Fittest loser
Article updated: 9/16/2013 9:35 PM

Bears' defensive line in no real rush so far

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has been slowed by both injury and illness.

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has been slowed by both injury and illness.

 

Associated Press

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Coach Marc Trestman says it's too early to tell about the Bears' mostly absent pass-rush pressure, but it's not too soon to compare it to last season.

After two games in 2012 the Bears already had 8 sacks, and they finished 11th in the league in sack percentage. This year the defense has just 2 sacks, Shea McClellin's on opening day and Corey Wootton's on Sunday.

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Eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers (11½ sacks last season) and tackle Henry Melton (6), who made his first Pro Bowl last season, have been practically invisible.

Their lack of production has been especially lacking on passing downs, where they usually excel. Neither player seems to be operating at full speed, especially Peppers.

Both missed most of the preseason, Peppers with a hamstring and Melton with a concussion, so neither should be in midseason form yet.

Peppers missed practice time last week with flu-like symptoms, and Trestman said he was worse Sunday, although he played.

"He was not healthy; probably sicker than he was the two previous days," Trestman said. "He tried. He wouldn't say it, but in his defense, yeah, I don't know that he had the energy to play as hard as he possibly could play.

"I thought he was involved. He ran some plays down, but overall he wasn't getting better. He was still not ascending, and he didn't look well to me (Monday) morning when I saw him in the meetings, although he's not going to admit it."

Peppers -- nagged by a painful foot for most of last season, the result of plantar fasciitis -- still led the Bears in sacks. But this season he has been in on just 2 tackles in 97 snaps.

Melton was more active Sunday than in the opener, but he has just 3 tackles. Backup Nate Collins has seen an increase in his playing time.

Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs isn't concerned about Peppers.

"He missed a lot of practice last week because he's been real sick and under the weather," Briggs said. "One thing I'm not worried about is Julius Peppers."

But the Bears must be concerned about their meager sack total and lack of pass-rush pressure, as they prepare for a nationally televised Sunday night game at Pittsburgh.

The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is one of just two quarterbacks who have been sacked more than Cutler in the previous four years. Roethlisberger was dumped 152 times from 2009-12, four more times than Cutler but 16 fewer times than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.

The Steelers are without their best offensive lineman; Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. So the ponderous Roethlisberger should be an even more inviting target for a pass rush looking to get ignited.

"It wasn't significant a week ago," Trestman said of the pressure on Cincinnati's Andy Dalton in the opener. "It was good, but it wasn't where we want it to be. I think we all agreed with that."

Against Minnesota on Sunday, the overriding concern was containing Adrian Peterson in the run game, and the soggy turf at Soldier Field did not benefit pass rushers. So criticizing the pass rush is problematic.

"It's difficult to tell," Trestman said. "It's going to take a couple more weeks to really find out and really evaluate where we're at. Our focus was so much (Sunday) on stopping the run. But I thought we were certainly sufficient rushing the passer."

"Good" and "sufficient" probably aren't good enough for the Bears to get to the postseason. In addition to the 2 sacks, the defense has only 3 quarterback pressures and rarely has hurried the quarterback when rushing just four linemen, one of the keys to playing effective Cover-2 defense.

"We want to get more pressure certainly, and we want to be able to do it with four," Trestman said. "But the pass rush is going to be inhibited on a rainy day.

"It's tough to tell after two games."

So far it has been even tougher to detect.

•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.

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