By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) For years, some Bears fans have complained about the boring Cover-2 defense.
Nevermind that it’s been extremely effective. Blitz more. Now.
Sunday against the Steelers, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker gave those fans what they’ve long wanted. He called for blitzes about a third of the game and the defense kept pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sacking him three times and hitting him on 11 plays.
Just don’t expect to see that defense every week.
“We played the game that we feel like we needed to play that week or that game and be ready to adjust as we go,” Tucker said Wednesday. “Whether it’ll be more coverage, more pressure, base, blitz or whatever it is, it’s whatever we think we need to do to get the job done to get them stopped. And that changes sometime from game-to-game or within a game. So we’re equipped to do whatever we need to do to get them stopped.”
Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith and former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli tweaked the defense from week-to-week more than they were ever given credit for, but the approach against the Steelers Sunday was more drastic and it’s fair to expect more variance from Tucker this year. The new defensive coordinator is not married to one style. He’s coached both the 3-4 and 4-3 and he’s shown an ability to adapt to his talent from year-to-year.
That includes this season, when he came to Chicago and decided he would learn the Bears’ terminology instead of forcing his own on a defense that had been doing it the same way for nine years. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t see opportunities to take advantage of the resources available to him and turn up the aggressiveness.
“We try to play aggressive defense, regardless of if it’s a base defense or pressure,” Tucker said. “We want to be aggressive in everything we’re doing. Aggressive in our technique. Aggressive in our attitude and our approach, our pad level. Our hands and our feet, things like that. We want to play hard. There’s always a risk-reward to everything you do. We try to mitigate those as best we can.”
That risk-reward was evident against the Steelers. While many of the blitzes were effective, they also played a part in Roethlisberger throwing for 406 yards and two touchdowns.
And Roethlisberger didn’t have Calvin Johnson to throw the ball too.
This week’s opposing quarterback, Matthew Stafford, does have Calvin Johnson to throw to and that’s why this week’s defense could look a lot more like Lovie’s unit and not the one you saw in Pittsburgh last week.
It’s usually a bad idea to cover Johnson one-on-one, but Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has had success shutting Johnson down in recent years. Last year, Johnson had just eight catches for 106 yards and zero touchdowns in two games against the Bears, modest numbers for arguably the league’s best wide receiver.
But Tillman has been slowed down by knee and groin injuries and did not practice Wednesday. Even if he plays against the Lions, he may not be 100 percent.
That means the Bears will most likely not be able to blitz as much as they did against the Steelers. Instead, they could be forced to sit in their Cover-2 more to account for Johnson.
“We need 11 guys on the same page every play to have a chance to contain him,” Tucker said. “Whatever the coverage is, whatever the rush is, we can’t leave it up to one guy. We can’t be just one technique.”
Of course, that puts the pressure back on the defensive line to get home with four rushers. It’s not like the Bears won’t blitz at all, but the front-four will need to get to Stafford, who has only been sacked twice in three games.
And the Bears be playing without defensive tackle Henry Melton for the first time, after he suffered a torn ACL against the Steelers. In his place will be Nate Collins, who has been playing well.
“He’s a high-effort guy, a high-energy guy. Stout. He’s got a relentless mentality. Has a good pad level. He’s got a chip on his shoulder,” Tucker said. “I really like him.”
Tucker would know. He had Collins in Jacksonville too, where he was nowhere near the player he is today.
“He’s come a long way,” Tucker said. “He’s done a great job. He’s very dedicated. Football is very important to him. His teammates are very important to him. He works hard each and every day to get better and he has improved.”
It won’t just be up to Collins, but the three-technique is the heart beat of the Cover-2 and the Bears need production from that spot. Undrafted rookie Zach Minter could dress for the first time Sunday, but defensive ends Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton will also probably see more time inside, which is something they’ve already done frequently this season.
“We talked to those guys before, we need every guy. And that’s from Day One,” Tucker said. “We told guys that at some point we’re going to need you. And whatever that role is going to be, be ready to step up and fulfill that role for us. This week is no different.”
With Megatron looming, the focus this week will continue to be about Tillman’s health, but the guy the Bears need the most might actually be Collins.
“It’s a defense where, coach says it every day: The star of the defense is the defense,” Collins said. “As long as guys stay in their gap, everyone’s going to have the opportunity to make plays and when plays come your way you just have to make them, and I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing.”
And that’s what he needs to continue to do against the Lions, no matter what style Tucker dials up.