Bears' Secondary Lags Behind in Early Season

LAKE FOREST — Improvement made during the second half of last season by the Bears' defense came largely due to better run-stopping ability.

The Bears' pass defense still suffered at times, and when this regular season started some old problems returned to haunt them.

``The secondary actually, last year, we struggled a little bit,'' Bears safety Mike Brown admitted. ``I think we need to be tested early on to see what we can do on defense.''

The Baltimore Ravens did exactly that, largely in the second half of the season-opening 17-6 victory over the Bears. They threw for 262 yards. Only three times last season did the Bears' defense give up more passing yards.

The defense last season improved from 27th in Week 10 to 16th in league rankings by the season-finale. However, during that same period they only went from 19th against the pass to 17th. In that stretch, they suffered through the San Francisco 49ers throwing for 402 yards.

Naturally changes in the secondary receive severe scrutiny after such a performance in the early season.

The only real lineup change is R.W. McQuarters starting at cornerback for Thomas Smith. McQuarters thinks he's ready to start after being benched and then traded by San Francisco. However, he also expects teams to pick on him.

``I think every snap, no matter what happens, a corner has got to be ready,'' McQuarters said. ``But me, personally, being a starter, the new starter in a sense, they're always going to do that to you. They're going to test a guy out, see what he can do, see what they can do and what they can't do.''

McQuarters wasn't sure if Baltimore would come after him early or late, but they certainly did come after him. He had to make 10 official tackles, matching him for team high in the Ravens game with Brian Urlacher.

``If they didn't come at me early, I figured they were going to attack me late,'' he said. ``If they attack you early, there's a possibility that they were going to attack you late. So once the fire is burning you've got to be able to stop the fire.

``They threw some passes early, but as anybody who was watching the game knew, I had good coverage on it.''

Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac threw for a 35-yard completion over McQuarters to Qadry Ismail on the Ravens' second play from scrimmage.

``It was a good throw, a good catch,'' McQuarters said. ``I felt I had it covered well.''

McQuarters was bothered by that completion more than any others. He made it a point to protect against any other deep throws. Stopping short tosses were secondary to him.

``Those things don't bother me at all,'' he said. ``They're a nuisance. A guy runs a 10-yard out here, a 12-yard out here. Those things are a nuisance.

``Offenses are not going to be consistent enough to go up and down the field throwing (short) out routes. Offensive coordinators' egos are too big. Everybody's got to go up top; everybody has got to go deep every once in a while. Those are the ones that you want to be able to stop -- the deep pass. Ten-yard outs you want to be able to stop, but if you don't you say `OK, you line up again' and you get ready to play. ''

The secondary's goal is to limit passers to 165 to 175 yards a game.

``If you do that, you know you're doing a good job,'' McQuarters said. ``We made some mistakes defensively, but overall we played pretty good.''

The pass rush works hand in hand with Bears coverage. Bears pass rushers admitted after the opener that they struggled. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher summed up the plight of the Bears' secondary best.

``We just wanted to get more pressure than we did,'' he said. ``We weren't able to do that. We left our corners out there for five or six seconds. Their receivers are good enough to get open with that much time.''

Brown saw the same thing.

``We didn't have as much pressure as we wanted to get (from the pass rush),'' safety Mike Brown said. ``I think overall we played pretty decent.''

Brown didn't want to lay all the problems with pass coverage at the feet of the pass rush. On game film, he saw technical problems that he and others made in coverages.

``There's certain plays where you made a little mental mistake here or took the wrong step and you just kept thinking about those things over and over again in your mind,'' Brown said.

``You strive to play perfect, but you never are.'' The Bears' secondary effort in Week 1 looked even worse considering the type of offensive scheme they faced. Baltimore max-protected on many pass plays. In other words, they put only two receivers out in routes and the Bears' secondary failed to make the plays.

This came against an offense that had only one reasonable threat because the running game was non-existent with running back Jamal Lewis injured.

``(In that game) the scheme was a major problem, double-level routes, the shallow routes, there were certain things, matchups they tried to create with (tight end) Shannon Sharpe,'' Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

Ultimately, improvement by the Bears' secondary will come down to each player. Particularly because he is perceived as the weakest link, McQuarters has the most to prove.

``I'm not going to be a pushover for anybody,'' McQuarters vowed.

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