The lives of Bears defensive backs, particularly safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, should improve this week with the growing impact of defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and (expected) return of linebacker Lance Briggs in front of them. The timing couldn’t be a whole lot better.
Attention has rightly been directed toward the looming presence of Philadelphia’s league-leading rusher LeSean McCoy. As it should; Bears defensive backs have been too often embarrassed at the second and third levels trying to tackle Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and myriad lesser lights.
But the Bears have allowed 50 pass plays of 20 yards or longer, more in 14 games than they gave up in 16 last season. And they have had to face wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who already has reached a career-high in receptions (75), yards (1,275) and TD catches (9).
The problem with that last number is that Jackson’s average touchdown catch for his 41 career TDs is 42.6 yards. Only Detroit’s Calvin Johnson has matched Jackson’s total of 12 touchdown catches of 50 yards or longer since 2008.
The Eagles may have stumbled by overusing the pass in their 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings but they might be excused, given that Jackson caught 10 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has caught a touchdown pass in four of the Eagles’ last six games.
Philadelphia ranks 10th in passing yards this season. The Bears have stood up successfully against Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Cleveland’s Josh Gordon in the last two games, holding Bryant to two catches and Gordon to three, albeit each with a TD catch.
“It’s not up to just one guy,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Rush and coverage working together, being assignment sound, making sure you know where you are at all times. I think all those are contributing factors to trying to contain those great players.”
What to look for: If the Bears are forced to expend Wright for run defense too much in order to help slow McCoy, the Bears are likely in trouble. Jackson is a certified game-breaker, with tight end Brent Celek a viable check-down option for quarterback Nick Foles.
The Eagles are a big-play offense and if the Bears lose track of Jackson for a play, it will show up immediately on the scoreboard.