Bernstein: Any Bears’ Legitimacy Starts With Defense
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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.