The Chicago Bears fell to 2-3 yesterday after a disappointing come-from-behind defeat to the Carolina Panthers. The loss puts the club under .500 for the first time since Marc Trestman became head coach.
Right now, things are pretty depressing at Halas Hall. With the way the offense and special teams have performed the past two weeks, this team’s short-term prospects don’t appear promising.
Yet long-term, there is a lot to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball.
Coming into yesterday’s contest, Benjamin (6-5, 250) was averaging 7 catches, 109 receiving yards and 1 TD per game. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton targeted Benjamin 11 times, yet the big wideout caught just three passes for 38 yards and no touchdowns.
That is almost complete dominance on the part of Fuller, who shut down one of the biggest, most-physical wide receivers in the league.
Fuller’s three interceptions are tied for most in the NFL and his physical presence against the run has been a big reason why the Bears have held the Packers and Panthers to 146 rushing yards combined the past two weeks.
As crazy as it may sound, the secondary has not skipped a beat since Charles Tillman’s season-ending triceps injury, and that is due mainly to the play of Fuller, who now has the clear-cut lead in the DROY race.
Rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson had the best game of his young career in Week 5. He picked up two tackles, both of which came at the line of scrimmage. The second tackle was particularly impressive, as Ferguson leveraged against a double team before shedding both blockers and wrapping up the ball carrier for no gain.
In the second quarter, Ferguson had two batted passes on consecutive plays, with the second resulting in a Lance Briggs interception.
On the season, Ferguson’s 2.0 sacks are third most on the team, and two more than fellow rookie defensive tackle Will Sutton, who was supposed to be the pass-rush specialist.
Ferguson’s play through five games is all the more exceptional when you consider how raw he was coming into the season. During OTAs, he looked like a fish out of water, causing some to question his status as a second-round DT.
Yet Ferguson has developed quickly and is currently playing at a very high level. With his combination of size and strength, his potential is through the roof, and if he continues to ascend at such a rapid pace, he’ll soon be the centerpiece of Chicago’s front seven.
More Bright Spots
-DE Willie Young did his best Lawrence Taylor imitation in the first quarter of yesterday’s contest. On a first-down pass play, Young ripped his way around LT Byron Bell and stripped the ball out of Newton’s hand from behind. Lamarr Houston recovered the ball at Carolina’s 18-yard line and the Bears scored their second touchdown of the game three plays later.
Young now has 5.0 sacks through five games, second most in the NFL, and he leads all Bears defensive linemen with 21 total tackles. At 29 years old, Young appears to be hitting his peak and if he continues at his current pace, he’ll earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl this year.
-NT Stephen Paea is second on the team in sacks, picking up his third yesterday in impressive fashion. The Bears brought a blitz up the middle with linebacker D.J. Williams. Paea swung behind the blitz and sent Carolina RB Darrin Reaves into orbit before sacking Newton. It was a play that showcased Paea’s rare blend of size and strength.
Paea is fully recovered from the turf toe that hampered him last season and it’s showing. He’s one of the most athletic, powerful hybrid defensive tackles in the league. He’s in his contract year and if Paea continues to run over blockers, he’ll earn a big payday this upcoming offseason.
-LT Michael Ola started on the left edge for the first time in his career yesterday, replacing the injured Jermon Bushrod. Ola wasn’t dominant but he was more than serviceable, allowing just two quarterback hurries, no quarterback hits and, most importantly, no sacks.
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.