Chicago Bears' run defense starting to meet expectations
For the first time this season, the Bears had more rushing yards than they allowed on Sunday -- a lot more.
Outrushing the Lions 114-66 was a big factor in the Bears' 17-14 victory, their first of the season and first at Soldier Field in a year. It came just one week after the Bears were outrushed by the Cowboys 199-73 in a 31-17 defeat. And it could be an indication that the defense is ready to show the improvement expected from it after off-season upgrades through free agency and the draft.
Because the league has become so quarterback driven, being stout against the run isn't as critical as in years past. But it's still an important part of the foundation, according to coach John Fox.
"We've definitely evolved into a pass league," Fox said. "When you look around the league, I don't think many people are running it very effectively in general. (But) in our division, I think it's maybe a little bit more important than it is leaguewide.
"To me, the essence of football is still being able to stop the run and being able to run the ball. So we emphasize it quite a bit."
Never more so than in the days after getting trampled underfoot by the Cowboys and their first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, who had 140 rushing yards.
"We got out butt whipped," said Bears 6-foot-5, 336-pound defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. "There's no sugarcoating anything about it. We lost that game, and that kind of loss really sits with you, resonates with you and makes you want to find those answers even faster."
The Cowboys averaged 4.9 yards on their 41 run plays, but the Lions averaged just 3.7 yards on 18 carries. Take away quarterback Mathew Stafford's 15-yard scramble late in the game, and the Lions' run plays averaged 3.0 yards.
"That's something we've been trying to improve every week," Hicks said, "and this is one of the first weeks we've been able to say it: 'We were extremely stout against the run,' and they didn't have much of a place to go."
Through three weeks, only one NFL team was allowing more rushing yards per game than the Bears, which was not what general manager Ryan Pace and Fox had in mind last off-season when they added Hicks and inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan in free agency and drafted linebackers Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatkoski.
Trevathan remains out following thumb surgery, but Freeman tied safety Harold Jones-Quartey for the team lead with 7 tackles on Sunday; and Hicks tied Will Sutton for the lead among defensive linemen with 3.
"I think we were pretty tenacious," Fox said. "We stopped the run pretty good. "It was probably one of the better run defenses we've put up in the first quarter of the season."
That run defense has an excellent opportunity to build on its best effort in Indianapolis next Sunday, when it faces a Colts offense that averages just 88 rushing yards per game, 24th in the league.
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