Stopping Portis is Top Priority

Lake Forest - The Bears have proven in the preseason that the run defense has stepped up from where it was a year ago. To what degree will be tested on Sunday against Clinton Portis.

Chicago finished 25th against the run in 2004, but vs. top flight backs such as Edgerrin James and Willis McGahee the unit allowed 86.2 yards in five preseason games and just 3.1 yards per carry.

"We're really focusing on stopping the run," said defensive tackle Ian Scott. "We can't allow people to be two-dimensional on us. In order to play good defense you've got to be able to stop the run."

That theory will be challenged against Washington running back Clinton Portis. He tore up the Bears in Week 6 of last year, when he rushed for 171 yards on 36 carries. He finished the season with 1,315 yards on the ground, but averaged a disappointing 3.8 yards per carry.

In limited work in the preseason, Portis averaged 6.2 yards per rush. The second year in the Washington could prove fruitful with a quality offensive line in front of the five-foot-11, 212-pounder.

"We didn't play well on offense and I think Clinton having said that rushed for (over) 1,300 yards and missed the last game of the season," said Washington head coach Joe Gibbs. "That's one of the best years that we've ever had with a running back. He's played at a very high level since he's been in the league and we're hoping that's what happens this year."

The challenge for Portis will be consistently facing eight-men in the box. The lack of a passing game can quickly allow a defense to focus solely on stopping the run, as the Bears saw first hand last year.

The Bears are also entering their second year in the current defensive scheme. Mistakes were common with players learning the system in 2004, but the team returns all 11 starters this season.

The unit is also as healthy as it's been since Lovie Smith became head coach. The last time the Redskins and Bears played, Brian Urlacher returned to the field after missing two games with a hamstring pull, while Jerry Azumah made his debut after missing the first four games of the year following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. Charles Tillman and Mike Brown were both out of the lineup, who are both strong in run support.

"If a team is constantly gaining four or five yards a run they can control the clock," Scott said. "They get into second and short situations and third and short situations and it's hard to get off the field when you're constantly in those situations. So stopping the run is a top priority if you want to be successful."

By taking away Portis, it forces Patrick Ramsey to make plays, which is something he has a tendency to do for both teams.

While there is little doubt Portis is an elite running back, the Bears made their fair share of mistakes last year. Whether it was poor tackling or being in the wrong gap, the level of discipline will have to improve.

"Hopefully he'll see 11 guys tackling him every time," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. "I think the disappointing thing more than anything is he made us miss. He broke some tackles. If you're going to do that to a quality football player like that he's going to make some yards on you. That's exactly what he did.

"We have most certainly got to tackle better than we did against him the first time that we played him last year."


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