Only two NFL teams are worse than the Bears when it comes to getting to the quarterback — the Giants and the Steelers, who are a combined 1-10.
In terms of sacks per pass play, only the Giants are worse. Even more depressing than the Bears’ team total of 8 sacks is that only 4 have come from defensive linemen, none of whom has more than 1.
Seventeen teams have at least twice as many sacks as the Bears. That goes a long way toward explaining why the Bears’ defense is dead last in average gain allowed per pass play.
Don’t blame defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who is trying hard to construct a pass rush, but he’s running out of duct tape and baling wire. He’s been forced to cobble together a D-line made up of spare parts like undrafted rookies Zach Minter, Christian Tupou and David Bass, plus street free agent Landon Cohen. Those four have a combined total of zero NFL sacks.
Eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers has 112½ career sacks, including 11½ last season, but he’s got just 1 this year. At age 33, it’s time to start wondering if Peppers has hit the wall as an elite pass rusher. He has been a force in exactly one game this season.
Corey Wootton, who has been shifted inside to tackle the past two weeks because of injuries, had a breakout season in 2012 with 7 sacks, while winning the starting job at left end from Israel Idonije at midseason. But Wootton’s only sack this season came in Week Two, more than a month ago.
Shea McClellin, the 2012 first-round pick who was supposed to provide a pass-rushing complement to Peppers, split a sack with tackle Stephen Paea on opening day. But he hasn’t had one since. It’s starting to look like McClellin won’t ever be much more than a decent situational pass rusher — at least in the Bears’ 4-3 defense.
If Paea can fight through a toe injury this week that shelved him the previous two games, he’ll help the situation. The third-year tackle’s forte isn’t rushing the passer, but he’ll draw more attention from opposing offensive lines than his backups have, hopefully freeing up the ends to get to the quarterback.
Still, it’s hard to be optimistic looking ahead. The D-line was thin depth-wise to start. The season-ending knee injuries to tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins hit the Bears where they could least afford casualties.
The shuttling in and out of rookies, journeymen and starters playing out of position or moving back and forth from end to tackle and back, have been disruptive but unavoidable given the talent available.
“I just think we’ve got to get more continuity in our rushes,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We’re tying to find ways to improve our techniques and fundamentals and coordinate different ways of getting to the quarterback.
“The energy’s there. We got a lot closer last week (against the Giants) than we did the two previous weeks. We were around (Eli Manning) but not enough. We’ve just got to continue working it.”
Unfortunately for the Bears, most of the players they have left can be technically sound, fundamentally correct and play like the Energizer Bunny hopped up on Red Bull, but they’re still not going to get to the quarterback.
But Trestman seems to be in denial.
“I believe the talent is there and we’ve just got to keep working on it,” he said. “Quarterbacks are throwing the ball a lot earlier than ever before, and it’s hard to get to them.”
For the Bears it is.
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