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Safety Play Must Improve for Bears Against Lions

Conte, Wright showing tendency to overrun ball carriers as of late

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Chris Conte had two picks and nine broken up passes in 2012. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

     It wasn’t all that long ago that the Chicago Bears had a 3-0 record and were riding a wave of positive momentum. Their offense looked spectacular against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and fourth quarter comebacks in Weeks 1 and 2 had Bears fans positively giddy about what was to come for the team.

    When they faced off against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, however, all of those hopes came crashing to the ground. The Bears turned the ball over four times in the game, and they gave up 27 points in the second quarter as the Lions raced out to a massive 37-16 lead in three quarters. A fourth quarter comeback attempt ended up coming up short, and the Bears were left to pick up the pieces and try to figure out what went wrong.

    Since then, the Bears have continued to run hot and cold, going 2-2 over that stretch, but last week’s victory over the Green Bay Packers has caused some fans’ optimism to return. Jay Cutler will also be back in the lineup for the Bears, and he and his teammates will be looking for some sweet vengeance against the team that embarrassed them at Ford Field late September.

    The problem with that plan doesn’t lie with the Bears offense though. It actually lies with the Bears’ defense, which was not only gashed to bits by the Lions’ high powered attack, but has also been going through some big injury problems. Nate Collins and DJ Williams have both been lost for the season in the weeks following that game, and Lance Briggs still isn’t able to play. Those losses have left some big holes on defense, and even with Corey Wootton playing well at the tackle spot, the loss of two linebackers has been a tough one for the Bears to absorb.

    Making matters worse for the Bears has been the play of their safeties. As this blog, and many others, have examined over the past few weeks, both Major Wright and Chris Conte are having some serious difficulties both in pass coverage and on run defense. It’s only exacerbating the problems that having two rookie linebackers in the lineup can bring.

    The Lions game provided some great examples of the type of inconsistent play that fans have come to expect from the two safeties. While Wright made a touchdown-saving tackle against Calvin Johnson on a screen in the red zone in the third quarter, there were other times that he would overrun players, like he did against Reggie Bush on a draw play later in the quarter.

    Conte’s play was even worse in that game, with the safety taking several bad routes at ball carriers. On a first quarter run, Bush gained 17 yards after Conte overran him near the line of scrimmage. Not learning from his mistake, Conte gave up two more runs on consecutive plays later in the game, with Bush gaining 31 yards on the miscues.

    It would stand to reason that Conte could potentially improve on his play from several weeks ago, but in Monday’s win over Green Bay, he did the same thing again. On the Packers’ first drive of the second half, it was Conte angling in towards the line of scrimmage that enabled RB Eddie Lacy to get past him, and it was a miracle tackle by Tim Jennings at the 1-yard line that prevented Lacy’s 56 yard run from being a touchdown. For good measure, Lacy scored on the very next play, allowing the Packers to tie the game.

    Both Conte and Wright must do a better job of not over-pursuing running backs like they have done so many times this season. It is an ongoing problem that has left the depleted Bears’ defense in a bit of a lurch, and if the duo can’t figure out what’s going on, then the Bears could be well on their way to giving up even more yards than the 199 they allowed on the ground last week.