Peppers' rush will be needed early

Julius Peppers' pass rush will be needed early against quality quarterbacks. G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Perhaps the Chicago Bears knew what lay ahead when they opened the checkbook in free agency to broker a landmark deal with defensive end Julius Peppers.

A quick look at the schedule released Tuesday suggests they'll need him in a hurry, considering the quarterback gauntlet the Bears face in the first month of the season.

Highlighting a schedule that includes four nationally televised games in prime time, in addition to the franchise's first contest in Canada, the Bears play three of their first four outings against a trio of quarterbacks who threw at least 26 touchdowns apiece, in addition to passer ratings of at least 93.1.

"Our national games will provide a lot of excitement given our opponents," Bears coach Lovie Smith said in a statement. "Our game in Toronto will allow us to play in front of a Canadian fan base that loves football."

After opening at home against the Lions, led by promising young quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Bears travel to Dallas where they'll face Tony Romo (26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 97.6 rating), followed by back-to-back night outings on national television against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (30, 7, 103.2) on "Monday Night Football," and the New York Giants' Eli Manning (27, 14, 93.1) on "Sunday Night Football."

Although Stafford threw more interceptions than touchdowns (20-13) last season, it's important to note his showing in a 48-24 loss to the Bears last season. Stafford passed for 296 yards, a TD and an INT, with Chicago sacking him a season-high five times.

Given the pedigree of the four quarterbacks Chicago faces to start the season, applying pressure off the edge would seem to be of paramount importance.

Maybe the Bears deserve some credit for having foresight in acquiring Peppers. Over a combined 19 career games against Detroit, Dallas, Green Bay and the New York Giants, Peppers has racked up 20 sacks. The former Carolina Panthers Pro Bowler had seven sacks in six outings -- none in his past four -- against the Cowboys, and another three sacks in his past three contests against the Packers.

Tack on another three sacks in Peppers' four career games against the Giants -- including two in the past three games -- and four more in his past three outings against the Lions.

The Bears finished tied for 13th in sacks last season with 35, led by Adewale Ogunleye with 6.5. But Ogunleye won't be back in 2010; Mark Anderson, who started two games last season and contributed 3.5 sacks, is slated to start opposite Peppers. Israel Idonije -- 2.5 sacks in '09 -- is the No. 3 defensive end.

Sufficient pressure from that trio should go a long way toward getting the Bears off to a good start. Chicago's schedule ranks 14th in terms of strength, and the club's opponents compiled a cumulative record last season of 129-127.

In what is widely considered a make-or-break season for Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears open at Soldier Field for the first time since '04, Smith's first season at the helm.

"We're excited to start at home this year," Smith said. "It has been a long time since we opened the season in front of our fans."

The last time the club opened at Soldier Field, the Lions escaped with a 20-16 win on a game-winning interception thrown by former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.

The club's consecutive prime time games in Weeks 3 and 4 are the first of four night games. The Bears face the Dolphins on the road in Week 11 in a Thursday night matchup on NFL Network. In Week 15, Chicago plays the Vikings on the road in its second showing on MNF.

The Dec. 20 matchup with the Vikings falls during a particularly challenging stretch for the Bears. The club hosts New England on Dec. 12, before meeting Minnesota. Chicago hosts the New York Jets the following week, before closing out the stretch at Green Bay.

Interestingly, both of the Bears' road games during the four-game sequence against '09 playoff teams come against NFC North foes. In all, the Bears meet six playoff teams from '09. Five of Chicago's last six games are subject to the NFL's flexible scheduling.

Smith didn't delve far into the Bears' 2010 schedule in comments released Tuesday by the team, but the coach expressed a hint of excitement about the club's Nov. 7 outing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto against the Bills.

"I know Izzy [Idonije] is excited to play at home in Canada," Smith said.

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.