When folks consider the Chicago Bears defense, most begin with Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers. In the secondary, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and Major Wright are having great seasons, while the pass rush has been absolutely dominant all year.
Through five weeks, Chicago's defense has carried the team to a 4-1 record. They currently rank third in the league in points allowed (14.2 per game), second in rushing yards per game (65.8), first in sacks (18) and first in total takeaways (17).
This group's success against the run has turned opposing offenses one-dimensional, which has led to all those turnovers. While he doesn't get much credit, DT Stephen Paea is one of the main reasons opposing offenses have struggled to run the ball against Chicago's defense. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet (seven total tackles and 0.5 sacks) yet his contributions at nose tackle have been invaluable.
Let's use coaches film to break down three plays from last week's matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars to show Paea's importance.
Here we have Paea lined up in the A gap to the center's right. The center and right guard are forced to double-team Paea, which allows Lance Briggs to roam free. Also helping this run stuff is Israel Idonije, who will penetrate off the right edge.
Idonije slips past his block and into the backfield, forcing Jones-Drew to cut back inside.
Because Paea is doubled, Briggs goes untouched and is able to bring down the ball carrier for no gain.
The Jaguars line up in a wishbone set. Paea will again be doubled in the A gap. The two fullbacks will take out both linebackers. The Bears have the box stacked, which will leave Major Wright free to make the play.
At the snap, Paea commands two blockers.
Paea holds his ground and forces Jones-Drew to cut back to the weak side. The linebackers also do a good job of filling their gaps.
Because Paea is double-teamed, Wright goes untouched and stuffs Jones-Drew after a one-yard gain.
Here we have Paea in the A gap to the center's left. The Jaguars will attempt to block him one-on-one with the left guard.
Paea rips inside and gets penetration into the backfield.
The guard sticks with Paea and is able to move him past the ball carrier, but it forces Jones-Drew to slow up and cut back.
The cut back gives Briggs time to fill the gap and make the tackle for no gain.
On these three plays in which Paea played a huge part in stuffing the run, the stat sheet will show nothing. Yet without him commanding attention up front, those runs likely go for much bigger yardage.
Paea is the key inside for this group's ability to stop the run and will continue to be so for as long as he plays for the Bears. His power and explosiveness at nose tackle are unmatched on this team and opposing offenses know they have to keep him at bay if they're going to have any success moving the ball on the ground.
So while he may not get the same attention as Peppers, Idonije and Henry Melton, the film shows how important Paea is to the success of this year's team.
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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.