Bears' defense needs a break
Bears' defense needs a break
Offense's futility puts pressure on overextended defensive unit
Throughout their 4-2 start, the Bears' offense has put its defense in some unenviable positions.
The defense has responded with timely turnovers, including Julius Peppers' strip-sack against the Detroit Lions and Brian Urlacher's forced fumble against the Green Bay Packers. But this much was evident Sunday against a Seattle Seahawks team that entered the game with the 28th-ranked offense in the league: The Bears' defense needs a rest.
The ''bend but don't break'' defense has shown tremendous elasticity. But it also showed some vulnerability Oct. 3 against the New York Giants, when it conceded 92 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
The defense was taxed again against the Carolina Panthers when the offense punted six times and tossed an interception four times during the course of 10 drives. Remarkably, seven of those drives lasted only three plays.
Then, against the Seahawks, the defense snapped.
''We just got off to a slow start,'' Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said, referring to the six-play, 85-yard touchdown drive the Seahawks put together on their opening drive. ''Some drives, we had good energy. We were getting off the field. But we were up-and-down. We just [have to] play fast football all 60 minutes, but on Sunday we didn't do that.''
Defensive end Israel Idonije agreed with Jennings, noting that ''our intensity was a little unlike ourselves, and we didn't finish.''
Asked why, Idonije said, ''I don't know.''
One possibility is the defense has been asked to do too much. It's made up of players who tend to be small and quick, reliant on a pack mentality that's key to their knack for generating fumbles and deflecting passes.
Other than the victory against the Panthers, which was a near split, the Bears' offense has lost the time-of-possession battle in four of their last five games. For the season, the Bears are 27th in the NFL with an average time of possession of 27:57.
''It doesn't matter how much they play,'' Jennings said. ''We've just got to keep [opponents] out of the end zone.''
But after hearing the numbers, Jennings relented and admitted the extra minutes make a difference.
''It does matter,'' he said. ''But it's any team. If we can limit our chances on the field, we can stay fresh and stay rejuvenated. But if we stay on the field for 70 or 80 plays, it's going to take a toll on us.''
The defense has shown resilience. It ranks eighth in the league, and it has forced a league-high 31 three-and-outs, seven more than the second-place Giants. The unit is tied for third in takeaways with 14.
But the defense struggled against the Seahawks, failing to generate a turnover or even a sack.
In fact, taking advantage of their bye week, the Seahawks ramped up the tempo, trying to tire the Bears' defense.
''They were running the same plays that they typically do,'' linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ''They were just running them at a faster pace.''
The Seahawks controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes, dialing up 31 runs and 40 passes.
''When we can't get them off the field, it wears you down,'' Tinoisamoa said, ''physically and mentally as well.''
But there's no rest for the weary. The Washington Redskins are coming Sunday, and they boast Ryan Torain, a 6-1, 218-pound running back who isn't afraid of contact, and a savvy, mobile quarterback in Donovan McNabb, who, like the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck, can pick apart a defense.
With the bye coming up, the Bears clearly want to be 5-2 rather than 4-3. To do that, though, the offense must step up and help the defense, a unit desperate for a break.
''The timing is perfect,'' Jennings said. ''It's almost halfway through the season. Hopefully, guys will get rejuvenated.
''That's what the bye is for, a chance for all the guys to get off their feet and recover.''
The healing, of course, will be aided with a victory against the Redskins.