The Chicago Bears' defensive line is on a mission. The up-front players are on a mission to disrupt opposing passing attacks with consistent, maddening pressure. They're on a mission to make quarterbacks miserable.
So far, through three games of the 2012 season, mission accomplished.
The Bears were second in the league in total sacks (8.0) heading into today's contest against the St. Louis Rams. This afternoon, they added 6.0 more. Every member of the defensive line played a role in today's victory, hurrying and hitting Rams QB Sam Bradford all day.
"That's expected," said DE Julius Peppers after the game. "That's nothing to be patting anybody on the back about. We should be playing like that. We're going to continue to play like that throughout the season."
After today's game, it's likely the team's 14.0 sacks will lead the league.
DT Stephen Paea
"That's what we need to do. We need to get pressure on the quarterback," said DT Stephen Paea. "If it's not sacks, then it is pressure on the quarterback that changes the game. He's the one that has the ball. He's going to make decisions a couple plays later. If he's hurt, he's going to make tough decisions."
St. Louis runs a spread offense that utilizes multiple-receiver sets. As such, it's difficult to blitz on them without compromising the secondary. This puts all the pass-rush responsibility on the front four.
Chicago's defensive line was up to the challenge. DE Israel Idonije led the way with 2.5 sacks; DT Amobi Okoye, DT Stephen Paea and LB Nick Roach had 1.0 apiece; and Peppers had 0.5. The pressure up front kept the Soldier Field crowd alive throughout the game.
"The crowd helps," Paea said. "Sometimes we get off before the offensive line makes moves. It's just part of the game. I think we had the advantage going into this game. Everyone on our defensive line contributed to the win."
Idonije struggled last year getting to the passer, finishing the campaign with just 5.0 sacks, due mainly to leg injury. He's healthy this year and it's showing on the field.
"Last year, it was literally 16 games on one leg," said Idonije. "Just to be able to move a little bit better and run around and have that pursuit back, it feels good. It's nice to be able to make plays. It feels good to get in there and have that consistent movement to make plays."
Much of the recent success is due to the defensive schemes of coordinator Rod Marinelli. The club has activated just three defensive tackles in each of the first three games. To compensate for the lack of bodies inside, the defensive ends have been rotating inside. Both Idonije and Peppers have taken turns at defensive tackle, sometimes sliding Henry Melton outside. This allows additional reps for ends Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton.
In the last two games, the Bears have experimented with a three-down set, with McClellin up on the line as a roaming linebacker. It's a creative formation for a typically vanilla defense.
"Right now [Marinelli] is in the back [room] working on the next game," Idonije said. "That's what we need. He is a mastermind when it comes to putting schemes together. He really does a great job putting us in positions to be successful."
DE Israel Idonije
Peppers has always been a force off the edge and Melton was second in the league in sacks (7.0) amongst defensive tackles last year. Yet it's the play of the team's other defensive linemen that has provided Chicago's defense with a powerful line rotation.
"I've probably already said it 50 times already," Peppers said, "but we have a little bit more depth. Guys got better since the last year. We have a good rotation that keeps us fresh, and, you know, the end result is seen in the stats."
Chicago's offense struggled this afternoon for the second week in a row, forcing the defense to pick up the slack. They did just that, scoring just as many touchdowns – one, on a Major Wright 45-yard interception return – as the offense.
In addition to the quarterback pressure, Chicago's front seven has also been stout against the run. In two of three games, they've given up less than 63 rushing yards, including 59 to the Rams today. RB Steven Jackson has just 29 yards on 11 carries and St. Louis finished the contest with just 160 total yards of offense.
"It feels good to get the win," said Peppers. "It feels good about the defensive stats, collectively, as a team. Not individually. Even though that was good, I'm not trying to diminish that, but I think the 160 yards or whatever, it was more impressive."
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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.