The late Bob Karmelowicz told Jared Allen if he can win one out of every 18 pass rushes, he will finish the season with 16 sacks.
Entering his sixth game as the Bears' right defensive end, Allen has yet to notch a sack, and he's not all the way back from the bout with pneumonia that kept him out of the Week4 loss to the Packers. He estimated he was still eight to 10 pounds light after putting down some tortilla soup Wednesday.
Allen had a special relationship with Karmelowicz, his position coach with the Chiefs when he was drafted in the fourth round in 2004, and he employed Karmelowicz as his personal position coach in 2008, his first season with the Vikings. He didn't get off to the kind of start he wanted with his new team, and Karmelowicz was unemployed that year.
So Allen paid him to fly in on Tuesdays and coach him up. It sparked him to five games with at least two sacks, and he finished the season with 14 1/2.
“What do you do with your 17 failures to help you win that one?” Allen said of Karmelowicz's 1-for-18 theory. “You have to learn from your mistakes, you have to set people up, you have to get in rhythms. You go in spurts, you go in slumps. You try not to get in slumps. The biggest thing is just not to let those ghosts creep in. You just have to keep rushing and rushing.”
It hasn't paid off yet, and whether Allen wants to admit he's in a pass-rushing slump or not doesn't matter. He isn't getting to the quarterback with the consistency that is needed or expected from him with a contract that's worth $15.5 million over this season and next.
Pressures, hurries and hits matter and move the quarterback off the spot, but sacks are what get players paid, and the Bears signed Allen, 32, during the March owners meeting with the expectation he would boost their pass rush in a big way.
But the same day the Packers' Julius Peppers was announced as the NFC's defensive player of the week for a pick-six and a half-sack against the Vikings, Allen was asked what his frustration level is.
“None,” said Allen, who was credited with seven tackles in Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Panthers. “Goodness, I led the team in tackles the other day. I was laughing with somebody and said, ‘Well, that whole thing about me not playing the run anymore has got to be out the window.'”
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker isn't sounding alarms, and as a matter of course, he doesn't single players out. “It was a pretty productive day if you look at everything we're asking him to do,” Tucker said. “We don't need to say, ‘This guy should be here on sacks.' What we need to say is, ‘Here is where we need to get better. Here is where we need to improve as a unit.' Then production will come within the course of all of us playing better.”
Against the Jets in Week 3, Allen had eight tackles, the most he has had in a game since 2008. He got on a roll in the second half against left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and finished with eight quarterback pressures, so he was on Geno Smith's doorstep regularly. It looked like he was breaking out, and then he fell ill.
“If I was playing bad ball, I would let you know,” he said. “I felt I was in a good rhythm coming off that (Jets) game, and last week I could have used some of the weight back. Do I want all the sacks? Absolutely. Will they come? Absolutely.
“My technique in my rush is good. I don't really have a lot of false movements, and you just have to keep working. They'll come. I've been doing this a long time, there have been ups and downs and, you know what, the good Lord hasn't failed me yet and I don't think he has plans for me to be a complete bum yet.”
Comparisons with Peppers are irrelevant when you realize it wasn't an either/or proposition for general manager Phil Emery. The cap figure for the 34-year-old Peppers had climbed to roughly $18.2 million, so the Bears couldn't afford to keep him. He has 1 1/2 sacks.
Opportunities have been there for Allen, who has played 90.5 percent of the snaps in the four games in which he has played. The Panthers solo blocked him on 31 of his 36 pass-rushing opportunities, using left tackle Byron Bell for 25 of those one-on-ones. The Jets helped Ferguson on only 10 of 44 pass-rushing opportunities. So it's not like he has been chipped and doubled routinely.
Extra attention could come Sunday. The Falcons would seem to be a likely candidate for Allen to break out against as he challenges rookie left tackle Jake Matthews on a line that has lost three starters to injuries for the season. Allen knows the plan of Falcons line coach Mike Tice always is max protection.
“Just try to beat the man in front of you,” Allen said. “Hopefully the quarterback has the ball when you get there.”