Bears need good run defense against the Eagles
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Chicago Bears - INSIDE SLANT
The Chicago Bears have to be asking themselves if it was real or a mirage. They'll find out the answer Sunday at Philadelphia, and it will go a long way toward determining their playoff status.
For the first time since early October, their run defense against the Cleveland Browns looked formidable last Sunday. Whether it was bona fide improvement or the result of going against one of the league's worst rushing attacks is yet to be determined.
"We tackled better last week," coach Marc Trestman said. "We minimized explosive plays last week. There were some, but they were still minimal, compared."
Against running back LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago's worst-ranked run defense (152.4 yards a game) faces a matchup nightmare.
The Eagles not only are No. 1 in rushing, but routinely produce the big running plays Trestman thought the Bears prevented well last week. Only the Oakland Raiders have more runs of 20 yards or longer than the Eagles (17) and no team has given up more runs (16) that long than the Bears.
"We have to make sure we don't make a whole lot of mistakes out there," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "These guys are one of the best offenses in the league. They run the ball tremendously well. They've got very explosive players in the run game and in the pass game.
"We just have to do our jobs, be assignment sound, play fast and we've got to get a lot of guys to the ball."
The addition of Jeremiah Ratliff at nose tackle seemed to plug the middle some last week, but the big addition the Bears expect is the return of seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs from a shoulder fracture. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but was involved with the first team on defense and is expected to be announced Friday as a starter.
"It would be huge," defensive lineman Corey Wootton said. "I think Lance is definitely one of the best linebackers in the league. Before he got hurt, he was having an incredible season, so it will be great to have a guy like him, a perennial Pro Bowler, back. Hopefully we can have him back."
As the defensive signal-caller, Briggs could also help further stabilize the group that seemed to make strides last week. Then again, the Bears did give up a touchdown drive based largely on wildcat runs in the game. The read-option style Philadelphia sometimes employs in its running attack is not much different, and it's a style the Bears have struggled to stop.
Chicago's defensive problems started in earnest against the Washington Redskins Oct. 20, the same game Briggs got hurt. They weren't faring well stopping Robert Griffin III and the read-option, and the Redskins started running it at a faster pace much like Philadelphia does. It wore down Chicago's defense to the tune of 209 rushing yards, the first of five contests when the defense gave up 198 yards or more on the ground.
"It's very similar to the Redskins type of offense, their zone read," Wootton said. "They try to confuse you a little bit, so it's crucial that we play gap sound and we have our option responsibilities because you see on film when teams weren't doing what they were supposed to (the Eagles) gash them a little bit.
"Their tempo is a little faster than Washington's. They're one of the faster tempos in the league, so I think it's crucial that we get lined up, get set."
One of the issues with stopping a fast-paced attack is avoiding a worn out defensive front by getting substitutes on the field.
"We think we can get it done," Trestman said. "Again, when they don't change personnel, they can keep their tempo up. When they change personnel, they have to slow it down because they have to wait for teams to match up.
"So, the only value to up-tempo is to keep personnel on the field. Otherwise, the referees are going to hold the ball until you substitute."
Minnesota didn't struggle against the Eagles in dealing them a convincing defeat last week. The Bears defense will need help from their offense to achieve this. The Vikings scored and made Philadelphia need to abandon the run. Plus the Eagles ran less just to attack Minnesota's porous secondary.