By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears have been busy playing the modern game under Marc Trestman.
They have been attempting to build up their passing game so they could compete with Denver, New Orleans and Green Bay when it comes to moving the ball through the air.
They aren’t there yet, but the Bears are moving up the charts as they average 260.8 yards per game, ranking 13th in the league. The Bears are trying to build an identity as one of the most fearful offenses in the league, and with Jay Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, they may get there
But the team’s long-time identity has come from the play of the defense. That’s no longer the case, and they have identifiable defensive weaknesses that appear to be getting worse.
When they play the Washington Redskins Sunday, their run defense will be under the gun.
When you look at the Bears run defense, it’s a unit that appears to be in the middle of the pack statistically. They are giving up 102.0 yards per game on the ground, a figure that ranks 11th in the NFL. That’s not awful by any stretch.
But the Bears made Giants’ retread Brandon Jacobs look like an All-Pro candidate, and that’s troubling. Jacobs had 106 yards on 22 carries and he found the endzone twice. In his previous four games with the Giants, Jacobs had 48 yards. He had been released by the San Francisco 49ers after his skill set didn’t fit in with Jim Harbaugh’s game plan and he was available for anyone to claim.
The Bears have to face Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, and they represent the best running attack in the league. RGIII does not look like the phenom he was a year ago as he gets used to playing with a brace on his surgical knee, but he has looked better in his last two games vs. the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys than he did earlier in the year.
The big problem is Morris. Since stopping RGIII is the primary goal of any defense trying to stop Washington, Morris is going to get his opportunities. Morris ranks 11th with 377 rushing yards, but what makes him dangerous is his 5.2 yards per carry average. That’s the best of any primary running back in the NFL.
Once Morris gets through the hole, he is very hard to bring down. He lowers his shoulder but manages to keep his balance and get the extra yards. Yards that lead to rushing first downs, and that’s where the Bears are most vulnerable.
They have given up 41 rushing first downs, a figure that ties them for 27th in the NFL. That’s the Bears’ soft underbelly that the Redskins will try to exploit. If they can – and they almost certainly will be able to do so – they will provide a road map for every future opponent to follow.
The Bears go to the bye week after their road game with the Redskins, and then they come back with back-to-back games against the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.
In case you hadn’t noticed, rookie Eddie Lacy has given the Packers a legitimate rushing attack this year. The Lions have been giving the ball to Reggie Bush, and he already torched the Bears when the two teams met in Week 4.
It’s easy to see why the Bears have a problem with their rushing defense when looking at the front seven. Defensive end Julius Peppers, 33, is starting to look like an aging veteran who has endured 12 years of violent contact. He can still bring it from time to time, but he can’t dominate on an every-down basis. The rest of the defensive line looks ordinary against the run.
The loss of D.J. Williams (torn pectoral; out for season) means the linebacker crew has taken a big hit. Jon Bostic may have impressed with his hitting ability in training camp, but when he is not delivering the big blow, he seems to run by the play much of the time.
If All-Pro Lance Briggs is not getting it done against the run, the Bears are in huge trouble. The Redskins have a running back in Morris and a quarterback in RGIII who can exploit the Bears’ vulnerability on the ground.
The Bears will get tested this week, and if they don’t pass it, they will provide a road map for the remaining eight teams on the schedule (they play the Packers twice) to follow.
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.