Just no defense for Bears vs. rush
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St. Louis Rams running back Benny Cunningham heads to the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Sunday against a Bears defense that allowed 258 yards rushing.
Based on the numbers, not to mention the eyeball test, this Bears defense could go down as the worst in franchise history.
The Bears are permitting a fraction over 28 points per game, which puts them on pace to give up 449 on the season, more points than any Bears team has ever allowed.
The previous record for defensive futility was set in 1997, when the first of Dave Wannstedt's back-to-back 4-12 teams surrendered 421 points. That team, which lost its first seven games and started out 1-10, allowed 40 or more points just once. This Bears team already has been gashed for 40 points or more three times.
Mike Ditka's 1989 team went 6-10 and allowed the most yards in franchise history (5,729). But that could be erased from the record book as well because this year's squad is on pace to shatter that mark. At the current pace, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's group would allow 6,016 yards.
It's also on pace to yield 2,323 rushing yards, which would be the most ever for a 16-game season -- Neill Armstrong's first team gave up 2,174 in 1978. But the record was set in 1973, when Abe Gibron's team permitted 2,509 rushing yards in just 14 games.
Run fits have been a problem for much of the season but mostly after veteran stalwarts such as Henry Melton (injured reserve in Week 3), Nate Collins (I.R. Week 5), D.J. Williams (I.R. Week 6), Lance Briggs (Week 7) and Charles Tillman (Week 9) were sidelined by injuries.
None of them played the past two weeks while the Bears allowed 432 rushing yards to teams that ranked in the bottom third of the league running the ball. "You can give up a bunch of yards and win," coach Marc Trestman said. "It can be a high-scoring game and (you can) still win."
He's right. The Bears gave up 459 yards in Pittsburgh but still beat the Steelers 40-23. The defense has yet to hold any opponent under 20 points, yet the Bears have the same 6-5 record as first-place Detroit in the NFC North.
But, as Trestman also points out, there are things you can't do on defense and expect to win. Things that became obvious while the St. Louis Rams were rushing for 258 yards in their 42-21 victory Sunday.
"What we've got to be able to do is execute our assignment," the coach said. "When we fit the run right on one play and they run the same play, and (then) we don't fit the run (right), we've got to go back to work and get it done. We didn't get it done in that regard (vs. the Rams). We had times where we fit the run and (times) we didn't fit it right, so that's where Mel's at there."
But even flawless execution won't fix all the problems. Tucker has been forced to fill too many gaping holes with too many players whose talent level doesn't approach that of the players they replaced. The cumulative effect is a defense that at times appears helpless.
Even when players are where they're supposed to be and do their assignments, they're often dominated by superior talent on the other side of the ball. And no lineup change will help; everyone who's physically able already is playing.
"A lot of times it's more about fits than getting blocked, it really is," Trestman said, convincing no one. "That's where you get the big gains, (where) you get the big explosive runs, and we've had too many of them."
That part is correct. The most recent example occurred Sunday. Just 1 of Rams backup running back Bennie Cunningham's 27 carries had gained more than 10 yards entering the game. But 5 of his 13 carries vs. the Bears picked up more than 10 yards.
And it isn't going to get much better for the Bears until the personnel is upgraded. Unfortunately for Tucker, it doesn't appear reinforcements will ride to the rescue for the Vikings game Sunday in Minneapolis.
Seven-time Pro Bowler Briggs (shoulder) "certainly won't play this week," according to Trestman. At defensive tackle, where the Bears have been decimated, Stephen Paea (toe) has an outside shot at returning, but Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) is unlikely to make his Bears debut.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson probably can't wait until Sunday arrives.
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