Bears Defense Key to Playoff Run

The Bears' defense, long the strong point of the club, has, to an extent, underperformed this season. That must change, and quickly, if Chicago is going to earn a spot in the postseason.

Back-to-back victories have the Bears at 4-3 and thinking playoffs.

But they probably won't make it to the postseason if their underachieving defense doesn't play better than it did in the first seven games.

This team has been built to win with defense and, to a lesser extent, special teams. Special teams have lived up to the hype, but the Bears' defense is currently tied for 23rd in total yards allowed.

That's not the type of performance that will carry a team to the playoffs. On the bright side, the Bears' best two defensive performances have come in the past two games.


DE Israel Idonije
Scott Cunningham/Getty

But the defense as a whole has been disappointing. More specifically, it's the defensive line that has failed to play up to expectations, even though that's the area that the Bears believe to be one of their greatest strengths.

"We love our defensive line," coach Lovie Smith said. "I know they're excited about playing an offense like (the Eagles'); whenever you get a chance to play against a player like Mike Vick. They've made a lot of improvements. We'll have to get good pressure on him. But Philadelphia is (also) the No. 1 rushing team in the league, so the defensive line will have a big say in that."

At 3-4, the Eagles have an offense that is No. 1 in total yards, rushing yards and average gain per run, so this doesn't look like a favorable matchup for the Bears -- at least on paper. Heading into Monday night's game in Philadelphia, the Bears' defense is 27th in sacks, which partly explains why it's 28th in passing yards allowed. They're also 29th in average gain allowed per running play.

The Bears' defense has rarely exhibited the "wow" factor that it frequently demonstrated last season. It does not rank in the top 10 in any of the 10 major categories the league tabulates.

The pass rush has been extremely inconsistent, producing 5 sacks against the Falcons in Week 1 and against the Vikings in Week 6, but a total of just four sacks in the other five games combined.

Asked specifically about the defensive line's performance, Smith provided a general answer.

"We need to be better in everything," he said. "We'll be better in everything; D-line, linebacker and secondary."

All units will be tested by an Eagles offense that features not only Vick, but running back LeSean McCoy, who is second in the NFL with 754 rushing yards; and wicked-fast wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

The Eagles' offense has been called the fastest in the NFL, but Bears cornerback Tim Jennings believes that's an exaggeration.

"I have to disagree," he said. "I don't think they are the fastest, but they are very explosive. They're very capable of making big plays. They've got a lot of explosive guys on offense, but that's just what the NFL is about. We know what they are capable of and we just have to limit them."


S Brandon Meriweather
Tim Fuller/US Presswire

Only the Packers and the Patriots average more yards per offensive play than the Eagles.

Allowing big plays was one of the major reasons for the Bears' 2-3 start. In the first five games, they were burned for 16 plays longer than 20 yards. In the past two games -- both wins -- the Bears permitted just three plays of more than 20 yards.

Those are the kind of results the Bears need from the defense, and especially the line, Monday night against the Eagles and for the remainder of the season, if they plan on a return trip to the playoffs.

SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Bears lead 27-9-1. Chicago has won three of the last four meetings. Eagles lead 2-1 in postseason meetings.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jay Cutler compiled a career-best passer rating of 146.2 in last season's 31-26 victory over the Eagles, throwing four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

--RB Matt Forte has 194 yards on 47 rushing attempts (4.1-yard average) and 11 catches for 84 yards (7.6-yard average) in three career games vs. the Eagles. He had 117 yards on 14 carries in last season's game.

--WR Earl Bennett, who is expected back this week for the first time since sustaining a chest injury in Week 2, had four catches for 56 yards, including touchdown catches of 10 and 6 yards last season against the Eagles.

--WR Devin Hester had three catches for 86 yards against the Eagles in 2010.

--WR Johnny Knox had three catches for 68 yards, including a 20-yard TD last season against the Eagles.


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