It's a stretch to say the Bears' run defense improved last week when it allowed 246 yards, even though that was 12 yards less than the week before.
There were brief glimmers of proficiency early on, but not even defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would say his unit looked better against the Vikings than against the Rams a week earlier.
"It was inconsistent," Tucker said. "When you're playing against a good back like (Peterson), one missed tackle and it's out the gate. There may have been some improvements here and there, but not enough where I would say we've improved in that area."
But this week, against RB DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys in prime time Monday night, the Bears' dead-last-in-the-NFL run defense has an opportunity to makes some gains. First, Dallas is just 27th in the league in rushing yards, and second, Bears tackle Jeremiah Ratliff will be on the field for more than the 23 snaps he played last week in his 2013 debut.
The nine-year veteran played his first eight seasons as a nose tackle with the Cowboys and went to four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11. But when a groin injury from last season required off-season surgery and then a lengthy rehab, the Cowboys cut him and the Bears scooped him up on Nov. 2.
Ratliff's snaps last week coincided with some of the Bears' defensive line improvement early on. The D-line was responsible for sacks on each of the Vikings' first three possessions, and the Bears tied a season high with 5 sacks for the game.
Ratliff insists he's not going into the Cowboys game with a chip on his shoulder. But what he brings to the table looks like a feast for a defense that has been dealing with famine lately.
"He's a real pro," Tucker said. ""High energy. Stout. Tough. He's a man in there. We're glad to have him in there. We're intending to play him more.
"He's a veteran guy that knows what it's all about. He's very serious about what he's doing. He brings great toughness to our front, mental and physical. He's a great guy to set an example for the other guys."
The bearded and burly Ratliff could be described as anywhere between imposing and intimidating. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds, which is on the light side for a nose tackle, the former seventh-round pick out of Auburn looks like he has enough upper-body strength to bench-press a Buick.
Having a sinister appearance can only help in Ratliff's line of work, but it's not something he promotes.
"I don't want this to come out the wrong way," he said, "but I could really care less how people look at me. I'm not a mean guy. When I'm on the field, I have a job to do. I can't really afford to be nice, at the end of the day.
"I'm really a smaller guy in terms of being a defensive tackle and nose tackle, so I play with a little bit of a (mean) streak. But off the field, pretty chill."
On the field, Ratliff says he's ready to heat up.
"I expected to be extremely sore," he said after playing in a game for the first time in just over a year. "But I haven't just been sitting around, so I bounced back pretty good.
"I feel good. I feel stronger. I feel more balanced. Everything's holding up, and there haven't been any complications."
Ratliff is certain he can get back his Pro Bowl form, but he knows there will be doubters. He's used to it.
"Since I've been in this league there have been a lot of questions," he said. "(Like), 'He's too small. He's a seventh-rounder. He won't make the team.' The odds are always stacked against you. That's good. It's motivation for me. And I look forward to it."
And a desperate defense looks forward to a bigger contribution from a motivated Ratliff.
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