Of all the matchups in Monday night's game at Cowboys Stadium, the Chicago Bears' defensive line might hold the biggest advantage over a Dallas Cowboys offensive line that has disappointed the team so far this season. In fact, there has been so much discussion about the Bears' reconfigured offense recently that I'm not sure if everyone realizes how efficiently their defense -- and their line in particular -- has played.
The Bears' defensive line has 13 of the Bears' NFL-leading 14 sacks. And of that total, 12 have come when the Bears have sent a traditional four-man (or less) pass rush. There are many factors that go into sacks, even in a four-man rush. But suffice it to say, the Bears' linemen have won many of their one-on-one battles this season. Last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears didn't get their 12th sack out of the standard pass rush until Week 7.
The chart provides details of that improvement compared to the same time frame last season. Overall, the Bears have sent their standard pass rush on 77.5 percent of opposing dropbacks, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL. As we have discussed many times, the luxury of a consistent four-man pass rush is rare and allows defenses to maximize coverage elsewhere on the field.
The uptick in production is more difficult to explain than it is to demonstrate, but one factor has been first-round draft pick Shea McClellin. The Bears have followed a plan we discussed this summer, picking and choosing his spots, much like the San Francisco 49ers did last season with rookie Aldon Smith. McClellin has two sacks while playing 40.5 percent of the Bears' snaps (79 of 195, via Pro Football Focus).
As Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune noted, McClellin has helped form a more competitive environment. The surge has included notable performances from fellow defensive ends Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks) and Corey Wootton (1.5). Defensive tackle Henry Melton (3.0) is off to a strong start, as is defensive end Julius Peppers (2.5 sacks), and nose tackle Stephen Paea (0.5 sacks) has established himself as a starter after making minimal impact as a rookie.
I can't think of a more important matchup Monday night for the Bears. The Cowboys are the NFL's lowest-scoring team, lead the league in false starts and last week allowed their running backs to be tackled behind the line of scrimmage eight times by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Swarming the Cowboys' offense, and quarterback Tony Romo in particular, seems to be the Bears' clearest path to victory.