In just six games, the Chicago Bears have been criticized for everything from poor game management by quarterback Jay Cutler to lackluster play by the team’s linebackers and safeties on pass defense. More than any other element of the game, the one thing the team has been most roundly chastised for has been their inability to get to the quarterback on the pass rush.
New acquisitions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston had borne the brunt of that criticism. With a combined $67 million in contracts signed before the season started, both players were expected to provide some serious punch off the line, and neither had delivered. Houston has been good in run defense, but his performance on the pass rush was poor at best. Allen was in the same boat, missing a game due to pneumonia and not looking much more effective when he was on the field.
On Sunday however, everything seemed to change. The Bears ended up with four sacks on the afternoon against Matt Ryan, and their run defense limited the Falcons to just 42 yards on the ground. It was a masterful performance by everyone that lined up with that group, and it was their effective play that really set the tone for the game.
Stephen Paea got things started with a strong first half, with a pass deflection and a sack to his credit as the Bears’ defense held Atlanta to just three points. After those plays, things quieted down a bit as the Falcons stormed back to score 10 unanswered points in the third quarter, but things picked up again in a big way after the Bears took a 27-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
On a second down play with about 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Bears got pressure from up the middle of the line with Houston, and Allen and Willie Young each came around the edge quickly off the snap. The Falcons’ line simply couldn’t hold all three guys back, and Allen ended up picking up his first sack as a Bear to force a third and long play.
The Falcons’ next drive saw a similar end, as Young hauled down Ryan in the backfield on a third-and-five play. Ryan ended up throwing an interception on his next pass, and the Bears looked poised to cruise to victory.
Unfortunately, the Falcons did end up getting the ball back, but the Bears’ defensive line continued their strong play. Young got yet another sack on first down, and when Will Sutton knocked down a pass on fourth-and-short, the Bears were able to run out the clock on their third victory of the season.
Between the excellent pass rush, the great run defense, and the willingness to bat down passes at the line (Ego Ferguson had similar success in that area last week), things look like they may be coming together for the Bears up front on defense. With a banged up linebacker corps and a group of safeties that have had to deal with plenty of injuries of their own, it’s important that the front four step up in a big way, and if they can keep playing like they did Sunday, things should continue looking up.