The road gets tougher for Bears' struggling D-line

The road gets tougher for Bears' struggling D-line
September 16, 2013, 9:15 am
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Citing one of my favorite bromides from Ian Fleming’s James Bond, "one is chance, two is coincidence, three times is enemy action," there is a growing urgency to fix the single most important area of the defense: the pass rush.

That Henry Melton and Julius Peppers were largely invisible in the Cincinnati game is chance; that’s happened before. But neither Pro Bowl defensive lineman was a force against Minnesota, and maybe that’s coincidence.

But then it’s also “coincidence” that the Bengals and Vikings combined for 14 third-down conversions on 27 attempts (52 percent) and netted 509 combined yards in two weeks.

[WEEK 2 GRADES: Defensive line]

The Bears are now 18-9 in games when Peppers does not have a sack. And the last time he went three games without a sack was 2010 and the Bears then reached the NFC Championship game.

Meaning: Someone other than Peppers was stepping up. So far in 2013 that has been the offense, as it should. But three times without Peppers or his mates in the opposing backfield more than they have been will likely lead to more “enemy action” than the offense can overcome.

It is obviously not all about only Melton, who prevented one red-zone third-down conversion Sunday with a stuff of Adrian Peterson at the Chicago 4, and Peppers.

Corey Wootton, whose breakout with 7.5 sacks last season foreshadowed a next-level for the successor to Israel Idonije, had the Bears’ only sack of Christian Ponder, but little else. Shea McClellin, who had the Bears’ only sack of Andy Dalton, was expected to be considerably more disruptive than he was a rookie. Nate Collins was the Bears’ best defensive lineman in preseason (two sacks).

Here’s the looming problem:

The defense has played two quarterbacks who took their teams to the 2012 playoffs – Dalton and Ponder. Now they look at two in the next three weeks who have won Super Bowls – Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Drew Brees with New Orleans – and a third (Detroit’s Matthew Stafford) who has averaged 5,000 passing yards over the past two seasons and who put 357 yards and two touchdowns on the Minnesota Vikings a week ago.

[WEEK 2 GRADES: Linebackers]

Peppers has drawn the bulk of the attention because of his massive contract, but Melton is on the books for the franchise tag of $8.45 million. And while it is simpler to question Peppers’ age (33), missed preseason time (hamstring) or health (flu symptoms last week), the broader beam is shining on players who are all 24-26 years of age and looked at as the future of the front.