By Laurence Holmes-
CHICAGO (CBS) — The formula for the Bears playing winning defense is simple in theory: pressure the quarterback with down linemen. Use that pressure to create takeways. When the ball is on the ground, scoop it up and score. Sunday against the Falcons the Bears did all of those things and walked away with a 30-12 victory.
The Falcons started the game using a hurry-up trying to keep the Bears off-balance. For awhile it worked, but the Bears kept the Falcons out of the endzone early and took the ball away. That starts up front. They want pressure from their defensive line so that the “back-7” is allowed to roam and go after the ball. The idea is that the more eyes you have on the quarterback, the easier it is to generate takeaways. The Bears got five sacks on Sunday, all from the defensive line.
“It’s huge for us. We got seven guys in the back-end looking at the quarterback when we can do that,” Brian Urlacher said.
Urlacher benefitted from that pressure twice. With Matt Ryan rolling to his right, the Bears forced him into an akward throw, which Urlacher leapt at and picked off for his 19th career interception. Later in the game, Julius Peppers put relentless pressure on Ryan and forced a fumble that Urlacher scooped up and scored on a 12 yard touchdown.
Photo Gallery: Bears vs. Falcons
“It’s not a good defensive game for us unless we can take the ball away. Normally if you have a +2 in the turnover ratio, you’re going to win 90% of your games. Our players understand that. They weren’t turning it over, we were taking the ball away,” Lovie Smith said.
The Bears have been raving about Henry Melton all throughout camp. Sunday he came through with five tackles, an astounding seven quarterback hits and two sacks.
“That’s all I want to do. I want to be a dominant defensive tackle in this league. I’m just excited,” Melton said.
Melton is filling the void left by Tommie Harris who was let go in the offseason. Over the past few years the “3-technique tackle” play has been sporadic. Smith is hoping that Melton can provide stability.
“We’ve been talking alot about Henry Melton and what we thought he would bring to that group. Just a lot of athletic ability, great power, speed and quickness. Inside he’s a tough matchup for bigger, slower offensive linemen,” Smith said.
Amobi Okoye also got a sack as the Bears were able to rotate players on the defensive line all afternoon long and not lose effectiveness. That’s a big deal because in the past there has been a significant drop off. Matt Toeaina had an interception. Nick Reed had a tipped ball and made a nice play on a pass to the flat. Julius Peppers had 2 sacks of his own, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Bears were able to sustain pressure without having to blitz. Which meant the Bears could play more zone and drop 7
guys into coverage. That pressure puts the quarterback on the run and doesn’t allow him to set his feet. It screws up the timing. It didn’t leave Ryan and the Falcons with many opportunities and even when they did get chances, the Bears were able to take the ball away. Charles Tillman picked up his 25th forced fumble of his career when he stripped the ball away from Michael Turner.
Since 2003 no corner in the NFL has more forced fumbles than Tillman.
“I guess it’s just a knack. The way that coach Smith and coach Marinelli teach, ya know they preach it. It’s like religion, turnovers. I try not to let those guys down,” Tillman said.
On Sunday, theory met execution. The Bears defense did their job and the team now sits at 1-0.
For more Bears coverage, follow Laurence Holmes on Twitter (@LHolmes670).