Bernstein: Any Bears’ Legitimacy Starts With Defense

A convincing win over a dispirited divisional opponent has the Bears appearing as bona fide as they have been since they surprised the penalty-prone Packers in week three.

Despite a couple limp losses at home to middling teams, the consecutive post-break victories put Lovie Smith’s team in control of the NFC North at 6-3, with a perfect record within the division. Jay Cutler is outperforming his career numbers — in whatever this Mike Martz stuff is from one week to the next behind an inconsistent line – as we have focused on the offense from the first day of training camp in July.

The truth of their legitimacy, though, is this: only one team in the league has allowed fewer points than the 146 that Bears’ opponents have managed.

Rod Marinelli took over a defense that had been coordinated by three others in the three previous seasons, and he has it working. He also has players.

There are two likely Hall-of-Famers in Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher currently performing at or near their respective peak standards. Lance Briggs is a five-time Pro-Bowl linebacker playing his best football. Charles Tillman is one of the best in franchise history at his position. The perennially-lacking safety spot finally seems solid with the addition of Chris Harris and the apparent improvement of Danieal Manning.

Israel Idonije, Matt Toeaina, Pisa Tinoisamoa and D.J. Moore have been strong in complementary roles.

Yesterday, there were blue jerseys swarming to the ball, securing tackles and closing the open spots of the base Tampa-2 scheme quickly. Some fans have a tough time “feeling” this defense, since it often seems to surrender chunks of yards, and breakdowns in gap responsibility can be glaring. But its aggressiveness is contained within, and is apparent when it is functioning fast — denying yards after the catch and getting off the field, stripping the ball, or intercepting passes.

This was a planting of the flag for the Bears defense, standing up to Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson after the Vikings’ explosive rally last week had thoughts of season’s resurrection dancing in their little, purple heads. Stopping Buffalo was less than satisfying, but not this.

A pass rush would be nice, of course. Peppers has been a force everywhere but the stat sheet, and his mates have yet to reap the benefits of his presence with sacks of their own at a consistent rate.

But even a skeptic (not that I know one) can envision a recipe for winning that involves this defense, this return game (um…wow) and an offense capable of, say, 20 to 25 points.

If good health continues, Martz isn’t insane and Cutler avoids being an idiot, it may not be crazy to think the Bears could win a playoff game.

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Objective Fan

    This was a meaningless win. I learned nothing about the Bears from this game.

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    A win is a win, glad to see Farve and The Vikes bite it.

  • scott

    Objective fan tell me a game you learned something? This is the NFL its half way through the season we have seen enough. This isn’t a scientific experiment where you must repeat results over and over to gain clarity. This is football its not that complected. The Bears won a game where people didn’t think that they could. Surly that means something? The Bears third down conversion rate has improved drastically. There died in the div. there 1 game out for the best rec. in the league and buried a talented div. opponent. I can say one thing def. I know about the Bears THERE HERE TO STAY.

  • G-Mo82

    ^ I agree. I’m not impressed with this team as a whole. Yes the defense played well and Hester woke up BUT the Vikings are not very good this year. Whether you like it or not, the bears wins have come against teams that are 13-37 ?

    I’m sure football fans thought Pittsburgh was a team to beat in the AFC and brady carved them up. We have to play that team, what will the defense do against them ? We shall see

    Still have to play the Jets, and I dont think even with the injuries Miami is a “given”

    I say they finish 9-7 and miss the wild card due to a loss to the Eagles.

  • Denver Smeghead

    Hmm. The website is eating my comment?

    • The Website

      Mmm! Tastes like chicken!

  • dave

    and the dolphins are down to their 3rd string QB.

    i say the bears finish 10-6, or 11-5 if the Packers start falling apart.

    the lions have been fighting all year, but not having stafford seems to be finally getting to them.

    • bigtime sucker

      either the eagles pats or the jets will go down to the bear. they will lose to green bay, they will beat minnesota at home UNLESS sidney rice is sidney rice again, beat detroit i vote 10-6

  • bronzo

    I though it was one the most complete games the Bears have played all year. What a novel idea having the best kick returner in the league actually returning kickoffs!!

    Although I’m not completely convinced that this team is legit…they are playing much better than I thought they would,

  • D.O

    One significant negative aspect to the game Sunday was the penalties though. You can’t do that in a close game. 11 for 116 yards.

    Some of those penalties could have been an extra field goal try, or another/closer chance at a TD instead of kicking a FG.

    Although the Bears did look a lot more solid as a whole team on Sunday, there are still areas they need to improve on.

    • D.O

      Actually the Bears were fortunate to convert on that TD pass to Olsen, considering the first one was brought back due to an unneeded penalty.

  • Denver Smeghead

    The team is 6-3, but I still can’t help but feel that they’re not a good team.

    I don’t expect that to change even if we beat the Dolphins.

  • Mike in Davenport

    I think the real story is that the Bears are undefeated in the division. Here’s hoping the Vikings can pull one out against the Pack.

  • mad as hell fan...

    Best performance by the Bears this season, but I am still hesitant to claim they have figured out anything at this point. That Queens team i a mess, Favre is about the worst teammate in the history of sports, continues to be. The Bears do have one thing that many might scoff at but IMO is pretty important in football…they have pride, they are angry, they play the “us against the world routine”, yet believe it to be true. Those are all good qualities for this time of the year.

    Thigpen for MIA is no slouch. He is probably the best 3rd stringer in football. He did a solid job in KC and could possibly give the Bears the most problems of the 3 QB’s in MIA. Pennington is done, Henne is like Rex was with the Bears, would have great games and horrible horrible stretches. Thigpen is just generally consistently solid with not a high ceiling, that is why he is a backup. I was hoping for Pennington to be honest, Thiglen can give this defense trouble if the Bears don’t get to him Thurs nght.

  • AT3374

    I’ll give credit to the Bears , they finally won a game without a flukey play or a TD that wasn’t a TD even though Megatron’s feet hit the endzone ( expect that to change next year ) .

    As mush as I like Favre , his time is way up . The Vikes are going nowhere and Chilly will be gone at the end of the year or maybe before . Good riddences .

    Hopefully we get another complete game on Thursday .

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    I understand… I don’t feel like the Bears are “Good”, either.

    …But this season, who can you look at and say “THAT’S a Super Bowl Team”?

    I still think the Jets are the best team in the NFL, but they got de-pantsed by the Packers, and struggled to get past the Lions and Browns. New England lost to Clevleand handily, the Gi’nts got punked by Jon Kitna yesterday, and the Saints have lost to a couple bad teams… Nobody is what it seems. I’d hate to be in a confidence pool this year.

    However, as a Bears fan, just by the way things are shaking down, you can’t count them out… and you can’t count them in, either. Honestly, I think this is the season we all subconsciously ask for as NFL fans.


      I am in a confidence pool, for funsies, and I’m hoping for my first winning record in four (five?) weeks.
      It’s brutal this year.
      I think the AFC is not really good this year, and I haven’t thought much of them for a while.
      Someone had to win last night, and I guess that was New England.


  • Mike in Davenport

    Well, it is NFL parity. It’s like the purgatory of sports.

  • bigtime sucker

    third stringer or not, miami concerns me. here’s why,
    there is a lot, A LOT to prepare for in a SHORT time, i will explain:
    They have NO offensive identity, which could be a good thing could be a bad thing. they have weapons,they just payed a receiver a lot of money, don’t remember his name but he is pretty good, heartline is a big physical receiver, marshall is all world and is 6’4 and and presents a problem for our shorty cover 2 guys. Fasano is a more than capable tight tend and they have a physical running attack with ricky williams and ronnie brown. they attack from many formations and are the best wildcat team in the nfl,so they can do a lot with formations and design and really trickery. why they are NOT a top 5 offense is beyond me. Defensivly, you never knwo what you’re going to get. they mix fronts, blitzes and coverages. With the vikings, the bears knew their opponent, the fins? who are they? i don’t know. i would guess our special teams are better but they the dolphins range from terrible to spectaucular play to play really. it’s difficult to prepare for in a short week, that is myopinion. The phins won’t have a problem preparring for the bears, they don’t do anything speciial they just do what they do pretty well. i hope simple execution outranks mental preparation or else we could be upset pretty badly thursday

    • bigtime sucker

      javon best is the receiver they paid a good chunk of change to a few weeks ago

  • the hole in Adolfo Soriano's gold glove

    I think the bulk of the credit for yesterday’s surprising win over Minniehaha should go to the coaching staff. For the first time in the Lovie era that I can remember, the Bears staff has shown a willingness to adapt and do it successfully. Instead of forcing an inflexible game plan on talent unable to perform the tasks, Martz showed he’s aware that the line in its natural state cannot give Cutler the time to find a receiver, even when said receives have the sense to look for the QB while on their routes to who knows where. So the obvious answer is to make him mobile with rollouts, provide a moving pocket for a little extra protection and time to improvise while encouraging the threat of the QB scramble to keep the pass rush honest for an extra second or two, both of which will help a struggling O-line. Cutler’s still hamstrung with wide-outs unable to help him out by batting away a badly thrown pass attempt or improvising their routes when he’s is running for his life. But how much can be expected from staff and players assembled on the unbalanced Jerry-rigged roster provided by the highly incompetent Angelo?
    While we screamed at the horrible O-line, perhaps we should have been more patient while the coaches tried to sort through this wreckage to find a group of five to line up. Or one they could work with and perhaps mold into something more than a welcoming committee escorting an opposing pass rush into the backfield. It appears they may be headed in the right direction with this group and perhaps we’ll have one or two worthy of an invite to return next season. Which will become even more desperate with the likely retirement of the underappreciated Olin Kruetz, easily the franchise’s third-best center in history behind Mike Pyle and Jay Hilgenberg.
    And finally, after three years of letting his talents rot on the bench, whoever chooses the KO return man remembered they have the greatest talent to man that position in the history of the NFL, so, hey, why not throw him back in? Welcome back, Devin. If he could provide good enough field position for Rex to lead us to the Super Bowl, what might happen with Cutler?
    This group may be the worst 6-3 team since Doug Buffone’s 1971(?) team blew up in the final five weeks, but this club’s weaknesses are far less glaring than that ’71 group and the mediocrity of the 2010 NFC just may provide the perfect storm for this far-from perfect team to have some fun in the playoffs. The season has already been a perfect storm in many ways; week to week we keep getting teams at their worst or ridiculous breaks like we did in Week One with Detroit. Another week we get Dallas in the tank. Green Bay giftwraps another win with 15 penalties.The Vikes arrive without their top three receivers, a team on the verge of mutiny and a miscast coach. We barely escape formerly winless Buffalo and now look at Miami’s QB situation for Thursday.
    And just maybe, along the way, Lovie has learned a few tricks to becoming a more competent coach, and an ability to overcome Angelo’s incompetence.
    What a weird, whacky season!


    Where have I heard this before? Brett Favre told NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci before the game yesterday that he plans on retiring in 2011. I’ll believe that when I see it and I take as much joy out of seeing Favre and his dysfunctional Vikings move one step closer to preparing tee times on the golf course instead of a postseason appearance. They looked absolutely out of sync vs. the Bear defense and you couldn’t have asked for a better offensive game plan from Jay Cutler and the Bear offense, except for the 2 interceptions.

    As for “Thursday Night Football”, with Chad Pennington hurting his shoulder & Chad Henne hurting his knee, both Dolphin QBs are likely out for the season. The Bears will likely face Tyler Thigpen Thursday night in what now appears to be a very, very winnable road game at SunLife Stadium in Miami.

  • puddin' head

    jake long and cameron wake are likely to miss thursdays game writers down here in Fl are reporting and don’t let Tyler Thigpen scare ya there’s a reason / reasons you have never heard of him….he’s not very good.

  • bigtime sucker

    cameron wake is going to be out? wow!!! that’s good news, but on offense, it doesn’t take much to throw jump balls to marshall and hartline when 5-8 tim jennings is guarding you

  • puddin' head

    wake is the Dolph’s top sacker @ 8 or 9 also bears should be ready for a good dose of “wildcat”

  • puddin' head

    DB needs to work on his black getto talk…

  • bigtime sucker

    how would you lilke to get a 5 year extension for NOT being rex grossman? that made no sense at all. especially since there might be a lockout, peyton manning is licking his lips now as well. Daniel Snyder, my vote for dope of the year

  • meesohawnee

    a mind is a terrible thing to waste……Is that teenage wasteland..? At least the guy has a thought. :) smile xoxo

  • Denver Smeghead

    I’m thinking that the $78 mil McNabb is going to get could be put to a lot better use for the Redkins right now. Oh man was that a whuppin’.

  • bigtime sucker

    wow, last night showed the difference between a good ownership and management and bad ownership and management. good owner, get rid of aging expensive qb , replace him with cheaper, younger, hungrier player and watch him flourish. Bad owner, take aging big name guy, watch him struggle, watch him get benched, give him 40 million guarenteed and watch him get pantsed by the cheaper younger hungrier player who replaced him at his former place. I am glad Daniel Snyder doesn’t own the bears, whose owners are terribly bad but not that bad, what a dolt!!!

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