By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The perception is that the Bears’ defense is growing old and incompetent before our very eyes.
When Brian Urlacher limped to the sidelines in overtime and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the winning touchdown in overtime, it was not a good moment for the Bears defense.
However, if the Bears are going to collapse this season or become a one-and-done playoff team, it’s not going to be on the defense.
Thanks to Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman, the Bears are 8-4 and still have a shot to win the NFC North if they can handle the Packers in Week 15.
If they don’ t get it done, it will be the result of more halting play by the offense. The Bears have failed to fulfill their offensive promise, largely because there is nobody besides Brandon Marshall who is a credible receiving threat.
The other problem has been Matt Forte. He has not been the same kind of back he was last year, and his indifferent play has given fuel to those who thought the Bears paid too much for him when they gave him a new contract prior to the start of the season.
Let’s look at this team in black and while. The defense ranks fifth in overall defense, 10th in rushing defense and seventh in passing yards allowed. A few weeks ago, the Bears were first in fewest points allowed. They have slipped to second as the San Francisco 49ers have that honor now, having given up 171 points while the Bears have given up 198.
That’s probably the best statistic when it comes to measuring a defense. The Bears have kept opponents off the scoreboard all year and it’s not about to change.
On the other hand, the offensive showing is not playoff-worthy. It’s not even .500-worthy. The Bears rank 30th overall and are an incomprehensible 31st in passing yards.
Rookie Alshon Jeffery appeared to be a decent complementary receiver earlier in the year but injuries have kept him from getting to where he needs to be. Earl Bennett seems to have lost whatever he had and the tight end position has been basically invisible.
Forte has rushed for 749 yards and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but there doesn’t seem to be the threat that he will do anything special. A year ago, Forte has 12 carries of 20 or more yards. This year, he’s done that three times. Forte hasn’t had a carry of longer than 10 yards since the Bears’ Week 9, 51-20 win over Tennessee.
Bears fans knew that Urlacher had slowed down dramatically as soon as he stepped onto the field this season. He has a bad knee and now an injured hamstring. But Peppers is a powerful force, Briggs is the team’s leading tackler and Tillman is a game-changer.
The defense should be strong against Minnesota and Green Bay. Both teams are one-dimensional and those kind of teams can’t get the best of Chicago’s defense.
The Vikings have the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson (1,446 yards, 6.2 ypc) and a non-existent passing game. The Packers may have the best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers (3,124 yards, 29-8 TD-interception ratio), but they can’t run the ball.
Peterson may get his yards and Rodgers will get a touchdown or two, but the Bears’ defense won’t get nailed. If they lose either or both of those games, it will be the offensive weaknesses that lead to the failure, not the defense.
It’s time for the offense to step up and deliver if the Bears are going to win these two vital games. The defense will certainly do its part.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.