Commentary

The company line

The Bears' front four should set the tone for their tenacious defense

Updated: August 19, 2012, 2:34 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- At one point early in Saturday night's preseason game, when people were still paying attention, erstwhile Bears defensive lineman-turned-Internet star Anthony (@spiceadams) Adams tweeted this bon mot:

"Get @iidonije out of there so the Redskins can run some plays!"

Things NFL free agents say, indeed.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireThe Bears' defensive line kept Robert Griffin III in check on Saturday night.

He was speaking of Israel Idonije, the inside-outside defensive lineman who was wreaking havoc on the Redskins' blockers and their rookie phenom quarterback Robert Griffin III. Idonije had 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble of Griffin that Julius Peppers recovered in Washington territory.

Two plays later, the Bears scored on Michael Bush's second rushing touchdown of the day.

Preseason or not, the front four came to play in the important part of the Bears' 33-31 victory that evened their preseason record at 1-1.

While the stars of this exhibition were undoubtedly the offensive trio of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery -- not to mention Robbie Gould, who nailed a 57-yard field goal to win it -- the first-team defense put in an honest night's work with Brian Urlacher watching from the sidelines.

"As far as I'm concerned, we got a little bit better," Peppers said.

With the new-look offense clicking and the hopes of Urlacher's regular-season return in a timely manner, you can book those Super Bowl reservations in New Orleans. You can taste the beignets, can't you?

"Ha ha, we're just in preseason right now," defensive tackle Henry Melton said with a laugh.

What, it's only preseason football? The air conditioning in the Solder Field press box is set to meat cooler, so it felt like December. For a few series, the football was regular-season variety too. Except for the replacement refs.

While Urlacher's presence -- calling plays, sniffing out runs and doing his thing -- is invaluable, in Lovie Smith's defense, the pass rush is the real key and that comes from the defensive line. A good rush can negate any limitations from a 75 percent Urlacher or a Nick Roach.

"We put pressure on ourselves regardless of who's behind us," nose tackle Matt Toeaina said. "We believe that we set the tempo up front. However much we get everyone going, I'm pretty sure they will follow, regardless of who's back there."

Peppers set the tone for the Bears' D-line when he shoved Griffin out of bounds on the Redskins' first series and followed it up with his fumble recovery. Melton, Toeaina and rookie end Shea McClellin, who forced Idonije inside on nickel plays, made contributions as well.

Griffin was sacked three times for a loss of 19 yards, completing 5 of 8 passes for 49 yards. Guard Adam Gettis got a 17-yard holding penalty on a Melton rush as well.

"Yeah, he was pretty quick, but we had a good rush and we had him contained for most of the game," Peppers said of Griffin. "He got outside that one time, the rush broke down. Other than that, we contained him real well."

The offense's newfound explosiveness is great news for the defense. A high-scoring offense should give the Bears' defense plenty of chances for sacks, interceptions and fumbles if teams are playing from behind.

"Most definitely," Melton said. "We always love points on the board."

The Redskins' first-half possessions ended: Punt, punt, fumble, punt, field goal, punt. Unlike the first preseason game, in which the Bears were blown out by Denver, the Bears actually game-planned for this team.

"We had a good feel for what type of offense they are," Toeaina said. "We just had to do a good job getting off the ball and knocking them off their tracks and especially containing (Griffin)."

The Bears might need their line more than ever, considering Urlacher's injury question and the safety uncertainty we've become accustomed to.

Starting free safety Chris Conte left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury and rookie safety Brandon Hardin was carted off field after injuring his neck in a head-down tackle of tight end Logan Paulsen early in the third quarter.

The Bears' defense gave up five first downs, one by penalty, and held Griffin's offense to 2-for-7 on third down. Three rushes of 10-plus yards from Alfred Morris, Evan Royster and Griffin was a slight negative.

Griffin's long run came on third-and-5. Lined up in the shotgun formation, Griffin scrambled 14 yards on the right edge, showing his burst. Let's just say Peyton Manning wasn't doing that last week.

"He's an incredible athlete, talented as a quarterback," Idonije said. "For us it was a challenge getting after him and testing our speed against his. Especially because we a lot of mobile quarterbacks. It was a great test for us."

Idonije forced Griffin to fumble at the end of the first quarter. Safety Major Wright just missed a sack and Idonije followed from the blind side and chopped the ball loose.

"It was the play coach called," Idonije said. "It put me in a great position to get around the tight end. I came around the edge, Major just missed a sack. Fortunately the quarterback was scrambling and I came around to cause the fumble."

Smith has always been a booster of Idonije, but he wants to see more production to go along with the consistent effort.

"It is always good to see a guy have that type of night," Smith said. "He is feeling pretty good about himself right now, and should."

The Redskins made it close in the second half, forcing Gould's game winner, but only gained 101 yards in the first. For the Bears, that's a good starting point with the real games coming in three weeks.

"We made some strides today, we got better," said Peppers, who sat out last week's game. "It was an improvement from last week, that's always a plus, and that's always the goal. We still got a little bit of work to do."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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