First Quarter Grades: Defense

One-fourth of the 2011 season is in the books. The Bears sit at 2-2, having already faced three of the toughest teams in the league. Let's evaluate, by position, the Chicago's performance so far.

To view Part I, the offensive grades, click here.

Defensive end
Julius Peppers has 9 total tackles through four games, which is far too few for a player of his caliber. Last season, he was a force not only as a pass rusher but in stopping the run as well. Yet like Cutler on offense, it's hard to fault Peppers for his lack of production. He's dealt with chip blocks and double teams for most of the year. He's second on the team though in sacks (2.0), to go along with 2 fumble recoveries and a blocked kick.

On the other side of the line, Israel Idonije has been inconsistent. He has 15 total tackles, 1.0 sack and a forced fumble, so he's had an impact. Yet he's been very spotty against the run. Opposing tackles have been easily able to move him around. He'll need to get better at holding his ground and working harder at shedding blocks.

Corey Wootton has been hurt for most of the year and made his debut last week, but he clearly wasn't himself. He was dominant in training camp but was moved around with ease in the 10-or-so plays he was on the field against Carolina. Nick Reed has been given plenty of reps as the team's No. 3 but he's done little with them.
GRADE: B-


DT Henry Melton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Defensive tackle
Henry Melton's 3.0 sacks lead the team but he's disappeared for long stretches this year. He's too easily caught up inside against the run and doesn't get consistent pressure. His quickness allows him to make the occasional big play, he just needs to work on his consistency. Amobi Okoye, the team's other under tackle, has played well, earning a sack and nine tackles. He is quick off the ball and reads the run well. He's turning out to be the best free-agent pickup of this past offseason.

At nose tackle, Matt Toeaina has been very active. He's anchored well in the middle for the most part and has been disruptive against the pass. He's had his lapses but he's far outplayed Anthony Adams, who doesn't appear fully recovered from a calf injury that held him out of the preseason. Whether the cause is injury or just plain rust from sitting so long, Adams has not been the same player he was the past two years. He's been easily moved in the middle and has done nothing against the pass. The group as a whole was touted as the strength of the team but so far they've underperformed.
GRADE: C+

Linebacker
Chicago ranks 23rd against the run. Much of that has to do with a porous defensive line but a lot of the fault can be put on the linebackers as well. Lance Briggs leads the team with 36 tackles, followed by Brian Urlacher with 28. Both have had their fair share of quality defensive stops, both in the middle and on the edge, but they've also had plenty of negative plays as well. Along with Nick Roach, all three starters have showed a lot of aggression against the run, almost to a fault. The big runs the defense has allowed are the result of not only the defensive line getting pushed around but also the linebackers putting themselves out of position. They rush to fill gaps immediately but when they've guessed wrong, opposing offenses have taken advantage.

In defending the pass, opposing tight ends have consistently dominated, yet much of that blame falls on the secondary. Overall, the linebackers have done well bringing down opposing players after the catch. Urlacher has been especially good against the pass, pulling in two highlight-reel interceptions. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown in Week 1. Overall, this has been the most consistent unit on the defense.
GRADE: B+

Cornerback
Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have struggled at times in man coverage. Jennings especially has been eaten up against quality receivers, yet he's been very solid against the run. They've deflected four passes apiece yet neither has an interception. D.J. Moore has been the starting nickelback and he's been very effective as a blitzer. Yet he's had issues as well in man coverage. The defense ranks 29th against the pass and much of that is due to the corners getting beat one on one. There's been a lot of miscommunication with the safeties as well. Overall, this unit will need to greatly improve if the Bears are going to have a chance defending against the league's top-tier passing attacks.
GRADE: C


S Brandon Meriweather
Wesley Hitt/Getty

Safety
Chris Harris has been hurt for the past two games and the secondary has really struggled in his absence. Craig Steltz looked lost during his one game as a starter, allowing Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley to score three touchdowns. Brandon Meriweather, signed a week before the season started, has struggled as well. He doesn't communicate well with the corners and he apparently doesn't understand his responsibility for the deep half in Cover 2. He's been torched numerous times on deep passes to his side of the field.

Major Wright has been the most-disappointing player of the bunch. He was expected to take a big leap in his second year but has struggled against both the pass and run. Repeatedly he fails to break down when approaching ball carriers and has missed a number of tackles that have led to big plays. He also has had trouble keeping defenders in front of him and doesn't appear completely comfortable in zone coverage. The return of Harris should help stabilize the back end some but, like the rest of the defense, major improvements need to be made. GRADE: C-

Coaching
This isn't a complicated scheme that changes very much by the year. It's time tested and works when executed properly. The execution just isn't there with far too many breakdowns in assignments from front to back. The front four is relied on to put pressure on the quarterback but that hasn't happened consistently up to this point. Yet coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli have not been able to devise blitzing schemes that finish. Beyond D.J. Moore coming off the edge every once in a while, the blitzes have not been very effective.
GRADE: C

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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