I got a number of angry responses Thursday night after sending out an innocent tweet about the Bears' defensive resurgence. @packerinsider wrote: "the bears really did a good job shutting down the QB-less, OL-less, Brandon Marshall-less, Wildcat-less Dolphins offense." To the extent that the Dolphins' offensive approach was baffling, I agree. Why they felt compelled to put the game in quarterback Tyler Thigpen's hands, while ignoring tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, was beyond me. (In fact, the seven combined carries by Miami running backs was tied for the lowest full-game total in Dolphins history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.) But I don't think that decision should diminish the Bears' performance. The Dolphins might have shied away from the run based on pregame scouting of the Bears' run defense, which is now allowing the second-lowest average yards per game (78.0) in the NFL. And in this league, especially this year, teams deserve credit for doing what they should do. It doesn't always happen that way.
The Bears' six-sack performance resulted from another instance of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli largely relying on a base number of pass-rushers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, five of six sacks came on plays where Marinelli had four men rushing the passer. At times, that four-man rush included a "zone blitz" in which a defensive lineman dropped into coverage while a linebacker rushed the passer. But overall, the Bears dominated the Dolphins' injury-plagued offensive lineman. Defensive end Julius Peppers tore up left tackle Jake Long, who was playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Ultimately, Marinelli sent an extra rusher on only 18 percent of the Dolphins' pass plays.
The Bears limited the Dolphins to one third-down conversion in 11 opportunities, bringing the Bears' two-game total to two of 20 in that department. I know that the most important defensive statistic is points allowed. But the reason the Bears are allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL (14.6) is that they are stopping opponents' drives at such a high rate. Only one team, the New York Giants, has a lower third-down conversion rate (29 percent) this season than the Bears (31). It doesn't matter how many yards you give up. Your opponent can't score enough points to win if it is punting or attempting field goals.
And here is one issue I don't get:
What's gotten into offensive coordinator Mike Martz? Matt Forte's game-sealing touchdown run in the third quarter was the Bears' 29th running play of the game. To that point, they had thrown 21 passes. As we discussed in our pregame post, the Bears need balance from their offense even if they're not always getting equal production. In the Bears' three games since the bye, all victories, Forte and backup Chester Taylor have combined for an average of more than 30 carries per game. That's a significant adjustment from Martz, who would throw two passes per play if he could. Martz also smartly moved away from one of his favorite passes, the screen, when the Dolphins demonstrated why they are the NFL's best defense against them. As it was, quarterback Jay Cutler has to throw the ball away on two of the three screens I logged.