(MCT) — CHICAGO — When it has had a fierce pass rush this season, the Chicago Bears defense has racked up takeaways and chased records for return touchdowns.
Minus the pass rush, the Bears look slow and exposed. The hope has to be that Sunday’s 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks at Soldier Field was the result of an athletic quarterback catching them by surprise. The Bears were unable to contain 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson and force him to make plays from the pocket.
The Bears were credited with two sacks in the loss and rank eighth in the NFL with 32 but have only 11 in the last six games after recording 21 in the first six. Sacks are never a be-all, end-all indicator for pass-rush success, but they are big plays that can be momentum changers.
The defense rattled the Vikings’ Christian Ponder with only two sacks in a Nov. 25 blowout, forcing an interception for Chris Conte on a successful rush by tackle Nate Collins. But the week before there was little pressure on the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and the defense has not produced more than two sacks since the Oct. 22 meeting with the Lions.
“I thought we had good pressure last week,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. “We didn’t this week. So everything you guys are going to ask me about (Sunday’s) game, yeah, you’re right, the pass rush wasn’t there, we didn’t contain the quarterback the way we needed to. We didn’t get off on third downs the way we needed to. We didn’t take the ball away as much as we needed to — all of those things I said earlier, yeah, you’re right.”
It’s easier for the Bears to attack an opposing offensive line at Soldier Field, where the crowd noise can play a factor. Three of their final four games are on the road, but on Dec. 16, the Bears host the Packers, who have allowed 39 sacks, second-most in the league. The Bears play at Arizona the next week and the Cardinals are No. 1 with 48 sacks allowed.
The Bears made upgrading the pass rush a top offseason priority as they sought help for Julius Peppers, who turns 33 next month. Peppers has a team-high seven sacks. His base salary climbs to $12.9 million next season and his salary-cap number rises to $16,383,333. That’s the big price the Bears had to pay when they signed him in 2010 to help fix a defense that fell apart without a consistent pass rush.
Seahawks rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin said Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli flew to have dinner with him in Morgantown, W.Va., the night before the draft in April.
“I know they were going to take me,” Irvin said. “I just know. I talked to Marinelli. They flew in the night before the draft.”
But the Seahawks surprised by selecting Irvin at No. 15 and the Bears instead opted for Shea McClellin at No. 19. McClellin has pitched in and the biggest strides have been made by Corey Wootton, who replaced Israel Idonije as starter three games ago. Wootton has 41/2 sacks and has also played the run well. Tackle Henry Melton has six sacks and Idonije has five.
The bottom line is the Bears must ramp up the pressure in order to come up with the big plays that highlighted the first half of the season.
“We had an opportunity throughout the game,” Smith said. “We haven’t played many defensive games like that at Soldier Field and we won’t play, hopefully, any more.”