured knee holds up. If it doesn't, the Packers will likely insert inexperienced Bryan Bulaga, which means the Bears should be able to pressure Aaron Rodgers.
Go after the rookie
Green Bay's first two opponents interestingly stayed away from rookie cornerback Sam Shields, but you can count on the Bears directing a few passes his way to see what he's got. The Packers' No. 3 cornerback, Shields has had just two balls thrown his way in the first two games. That number should go way up in Monday night's game. Shields (5-11, 184 pounds) will likely be matched against Earl Bennett in the slot. Bennett lacks big-play speed, but you can't discount his route-running ability and chemistry with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Be patient; don't take chances
Cutler struggles against the Packers historically. In three games against them, he's thrown four touchdown passes and six interceptions for a passer rating of 68.5. The Bears need to give the Packers the 2010 version of Cutler, the quarterback who has done a masterful job of taking what the defense gives while not forcing throws into traffic. It's almost a given the Packers will confuse Cutler early. But the quarterback needs to exercise patience and make smart decisions to prevent the Packers from gaining unnecessary field position from turnovers.
THREE KEYS FOR THE PACKERS
Make Urlacher play the pass
The area between the safeties in the seams is one of the most vulnerable in Chicago's Tampa-2 based scheme because there's so much ground for Urlacher to cover. While Urlacher is one of the league's most athletic middle linebackers, it won't hurt to send tight end Jermichael Finley in Urlacher's zone as much as possible to test him. Defenders all around the league struggle to cover Finley one on one. So it's worth it to see if the Bears will be any different.
Attack the tackles
Take advantage of the fact the Bears are using a pair of back-ups in right tackle Kevin Shaffer and left tackle Frank Omiyale by making sure both of them spend some time lined up across from Clay Matthews. A savvy veteran, Shaffer lacks range and is somewhat short-armed, which can be a major disadvantage on the edge. Omiyale possesses the most athleticism between himself and Shaffer, but could be susceptible to the bull rush. The Packers need to keep the Bears guessing in the protection by moving around Matthews.
Get Jackson going
Aaron Rodgers can't win this game by himself, so it's important to find some semblance of a running game to complement the pass. Packers coach Mike McCarthy admits the club's passing game is set up by the run. So if Jackson isn't effective, Green Bay's passing game is sure to take a hit as the offense becomes one-dimensional. Jackson currently averages 3.2 yards per carry, but needs to find a way to rip off larger chunks against the Bears' top-ranked rush defense. Without the threat of a viable running game, the Bears will basically pin back their ears and invest significantly in pressuring Rodgers.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: BRIAN URLACHER VS. JERMICHAEL FINLEY
Coming off a game against Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't make too much of his pending matchup with Jermichael Finley, one of the league's most dangerous pass-catching tight ends.
In fact, Urlacher matter-of-factly lumped in Finley with the rest of the league's best.
"He's a big tight end who runs well and catches the ball [well]," Urlacher said. "He's like [San Diego tight end Antonio] Gates and those guys. They run well and know how to get open. [Bears tight end] Greg Olsen is the same way."
One of the main keys to coverage in the middle of Chicago's defensive scheme, Urlacher still possesses plenty of range to handle the middle zones underneath the safeties. He and Finley also possess similar size, which should give Urlacher an edge that most defenders don't have against the tight end.
Because of Urlacher's skill set, it's unlikely the Bears will have to resort to the same tactics (doubling Finley) employed by the rest of the Packers' opponents.
"They're so good at throwing the football. Their routes are tough," Urlacher said. "They have the [Cover 2] beaters, the man [coverage] beaters. They have everything. They have a lot of personnel groups, too. They change personnel like crazy. It keeps you on your toes."
BEARS BY THE NUMBERS
6: Takeaways forced by the Bears so far this season.
86: Victories by the Monsters of the Midway Bears teams in the 1940s. The Bears will pay homage to that era in Bears history against the Packers when they wear throwback uniforms.
8: Passes of 20 yards or more this season, which ties for first in the NFL. The club also has three touchdown passes this season of 20 yards or more.
771: Yards gained by the Bears offense through the first two games, which ranks second in franchise history (since at least 1960) behind the 805 yards put up by the 1985 Bears through the first two games.
10.14: Yards per pass play for the Bears, which ranks as tops in the league.