Hailed as the greatest weakness of the Chicago Bears, the run defense is getting tested (and shaped) in the first half of the 2014 season.
New York Jets and Chris Ivory Latest Of Many Run-First Opponents
It seemed like the worst-case scenario for the Bears. A team that finished the 2013 season giving up 160 yards per game on the ground would begin their 2014 campaign against a bevy of opponents known for their ability to run the ball. Buffalo ranked second last season. San Francisco was right behind them in 3rd place. Now Chicago must travel east to deal with the New York Jets. Headlined by trade acquisition Chris Ivory, they finished the regular season 6th in the league with 134 yards per game. Through two games their top three running backs have collectively averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
To the casual fan who remembers what they saw last season, it may seem like an insurmountable task. After giving up 193 yards to Buffalo in the opener, how can the Bears possibly hope to do anything about the subsequent running teams they’ll face?
Two answers come to mind. Health and experience.
Remember, the Bears defense last season that wilted against those tough running teams was gutted by injuries. Both starting defensive tackles were out for much if not the entire season. D.J. Williams was out after six games at middle linebacker, leaving a rookie Jon Bostic to cover for him. Lance Briggs suffered a shoulder ailment that left him out eight games. Charles Tillman, their best tackling corner also was lost for the year. Even their top reserve defensive tackle, Nate Collins tore his ACL. Put simply, the front seven was purged of their most reliable bodies all at the same time. So ensuring that doesn’t happen again will help this year.
The other part is experience. Not just the typical “experience” like playing games. Experience seeing run-first teams. One thing that is typical of an NFL team is the more they see something, the better they get playing against it every time. That is why teams in the NFC West are better at defending the read-option offense than other divisions, because they have Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and see twice every year.
That principle applies to the Bears. As the 2014 season progresses, they will see their fair share of teams who love to run the ball. Beyond the Jets there is Carolina, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay. Scheme of course will differ, but after awhile the players will become more attune to gap intergrity and to proper tackling technique until it become second nature to them.
These two parts have been proven before.
Indianapolis Colts Learned Lessons Well In 2006
Most people of course remember the 2006 Indianapolis Colts as the team that finally got Peyton Manning his ring. Chicago Bears fans remember as one of the most heartbreaking years having to watch him do it at their expense. However, what many forget about that Colts team is they were also historically bad against the run most of the year. By the end of the regular season they were giving up an average of 173 yards per game. During one two-game stretch they allowed 594 yards on the ground.
Then, almost out of nowhere, things flipped in the playoffs. Indianapolis averaged only 83 yards allowed through the postseason. When asked later how the turnaround came about, head coach Tony Dungy said a major key was the players started to execute better, filling their assignments properly. Another was getting guys back healthy, specifically safety Bob Sanders who was one of their leaders.
There in lay the rationale for Chicago. They can’t look that teams like the Jets as hurdles they must get over but instead exams they must pass in order to advance their knowledge. As the season progresses people may find that by December, health permitting, the Bears will be a far different team defending the run.
Don’t believe it? Here’s some stats to chew on.
- Week 1 vs. Buffalo: 193 yards allowed (19 on quarterback scrambles)
- Week 2 vs. San Francisco: 127 yards allowed (64 on quarterback scrambles)
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