By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) You haven’t yet thrown the remote across the room because of Lamarr Houston, nor have you screamed Ryan Mundy’s name toward the living room ceiling in red-faced exasperation.
So that’s all good. It’s a start.
Bears general manager Phil Emery saw what you saw last year, which was a defense that surrendered a league second-worst 478 points and 22 rushing touchdowns, which was also second from the bottom. Most sickening were the NFL-most 2,583 rushing yards allowed, which outdistanced the next most porous defense by an astonishing 410 yards. Opponents averaged 5.3 yards per carry against the Bears.
So here comes hope that Houston can be a big part of fixing that. Pro Football Focus rated him the fifth-best 4-3 defensive end against the run last year, and Raiders’ opponents fared markedly worse when running plays toward him than away from him. He isn’t a polished, creative or productive pass rusher, but mere competence at holding the edge and the possibility for growth at age 26 appear to be worth multimillions to a desperate team.
Mundy is a tackler — an up-the-field, in-the-box safety. Starter or not, his proven skills are needed similarly. Teams will try to work him over in coverage, however, forcing him to show that he can take proper angles and flip his hips and run.
Emery’s decision to re-sign middle linebacker D.J. Williams may not be the headline today, but it could end up being Tuesday’s most significant deal. Things really started to fall apart when Williams tore his pectoral muscle last year, with rookie Jon Bostic completely overwhelmed both mentally and physically. Williams’ reliability means Lance Briggs is free to clean up plays from the weak side without concern for unfilled gaps elsewhere.
This is assuming that Briggs can still play at 33 as he comes off another injury. He returned to action last year fat, slow and bad, which was either something anomalous to forget or a stark foreshadowing of the end.
On the strong side, Bostic could be competing with failed defensive end Shea McClellin in a depressing battle of high draft picks already trying to re-establish lost value. There also exists the possibility of some four-across looks at that level of the defense, with signs pointing to increasing hybridization and flexibility of method.
Houston himself has dropped back and played on his feet for Oakland, and the recent hiring of both Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach and Reggie Herring as linebackers coach was seen as indicative of a new willingness to deviate from the familiar Tampa-2 packages.
But it’s important to keep in mind that different sometimes is just different, and not necessarily better.
The Atlanta Falcons were also a terrible defensive team last year, with run-stopping numbers only underperformed by the Bears. The Falcons were second-worst to the Bears in both total opponent rushing yards allowed (2,173), and yards per carry allowed (4.8). They also struck quickly to address apparent needs yesterday, grabbing nose tackle Paul Soliai from the Dolphins and defensive end Tyson Jackson from the Chiefs.
But the Falcons had been employing the same kind of hybrid schemes that currently have everybody so intrigued in Chicago. Some Atlanta observers are celebrating the end of that strategy, hoping to see them commit to a true philosophy. In one report of the signings, Yahoo Sports referred to the Falcons’ “much-maligned defensive front.”
So it’s always nice to have new toys to move around in new ways, and there’s no harm in imagining that the unknown is an inherently good thing, especially for two teams believing they can only improve.
If we could see the grass under all the snow, it would look greener somewhere.