Silverman: Bears Defense Needs To Find New Anchor
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) You have to give the Bears credit for realizing how the modern game of football has changed.
It’s no longer about playing stout defense and shutting down your opponent. It’s about moving the ball up and down the field and scoring touchdowns. A team that plays half-decent defense, and can create a few turnovers, while making big plays on offense has a chance to win.
That’s the formula that teams like New Orleans, Green Bay and New England have used in recent years and it’s what the Bears have tried to emulate under the leadership of general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman.
However, it has gone way too far. The offense has made major strides, but the nightmare scenario hit Trestman right between the eyes Sunday when Jay Cutler went down with his groin injury. Cutler is the team’s center piece, and the Bears offense has taken off this season. Cutler had been throwing the ball on the numbers to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, while running back Matt Forte was doing it as a runner and receiver.
With Cutler out, the Bears’ offense will be in trouble. Backup Josh McCown certainly passed his adrenaline test when he came in after Cutler was hurt, but there’s a big difference between getting the ball as a relief pitcher and starting.
McCown will be under center when the Bears return from their bye for their Week 9 trip to Green Bay. He is going to find an improved Green Bay defense that hits harder and plays more consistently than the Bears are used to seeing.
That’s one thing the Packers won’t see. The Bears no longer have their defensive identity. It has gone up in smoke, and the Redskins spent all game pushing the Bears all over the field and putting up 45 points.
The Bears succeeded in turning Robert Griffin III back into RGIII as he threw for 298 yards and ran for 84 more. He looked like the sensation who dominated as a rookie after struggling in the early weeks of the 2013 season.
The situation is going to get worse before it gets better. No matter what scheme the Bears are playing, there’s one thing they can’t overcome. That’s the loss of linebacker Lance Briggs, who will miss four to six weeks (or more) with a small fracture in his shoulder.
You can’t play defense in the NFL without the fear factor. A team that does not put at least one dominant player on the field is going to be overmatched in the NFL.
It could have been defensive end Julius Peppers, but he has gotten old before our eyes. There are too many plays where he is a non-factor. When he does make an impact play, it seems to exhaust him and he’s not heard from after that.
Briggs took the baton from Brian Urlacher during the 2011 season. Urlacher may have been on the roster last year, but he could not run and that means he was basically taking up space when he was on the field.
A look at the linebacking crew now reveals Blake Costanzo, Jon Bostic and James Anderson. That means nobody in the NFC North is shaking. Anderson can play a little bit, as he has 41 tackles, 1.0 sack and a fumble recovery. Costanzo and Bostic are unproven.
The numbers show how bad things have gotten for the Bears. They are allowing 391.0 yards per game and rank 26th in that category. They are giving up 273.7 yards per game through the air (27th) and 117.3 yards per game on the ground (25th).
Going into the Redskins game, it appeared the Bears were in big trouble if the Redskins were going to run the ball with Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr. and RGIII. The only strategy that would have worked is if the Bears could have built a two-plus TD lead and forced the Redskins to throw the ball on every down to catch up.
They couldn’t and the Redskins burned them on the ground and through the air.
The Bears don’t have a nasty policeman on defense who is taking names and punishing opponents. That’s not defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s fault.
Forget about street free agents because that’s not going to help this team. They have one chance to improve the defense, and that’s through the trade route.
Former Bears linebacker Nick Roach is the anchor of the Oakland Raiders’ 12th-ranked defense. He is manning the middle linebacker spot and he leads the team with 45 tackles. He has also become the defense’s unofficial captain.
Roach signed a four-year, $13 million free-agent deal with the Raiders prior to this season. It’s unlikely they will move him, but the Raiders are not going to the playoffs this year. Perhaps a package that includes a high draft pick would allow the Bears to finagle Roach away from the Oakland roster.
Emery has to make a bold move because there are no players on the Bears roster who can take the baton from the injured Briggs.
The Bears need a policeman and they don’t have one on the roster. They have to go out and get one now.
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.