Defense will have to carry Bears
Defense will have to carry Bears
As offense struggles, defense has been strength of club
As the Bears roared out of Halas Hall Thursday afternoon with a weekend pass, they did so with the knowledge their lead in the NFC North could grow before they gather again Monday.
The Bears (4-3) hold an edge over the Packers (4-3) atop the division by virtue of having beaten them already. While the Bears rest up over the weekend, the Packers and Vikings (2-4) will get a look at the difficult part of the schedule that lies ahead.
The Packers visit the Jets and the Vikings play the Patriots in New England. Facing the AFC East clubs will be no treat for the NFC North this season, but if the Bears are going to be a contender a month from now, it will be because of their defense.
How much better their offense got during two practices this week when there were no team drills remains to be seen. Basically, it amounted to a week off work for quarterback Jay Cutler, and the embattled offense must make significant strides in the second half so it at least isn't beating itself Sundays.
The defense, on the other hand, is in prime position. The Bears rank fourth in the efficiency ratings Fox analyst Troy Aikman has devised, a comprehensive evaluation that goes far beyond yards allowed. The Bears are second in points allowed, first on third down and fifth against the run.
Rod Marinelli has fit the role of coordinator well as the Bears' third in as many seasons. You never would think this is a first for him in the NFL.
"I've had a pretty good feel of it, but most calls work when they're well executed. That's the coach and the player working together, day-to-day drill work and fundamentals," Marinelli said. "It's something I enjoy."
Besides Marinelli's presence in a more prominent role this season, why is the defense clicking after sliding since Super Bowl XLI? Here are three reasons:
•Safety was a major concern entering this season because when the Bears were blistered last season it was in games where they allowed a bounty of big plays.
Danieal Manning and Chris Harris haven't been perfect by any stretch, but they have been steady and opponents haven't feasted on the secondary. Add in the steady play by cornerback Tim Jennings, a free-agent addition in March, and a group no one expected a lot from quietly has gone about its business.
If rookie Major Wright can make a mark in the second half, things could get better.
•Few would have predicted the Bears defense would be looking so good after seven games if Julius Peppers had only two sacks, but it has.
That's because Peppers has rubbed off on those around him. Israel Idonije has a career-high 4 1/2 sacks and while Peppers doesn't have flashy statistics, he has been relatively consistent and offenses have had to plan around him. Bears' opponents have a passer rating of 69.2, second-best in the league.
Yes, there is concern here as complementary roster moves indicate, but the pass rush has done its job even if the sack numbers aren't what were envisioned.
•As much of an effect the addition of Peppers has made, the strength of the unit still lies at linebacker, where Brian Urlacher isn't playing like he's 32. Lance Briggs should come back next week healed up from his sprained left ankle and Pisa Tinoisamoa has been what the Bears figured he would be a year ago. The linebackers have been solid in maintaining gap discipline and the scheme is working again.
The franchise certainly is accustomed to the defense carrying it. But that was when the offense at least could run the ball with consistency. We will see if this offense can evolve.