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Hoge’s Tweetbag: Bears Defense Could Improve As Season Goes On

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Lance Briggs. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Lance Briggs. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) — It’s been way too long since we last did a Tuesday Tweetbag, so let’s jump right in with your questions on the Chicago Bears.

Among the topics in this edition: How good can the defense be when it gets healthy? Which players have surprised this year? And is Marc Trestman’s willingness to discuss strategy hurting the Bears at all?

I definitely think there are reasons for optimism. The injuries to D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs put the Bears in a vulnerable position, but they also accelerated the development of Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, who have shown improvement in each game they have played. When Briggs returns, the linebacking group should be just as good as it was when Williams was playing, if not better. It will also help the special teams as Greene will be able to return to that unit again.

The problem is, nose tackle Stephen Paea is out again. He’s week-to-week with this toe issue and the Bears will miss him a lot while he’s out. Paea and Corey Wootton have not received enough credit as an inside-tandem on that defensive line and Landon Cohen is just not the same caliber player, even though he has filled in admirably.

As for Ratliff, I have my doubts. He’s 32 years old and hasn’t played in a game in over a year. As of Friday, he’s still not practicing, and conditioning is just as much of an issue as his health. I just think expecting him to be an impact player when he finally gets on the field is asking a lot.

For now, Wootton is going to have to continue to play inside at tackle, which isn’t the end of the world if Julius Peppers keeps up his recent play and David Bass contributes like he did Sunday. It also looks like Shea McClellin could be back this week.

If the offense can carry the load for the next few weeks, there’s definitely a chance this defense improves dramatically near the end of the season. Getting Briggs and Paea back will be huge and having Ratliff certainly doesn’t hurt anything, even if I’m skeptical about how impactful he’ll be.

And then there’s the wild card for the playoffs: Charles Tillman. If he can get healthy enough to come off of IR for the playoffs, he might end up being as good as he has been all season because that bad knee of his will have had eight weeks of rest.

What a tough question. You’re talking about the quarterback of the defense vs the missing link of the Cover-2 scheme.

Since you specifically mentioned the 2011 version of Ratliff though, I’d say he would provide more of an impact. With Paea out, you’d be adding a Pro Bowler at defensive tackle. And with Paea healthy, you’re talking about a potent front-four of Peppers, Paea, Ratliff and Wootton, which would greatly alleviate the pressure on the rest of the defense, specifically the Tillman-less secondary.

I’m also going in this direction because of the play of nickelback Isaiah Frey. He has allowed the Bears to play nickel about three-fouths of the time since Briggs went out, keeping only two linebackers on the field. James Anderson has been good for most of the season and Jon Bostic is improving each week, so I feel like the defense could live without Briggs with a Pro Bowler added to the defensive line.

Well, the offensive player is pretty easy: Josh McCown. While I wrote in training camp that he looked like a capable backup for Jay Cutler, I don’t think anyone could have expected him to have a 100.0 passer rating in four games. Marc Trestman deserves a lot of credit for McCown success, but the 34-year-old still needs to go out there and execute while also protecting the football. He has five touchdowns, but more importantly he has no interceptions and no fumbles.

On defense, I think both James Anderson and Isaiah Frey are good candidates, but I’m going to go with Corey Wootton. No one would have been surprised to see him turn into a Pro Bowl defensive end this year, but instead, he’s playing at a high level at the three-technique. The Bears essentially asked a fourth-year pro to switch positions because of a rash of injuries to the defensive line — in a contract year, no less — and he’s done it without a problem. There’s all this talk about using the franchise tag on Jay Cutler, but the Bears might need it for Corey Wootton instead.

What I respect about Marc Trestman is that he doesn’t treat the media and, more importantly, fans like they are idiots. Too many coaches today talk in a condescending tone with zero respect because they are so paranoid about giving up secrets.

Trestman and general manager Phil Emery both understand that there is a lot to gain by letting your fan base understand the process by which they make their decisions. It leaves less speculation and reassures everyone that capable people are in charge at Halas Hall. When you shut out your fan base, you are just creating more doubt about the decisions that are being made.

Monday’s example of Trestman explaining his reasoning for not using his timeouts is a perfect example. You may not agree with him, but at least you know the head coach made a decision in a crucial moment of a game based on a lot of research and reasoning that was conducted well before the game even started.

Emery deserves a lot of credit for changing this dynamic within the organization in the last year. He was clearly not happy with the communication between the coaching staff and the media last year and he mentioned after the firing of Lovie Smith that he wanted it to change. He understands that the media is what connects the fans to their team and if you are treating the media with disrespect, you are also treating your fans with disrespect.

And, most importantly, Emery and Trestman are still not giving away any secrets. Both of them answer the questions that they can and, instead of lying, simply say things like “I can’t answer that” or “I’m not going to get into that” when they feel like they are asked something that would give away secrets.

There’s no question that this approach has been beneficial to the Bears organization this year and if I was an owner or team president of another NFL franchise, I’d take note of what Emery and Trestman are doing in Chicago.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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