The Dallas Cowboys ran for 198 yards officially against the Bears last Monday. The Bears were unhappy about their run defense (again) but the reality was that the Cowboys piled up meaningless rushing yards late, with 12 running plays vs. seven passes in the fourth quarter after they were behind 42-14. That resulted in 143 rushing yards for the quarter, and best guess is that Bears will happily let teams run their legs off when they are down by four touchdowns.
More important than Dallas’ yardage total was the impact of Jeremiah Ratliff, who had a sack of Tony Romo to go with three solo tackles. His snaps total went from 23 in the Minnesota game to 44 against Dallas, matching the total for Julius Peppers.
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“It’s feeling good,” said Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle, now playing at his preferred three-technique. “This is a close team and guys are working together. Makes you really want to contribute and be part of it.”
That is perhaps the best indication of how the Bears’ role for Ratliff has grown, along with him starting against the Cowboys.
“It’s just amazing to me to see him, because sometimes I forget he hasn’t played in over a year,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “I think that might have been the second or third time he’s had on shoulder pads. Definitely it’s going to be a help for us in the run game and also in pass rushing and gets us some pocket collapse.”
Ratliff attended Auburn, starting his college career as a tight end. His first collegiate catch was a pass from quarterback Jason Campbell, whom Ratliff will spend much of next Sunday chasing with harsh intent.
Ratliff’s impact on the interior defensive line makes up for a limited role for nose tackle Stephen Paea, who has been slowed most of this season with a turf toe and played just 18 snaps against Dallas.
“We’re going to need him to play well for us moving forward,” Tucker said. “And we’ll continue to roll those guys [in and out of the lineup] and sometimes the flow of the game, or things like that kind of dictate who plays and who doesn’t. I feel good about him in there inside at the nose spot.”
What to look for: Defensive end Julius Peppers vs. Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas. Two of the NFL’s best linemen in recent years. Peppers has been the Bears’ best defensive lineman over the past month and it was his bull rush over Dallas center Travis Frederick that set up one of the Bears’ two sacks. Thomas has never missed an offensive snap or a Pro Bowl since the Browns drafted him No. 3 overall in 2007.
But: The Bears give Peppers the discretion to line up wherever he believes gives the defense the best advantage, which may be over Thomas but also may be anywhere but over Thomas.