If there has been one common thread that has carried through the Chicago Bears’ season, it has been the defense’s inability to stop the running game. Whether the back in question was Reggie Bush, Eddie Lacy, or Adrian Peterson, the Bears have simply had no answer for what has ailed them in that area of their game.
Last week was perhaps the Bears’ biggest disappointment in that area. With Stephen Paea leaving the game early after aggravating his turf toe ailment, the Bears’ defense line could get zero pressure up the middle of the field, and Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice savaged the Bears to the tune of 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. When factoring in that Rice had rushed for 126 yards on 58 carries in his previous four games COMBINED before facing the Bears, the depth of their failure becomes even more apparent.
This week, the Bears face a foe coming off of a bad week in St. Louis Rams RB Zac Stacy, but his overall performance recently can’t be considered anything but a smashing success. After all, Stacy has 537 rushing yards in just eight games this season, and before the Indianapolis Colts held him to just 62 yards in the Rams’ Week 11 victory, Stacy had rushed for a combined 261 yards and two touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans.
Those kinds of numbers are nothing to sneeze at, and they point to a challenge that the Bears are short-handed in facing. With Paea likely out for Sunday’s game, the Bears once again have a gaping hole in their defensive front four, and if they aren’t careful, Stacy could run circles around them all day long.
So how do they combat this issue? For starters, the Bears will have the benefit of having Shea McClellin back on the field for this game, which means that in all likelihood Corey Wootton will be moving back to the defensive tackle spot that he has excelled in for the past few weeks. Who will start alongside him is still up in the air, but in all likelihood, Landon Cohen will get the start in place of Paea. That isn’t great news for the Bears, and they are going to have to come up with ways to mask their lack of depth in this area.
That means that both Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will have to be at their very best in terms of being able to diagnose whether a play is going to be a rush or a pass. The Rams don’t exactly have a potent passing game with Kellen Clemens starting in place of the injured Sam Bradford (Clemens is only averaging 145.3 yards per game and has three touchdowns), so the odds are that the Bears will be able to stack the box quite often against the Rams to both help out their defensive tackles and to help out the rookie linebackers in staying in their gaps.
Finally, getting good play out of the safeties downfield will be crucial too. If the Bears are stacking the box, then it’s going to mean that a guy like Major Wright or Chris Conte will be left alone to handle both the receivers (who will be going up against an undermanned Bears corps of cornerbacks with Charles Tillman out of the lineup) AND the potential of a runner getting through the defense.
All of those things are massive ifs due to the various injuries that the Bears are dealing with, but after showing some flashes of solid play against the Ravens last week, the hope for Mel Tucker and company is that the team can take a big step forward on the defensive side of the field Sunday.