Bears Need Sacks Out Of More Then Just Peppers............
Question is when a pass-rushing presence will emerge around D-line force
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter December 2, 2011
While Julius Peppers was named NFC defensive player of the month for November on Wednesday, the rest of the Bears' season largely hinges on how his defensive linemates perform down the stretch.
Peppers had two sacks Sunday in a 25-20 loss in Oakland, giving him four for the month and eight for the season. That matches his 2010 production after he was signed to the largest contract in franchise history to re-charge Lovie Smith's defense with a fierce edge-rushing presence.
Peppers has 97 sacks in his career, putting him one big game away from triple digits and leaving him only 21/2 behind the Colts' Dwight Freeney for the most in the NFL since 2002. But the question is when a pass-rushing presence will emerge around Peppers — the player who benefits from the double teams Peppers commands on a regular basis and the one who cleans up the plays Peppers forces when quarterbacks flee his reach.
Israel Idonije, who matched Peppers with eight sacks last season, has three this season. Defensive tackle Henry Melton, whom coach Lovie Smith prodded to play better last month, has five. Amobi Okoye, a nickel pass rusher on the inside, has four. They've all flashed at times but none has been consistent, not since the season-opening victory over the Falcons anyway.
The Raiders felt left tackle Jared Veldheer could handle Peppers one-on-one last week after he got the best of the Vikings' Jared Allen the week before. Players and coaches alike were marveling at how Peppers manhandled Veldheer.
"Guy is a monster," weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs said.
Offered Idonije: "He literally is throwing guys all over the place. I mean, throwing tackles, tight ends, it doesn't matter who he's lined up against. He has his way with those guys. It's just incredible to watch."
It's the kind of performance that doesn't translate into stat sheets and doesn't even get its proper due on a highlight show.
"The numbers don't talk about what he did," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "It was the intensity of the game he played at, the speed. My God, the details of his pass rush. Forget the sacks already. Some of the rushes where the ball came out quick, they were some of the prettiest rushes you'd ever want to see. Just beautiful, the skill, the technique, the work habit, you know? He's starting to really come right now. It ignites everybody else around him."
What's interesting is most of Oakland's focus was on the interior of the Bears' line. That is where the Raiders chipped and sent help. A lot of weeks, Peppers does command the double teams, and that's when you expect someone else to win one-on-one situations. It's what Marinelli drills in training camp — winning those individual battles.
"It's different every week," Idonije said. "You just have to watch. Teams have guys they figure match up well."
Even though the sack figures are pedestrian, the pass defense has been solid. The Bears are tied for 20th in the NFL with 22 sacks, but opponents have a 78.0 passer rating, the seventh-lowest figure. Still, the pass rush has to improve if the Bears want to think about competing with the unbeaten Packers. This is a team that talked about its defensive line as one of the best in the league in preseason. Too often, Peppers is a one-man wrecking crew.
Marinelli said Idonije has been "a little bit up and down" but praised his work ethic. He said Okoye is improving on a weekly basis, and Melton has answered Smith's challenge. The third defensive end position, as usual, is unresolved. Chauncey Davis earned more playing time after he was solid against the run at Oakland in his first outing with the Bears.
"We've just got to work it where we're very consistent as a group," Marinelli said.
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