So many areas of the Bears’ offense have improved year-to-date over 2012. The offense has scored three touchdowns in all four games and amassed more than no less than 323 yards in every game but one.
That “one” was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose 3-4 scheme held the Bears to 258 yards. Four of the five games last season in which the Bears were held sub-250 (three times below 200) were by 3-4 defenses.
The New Orleans Saints switched to a 3-4 defense this season under new coordinator Rob Ryan. The result has made the Saints statistically the best defense the Bears will have faced this season: sixth in yardage allowed, fifth in points given up.
No other Bears opponent through the first four games is as high in either category, topped by Cincinnati’s No. 10 standing in points allowed – including the Steelers.
The Saints lack the marquee defensive figure of previous opponents: Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Smith, Minnesota’s Jared Allen, Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu, Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. They are doing it with comparative “nobodies” and with a different approach from Pittsburgh’s.
“This team isn’t pressuring as much,” said coach Marc Trestman. “They don’t have as many internal ‘cross-dogs.’ They have them available and we have to be ready for them but their structure isn’t usually to bring six guys from multiple places.
“They’ll bring them but up to this point they haven’t done that, but they certainly have it within their system to do that.”
Even with their apparent simple approach to pressure, the Saints rank No. 10 in sacks per pass play, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan (four) and rush linebacker Junior Galette (three). New Orleans had 30 sacks all last season (25th); they have 12 through four games in 2013.
It hasn’t helped to have Aaron Kromer as offensive coordinator or Jermon Bushrod at left tackle. Both were with the Saints until this season but what they’re seeing on film now is different from what they used to see in practice.
“The defense that we're about to see is nothing like the defense that we started with that we played last year,” Kromer said. “With Rob Ryan coming in, it's a 3-4 defense to start in base and they have a lot of new players, especially the young guys up front with Jenkins, with Cam Jordan playing a different position. Hicks is playing a lot more than he did last year. So just everything about their defense is different than last year: structure, the people who are playing it.”
What bodes well for the Bears is that the offensive line in front of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte is not the one that was abused last year by Green Bay (twice), Houston and San Francisco 3-4 defenses.
Indeed, for all of the weapons he now has in his huddle, Cutler is clear on the biggest area of improvement this year over last:
“I think the offensive line,” Cutler said. “I think those five guys up front have to get the majority of the credit of where we’re heading right now. They’re doing a great job protecting, run blocking. We’re throwing a lot of stuff at them and I think they’ve gelled quite nicely so far.”