Bears

Bernstein: Better Problems For Bears’ Defense

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Jared Allen. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Jared Allen. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

(CBS) Finishing tied for dead last in the NFL in sacks is a problem — 31 in 16 games won’t get it done.

Surrendering a league-worst 6.2 yards per play? Problem. So are the nauseating 2,583 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns, 5.3 yards per rush and 353 total first downs allowed. Bears general manager Phil Emery likes to talk about his defensive line in terms of “disruptions,” but last year’s Bears only disrupted opponents by cluttering their heads with end-zone celebration options.

But just as Emery moved swiftly at this time last year to shore up an incompetent offensive line that was the team’s primary limiting factor in 2012, so has he acted in free agency this year for the other side of the ball.

Lamarr Houston arrived at the outset from the Raiders, followed shortly by Detroit’s Willie Young and then the return of Israel Idonije. Here came a pair of sensible upside bets roundly praised by scouts and coaches and a move to bolster depth and versatility. As is his style, Emery spoke openly and plainly about a desire to correct a shortcoming and then acted.

Other signs began pointing to even more, soon after. First the expected release of Julius Peppers, then some trimming around the edges of the cap to carve out more space. A trip down to the Bank of Cutler created $4 million more for his use, culminating in Wednesday’s announcement of the four-year, $32-million deal for Jared Allen, including a reported $15.5 million guaranteed.

When Phil gets hungry, he eats. He goes at it like it’s the after-last-call trip to White Castle, and he just walked back to the booth with his own Crave Case. He may wake up wishing he hadn’t done it, but it sure tastes good in the moment.

Allen will be 32 when the season begins, and some dismiss him as a deteriorating, one-trick-pony. The age is inarguable, but that’s a valuable trick. He started all 16 games for the Vikings last year and had 11.5 sacks, which is more than one-third of that Bears team total. This essentially swaps out Peppers for somebody less expensive and two years younger, with the kind of outsized personality that makes writers and radio talk-show hosts very happy.

Coach Marc Trestman likes to have lockers alternate offense/defense, so here’s requesting that Allen buddy up with Martellus Bennett and we bring in the HBO Hard Knocks cameras to start rolling ASAP. The two would have their own development deal with a network after three episodes.

I’m not sure how all the pieces fit along the line now. I’m not sure Emery does either, and that doesn’t matter yet. Houston can play inside at the under-tackle (3-technique) spot in a 4-3, or a frequent rotation could keep Allen fresh. It’s also possible that the commitment to more open-minded scheming and the addition of positional coaches with multiple-front backgrounds means something creative that can be figured out as they see who’s comfortable where. After all, the Giants won a title in recent years just lining up defensive ends all across and telling them to get up the field.

This binge also opens up new draft possibilities, if Emery feels like the edges are now solid. Another stout presence inside could still be on the way or a predatory safety to roam the backfield in a way newly fashionable after the Seahawks’ championship blueprint. How about both?

The Bears defense now has just the kind of problems you want.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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