The Bears' top priority during the offseason was to revive their defensive line. They signed five free-agent defensive ends, re-signed a veteran three technique and drafted two defensive tackles, all with the hope of restoring its fierce, disruptive presence.
So the most important takeaway, good or bad, from Friday night's penalty-marred 34-28 exhibition victory at Soldier Field was easy to find looking into the Eagles' backfield.
The Bears pressured starting quarterback Nick Foles into two interceptions. Yes, it was only an exhibition, so all of the necessary qualifiers apply. But seeing the Bears' defensive line win in the trenches against the Eagles' first string was the most significant evidence to date that the line has regained a pulse.
“Our defensive line is going to be real,” said second-string end Trevor Scott, who helped pressure Foles into his second interception. “That’s one of the big things we want to focus on this year.”
Overall, the Bears advanced from their first exhibition with a few positives on which to build and more than enough coaching points to last until Thursday's exhibition against the Jaguars.
In a game for which the Bears did not scheme for the Eagles on either side of the ball, the defense forced four turnovers, and Jay Cutler quarterbacked the first-string offense on a 13-play touchdown drive.
But they surrendered a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, turned the ball over three times and were assessed 14 penalties for 103 yards.
“There’s a lot of corrections to be made,” coach Marc Trestman said. “There was certainly error in our game throughout. I thought the effort was very good, but the tape will help us teach.”
The defense started fast by pressuring Foles up the middle, the type of impact that serves as the goal of general manager Phil Emery's rebuilding project. Star defensive end Jared Allen didn't play after missing practice all week after the birth of his daughter, but that didn't matter.
On the Eagles' third play from scrimmage, nose tackle Stephen Paea, the only returning starter from last year's opening day line, teamed with three technique Jeremiah Ratliff to force Foles into a throw that only linebacker Lance Briggs could have caught.
Ratliff drew a holding penalty on the next snap. And then the Bears swarmed Foles again, producing an errant lob that new safety Ryan Mundy easily intercepted.
“We put a little pressure in there on the QB, calling out zone pressures and stuff like that,” Paea said.
The pressure continued on the next series, as the Bears forced two more holding penalties. Scott, a six-year veteran whose offseason acquisition barely made a ripple compared to splash signings of Allen and Lamarr Houston, accounted for one of them. And he wasn’t done there.
On the Eagles' third series, with Foles still in the game, Scott came off the right edge and forced him to step up and throw off schedule. Cornerback Sherrick McManis picked it off.
Trestman was particularly pleased at first glance by how the Bears defended the run. The Eagles’ top two backs, LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles combined for 11 yards on four carries.
“I was looking at how we were setting the edge,” Trestman said. “Did we have the opportunity to make some tackles and do some clean tackling? I saw a little bit of that.”
The first-string offense also exited on a high note. Cutler's 10-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Zach Miller was his second third-down conversion on a 69-yard drive.
Cutler completed 9 of 13 attempts for 85 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 112.7. He threw off his back foot multiple times, and he overthrew receiver Eric Weems when he fell away from the target, but he also made several pinpoint throws.
His 23-yarder to tight end Dante Rosario on third-and-10 perfectly cleared the jumping linebacker and dropped down before the safety arrived to break up the pass. And his throw to Miller fit through a tight window at the catch point.
“I was getting more of a comfort level with the O-line, sitting in the pocket,” Cutler said. “Things were going good.”
Miller thrust himself to the forefront of the backup tight end competition with six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s…just making plays when the ball comes your way,” Miller said. “Take pride in catching the football and take care of the football.”
As for the bad, special teams were a wreck. In addition to the Eagles' kickoff return for a touchdown, the Bears muffed a punt when Micheal Spurlock and Michael Ford collided with each other. The Eagles recovered that fumble. The Eagles also blocked a field goal.
“There’s a lot of things special teams-wise that we could look at and learn from,” Trestman said.
The Eagles completed passes over or near young linebackers Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin, both of whom emphasized before the game the importance of recognizing their pass coverage assignments.
“It was a start,” said McClellin, the converted defensive end who played linebacker for the first time. He lamented missing “a couple of tackles.” Asked what positives he took from the game, he said: “Victory.”
The backup quarterback competition intensified. Jordan Palmer had a touchdown and an interception. He was harassed behind the second-string offensive line, but he was happy with some of his decision making and timing.
Jimmy Clausen had two touchdowns—a 73-yard catch-and-run by Chris Williams down the right sideline and a 22-yarder to Spurlock in which Clausen went through his entire progression.
“Jordan overcame the interception,” Trestman said, emphasizing he didn’t know who was at fault on the turnover. “He came back and moved the football team. And the same thing with Jimmy. He was poised for a guy who has been here so little time. I think we saw something there, so that competition will continue.”
Twitter @Rich_CampbellCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun