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Article updated: 11/2/2011 8:53 PM

Bears need defense to step up its game

Julius Peppers, left, and Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears’ defense have a tough challenge ahead Monday night against a powerful Eagles offense.

Julius Peppers, left, and Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears' defense have a tough challenge ahead Monday night against a powerful Eagles offense.

 

George Leclaire | Staff Photographer

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Back-to-back victories have the Bears at 4-3 and thinking playoffs.

But they probably won't make it to the postseason if their underachieving defense doesn't play better than it did in the first seven games.

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This team has been built to win with defense and to a lesser extent special teams. Special teams have lived up to the hype, but the Bears' defense is tied for 23rd in total yards allowed.

That's not the type of performance that will carry a team to the playoffs. On the bright side, the Bears' best two defensive performances have come in the past two games.

But the defense as a whole has been disappointing.

More specifically, it's the defensive line that has failed to play up to expectations, even though that's the area that the Bears believe to be one of their greatest strengths.

"We love our defensive line," coach Lovie Smith said. "I know they're excited about playing an offense like (the Eagles), whenever you get a chance to play against a player like Mike Vick.

"They've made a lot of improvements. We'll have to get good pressure on him. But Philadelphia is (also) the No. 1 rushing team in the league, so the defensive line will have a big say in that."

The Eagles (3-4) have an offense that is No. 1 in total yards, rushing yards and average gain per run, so this doesn't look like a favorable matchup for the Bears -- at least not on paper.

Heading into Monday night's game in Philadelphia, the Bears' defense is 27th in sacks, which partly explains why it's 28th in passing yards allowed. They're also 29th in average gain allowed per running play.

The Bears' defense has rarely exhibited the "wow" factor that it frequently demonstrated last season. It does not rank in the top 10 in any of the 10 major categories the league tabulates.

The pass rush has been extremely inconsistent, producing 5 sacks against Atlanta in Week 1 and also against Minnesota in Week 6 but a total of just 4 sacks in the other five games combined.

Asked specifically about the defensive line's performance, Smith provided a general answer.

"We need to be better in everything," he said. "We'll be better in everything. D-line, linebacker and secondary."

All units will be tested by an Eagles offense that features not only Vick but running back LeSean McCoy, who is second in the NFL with 754 rushing yards, and wicked-fast wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

The Eagles' offense has been called the fastest in the NFL, but Bears cornerback Tim Jennings believes that's an exaggeration.

"I have to disagree," he said. "I don't think they are the fastest, but they are very explosive. They're very capable of making big plays. They've got a lot of explosive guys on offense, but that's just what the NFL is about.

"We know what they are capable of and we just have to limit them."

Only Green Bay and New England average more yards per offensive play than the Eagles.

Allowing big plays was one of the major reasons for the Bears' 2-3 start. In the first five games, they were burned for 16 plays longer than 20 yards. In the past two games -- both wins -- the Bears permitted just three plays of more than 20 yards. Those are the kind of results the Bears need from the defense, especially the line, against the Eagles and for the remainder of the season if they plan on a return trip to the playoffs.

•Follow Bob's Bears reports via Twitter @BobLeGere and check out our Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com.

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