For much of the past decade, the Chicago Bears‘ defense has been fantastic — one of the best in the league. One of the staples for all of those top 10 defensive units was stopping the run. Most years, the Bears would allow only 80-to-90 yards a game on the ground, and it’d be big news when a back actually eclipsed the century-mark against them.
This season, though? Not so much. The Bears are horrible, no, dreadful — well, maybe that’s not even a negatively descriptive enough word for it. How about abhorrent? I think that’s fitting. And yes, I did look up synonyms to the word “terrible” on thesaurus.com to find one I liked the best — I’m not ashamed.
Chicago’s defense is allowing 152.4 yards rushing per game, the worst in the NFL. The 31st worst team at stopping the run is at 132.5 — 20 yards better. The Bears have been so bad that they had allowed six-straight 100-yard rushers into the game with the Cleveland Browns, which tied an NFL record.
So, when the Bears finished their game against the Browns allowing only 93 yards, and only 38 to their leading rusher, I thought that’d be a good sign. You know, a positive stepping stone for the defense as they try to gain back some respectability.
Alas, this was not to be the case. Even though the Browns only had 93 yards on the ground, it came on only 17 carries for a 5.5 yards per carry average. The only reason they didn’t torch the Bears is because they chose not to run very much, and also the fact that the Bears’ offense held onto the ball nearly 10 minutes more than Cleveland, which didn’t give them much opportunity. In fact, the Jason Campbell-led offense only ran 56 plays all day. Considering how often they were trailing, they ended up choosing to put the ball in the air more times than not.
However, the Bears’ defense as a whole played pretty well. Despite a deceptive scoreline of 38-31 in favor of the Bears, Cleveland earned 14 of their points via defensive touchdowns: one a pick-six and the other a fumble recovery. Really, the Bears’ D can only be held accountable for 17 points in this game. That’s certainly much better than the 27.9 points per game they’ve allowed this season.
But I digress, as it was, of course, an improved performance against only the Browns. Other than Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, who do they really have? No one. Though, Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in the league, so that counts for something I guess.
Nevertheless, it was nice just to see a bit of improved play for the D. They’re nowhere near good, but they do seem to be playing a bit better than before. Some of it may have to do with the weather if you buy that theory, but one player in particular who has caught my attention the last couple weeks has been Jeremiah “Jay” Ratliff.
He’s still getting into football shape after missing quite a bit of time with injuries over the past two seasons, but there have been a few small spurts where he’s made some great plays, which includes stuffing a run late in the game all by his lonesome in the backfield against Cleveland. That type of play is exactly what this defensive line has been missing this year in the absence of Henry Melton and Nate Collins.
Anyway, the only hope for this defense, and more specifically the run defense, is twofold: that Ratliff continues to improve steadily as the season comes to a close and Lance Briggs makes his return soon. He’s one of the best in the game at snuffing out the run, and his return to this defense could make a pretty big impact — even if it only makes them slightly below average instead of, what was it? Abhorrent.
Either way, they’re already looking at Week 16, so any significant improvement is already too far gone. But one thing is for sure, this offseason, priority No. 1 for GM Phil Emery is shoring up that the run defense.