Compared to its 2013 predecessor, the Chicago Bears defense appeared little changed during the 2014 regular-season opener. During the surprising 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills at home, the Bears allowed nearly 200 rushing yards.
Yet after reviewing the game film, things weren’t as bad as they first seemed. In fact, Chicago’s defensive line had a good game except for two plays, a 38-yard and a 47-yard run, the second of which sealed the game for the Bills.
In the first 2014 installment of our Bear Report D-Line Trench Report, we grade and analyze each snap from the regular-season opener. In this way, we can decipher where the strengths and weaknesses were in Week 1 and what can be done to improve the unit’s performance going forward.
Players are given a grade of +1 for an effort that positively impacted the play, a -1 for an effort that negatively impacted the play and a 0 for plays in which they had little or no impact.
Here are our full defensive line grades from Week 1:
DT Jeremiah Ratliff earned the top grade in the opener and was the only starting defensive lineman to grade in the positive against both the run and pass. Ratliff was especially impressive against Buffalo’s rushing attack, continually holding his ground against double teams and shedding 1-on-1 blocks. His power at the point of attack is a valuable asset to Chicago’s defense.
Despite not picking up a sack, DE Lamarr Houston had a very strong game as a pass rusher and led the team with three QB hurries. If he can turn some of those hurries into sacks this week, Houston can have a big impact against the San Francisco 49ers. Against the run though, Houston had a mediocre game, with as many good snaps as bad. He’s always been a stolid run stopper though, so expect those numbers to improve as the season progresses.
DT Stephen Paea was strong against the run, earning a +3 grade. Like Ratliff, Paea held his own against numerous double teams, although he lacked Ratliff’s consistency. In addition, Paea was invisible as a pass rusher.
DE Jared Allen was the game’s biggest disappointment, grading in the negative against both the run and pass. He showed very little burst off the ball and was stonewalled on numerous occasions by Buffalo LT Cordy Glenn. Allen also struggled to get off blocks against the run. To justify his big free-agent contract, Allen must have a bigger impact going forward or the Bears defense will struggle all year.
DE Willie Young played just 22 snaps but he made the most of them, picking up a sack and two tackles for loss. Young was outstanding shedding blocks against the run, using his long arms to toss blockers aside. He also demonstrated his quickness turning the corner. It was just one game but Young appears to be the club’s best all-around defensive lineman. He deserves more snaps.
DT Will Sutton only saw 11 snaps but he showed well on a pair of them, one a run stop and the other a QB hurry. Sutton did struggle on two runs, so he needs to develop more consistency but, overall, it was a solid first outing for the rookie.
DT Ego Ferguson did very little, as he was used primarily as a space eater, although he wasn’t pushed around and stood his ground against double teams.
The Bears blitzed eight times against the Bills, seven coming in the second half. Here is breakdown of who blitzed and the yardage gained by Buffalo against each blitzer.
|BLITZER||# OF BLITZES||TOTAL YARDS ALLOWED||YDS. PER BLITZ|
The Bears were very effective with the blitz in the second half, which makes one wonder what took defensive coordinator Mel Tucker so long to begin dialing up the pressure. Briggs and Bostic picked up holding calls on A-gap blitzes in the second half, while Bostic picked up a tackle at the line of scrimmage on his second blitz. McClellin blitzed five times but had almost no impact as an extra rusher.
8 IN THE BOX
Of the defense’s 55 plays on Sunday, the Bears put a safety in the box on 32 of them, or 58 percent. Safety Ryan Mundy was the extra man in the box on 23 of the 32 snaps.
Chicago had an extra man in the box during both of the touchdowns allowed, as well as for both of Buffalo’s big runs.
The Bears stunted the defensive linemen just four total times during the game, giving credence to Buffalo’s claim that Chicago runs a “predictable front.”
In reality, Chicago’s defense allowed two big plays that killed them. Other than that, the film shows a unit that was very solid for most of the game. In fact, they were two plays away from shutting down one of the best running teams in the league.
In addition, the defense allowed a touchdown on just one drive, Buffalo’s second of the game. The second touchdown came after the offense gave the Bills the ball at Chicago’s 7-yard line, so that doesn’t count as a “scoring drive” against the defense. Other than that, they gave up just three field goals.
People want to bash the defensive line for giving up 193 yards on the ground. That’s somewhat understandable, as both of those big runs were killers, but overall the defensive line played a good game. The weak link was Allen, which could be a red flag considering his age, but it’s doubtful the future Hall of Famer will have many repeat performances going forward.
The Bears were successful with the blitz, so I would expect more extra rushers against the 49ers. Putting an extra man in the box did very little against the Bills, and San Francisco presents a tougher challenge through the air, so don’t expect Mundy to spend 32 snaps in the box this week.
For the rest of the season, we’ll grade Chicago’s defensive line each week, with yearly totals, weekly comparisons, three-week trends, hot and cold performances and much more. When we’re through, there will be no doubt as to which defensive linemen helped the defense and which hurt the defense in the Bears’ quest for their first playoff berth in four years.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.