Bears must move Jets' powerful defensive line

The Bears' run game hasn't gotten much traction yet this season, and it faces a big obstacle in the Jets' defense Monday night.

Big, as in massive, when it comes to the Jets' defensive line, which sets the tone for a unit that has allowed fewer rushing yards than any team in the NFL.

In the Jets' base 3-4 alignment, 6-foot-4, 350-pound nose tackle Damon Harrison is flanked by two former first-round picks — 6-foot-4, 315-pound Muhammad Wilkerson and 6-foot-3, 294-pound Sheldon Richardson.

“This is a typical Rex Ryan defense,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “He's going to make sure you can't run up the middle first by the type of personnel that he gets. They're huge, they're strong, they're powerful. There's not many yards to be gained.”

Bears two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte was held to just 21 yards on 12 carries in Week 2 by a 49ers defense that is excellent but might not be as impenetrable as the Jets'. The only other rushing yards the Bears had in that game came on a 25-yard scramble by quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears would prefer Cutler not expose himself to the Jets defenders, which include 290-pound linebacker Quinton Coples and big-hitting, first-round rookie safety Calvin Pryor, in addition to Wilkerson, who had 10½ sacks last season.

“They're strong through the linebacker corps,” Kromer said. “They just drafted a safety who's a great hitter, so they have a rookie back there who looks like a veteran coming up and hitting running backs and receivers. That's what they do well.

“They're a physical, stop-the-run-first defense and then, if they think you're passing, they try to confuse your pass protection to get to the quarterback. You can see it in the (season-opening) Oakland game. You see it in the Green Bay game (last week). Both the quarterbacks were getting hit and running for their lives, and that's what we're hoping to avoid.”

For the second straight week, the Bears' offensive line will be without center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson. Their replacements, center Brian de la Puente and guard Michael Ola, have performed well. but they'll be tested again.

As intimidating as the Jets' run defense might appear, the Bears can't ignore their ground game. Even in today's QB-driven, pass-happy NFL, they cannot just give up on the run and fill the air with footballs. Without the threat of a running game, the Jets' pass rushers will be able to tee off.

“You make every effort to not concede the run,” Kromer said. “You have to continue to keep a balance of sorts, understanding that you may not gain a lot of yards per carry. But if you just drop back and pass it the whole game, they will get active and hit your quarterback.”

Getting stuck in obvious passing situations also plays into the hands of a Rex Ryan defense that features exotic and diverse blitzes and will also show some 4-3 alignments to add to the offensive confusion.

“Their front seven, I hope we don't see one better than them,” Cutler said. “The big guys in that kind of defense are usually run stoppers, two-gap guys. (But) these guys get up the field, they can rush the passer, they can move.

“The linebackers do a great job of showing different looks, disguising stuff, coming from one side, giving you looks on the other side. So it's challenging; you can tell that some of these guys have been in this defense for a while.”

The good news for the Bears?

The only other time Forte faced a Jets defense masterminded by Ryan was on Dec. 26, 2010, and he rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, a 5.9-yard average.

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  Bears running back Matt Forte cruises past Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Brandon Spikes at Soldier Field on Sunday. George LeClaire/ ¬
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) hands off the ball to running back Matt Forte (22) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Chicago. Associated Press
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Muhammad Wilkerson is a big reason the Jets' run defense is so solid. Associated Press
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