Shea McClellin has struggled at times in his Bears tenure, whether with injuries or matchups. But he felt like he’d rediscovered the key to not only his game but the game itself when he collected three sacks of Green Bay Packers quarterbacks earlier this month.
“I wasn’t doing anything different, nothing different before the game, just went out there and played,” McClellin said, adding, “Have fun.”
The defensive line has not had much cause for fun for most of this season, being wracked with injuries that have cost the group anywhere from a couple of games (McClellin, Stephen Paea) to most of the season (Nate Collins, Henry Melton).
But they hit upon something of a solution against the Baltimore Ravens, one which has appeared in the past but may be used with greater frequency after it accounted for three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception from Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
Nose tackle Landon Cohen struggled more than many of his teammates in the quagmire that was Soldier Field last week. Faced with that and the Ravens using nickel personnel nearly three-fourths of their snaps, the Bears went frequently with four defensive ends as their front: Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu.
On the field-turf surface of the Edward Jones Dome (the Bears practiced all week in their Walter Payton Center dome), speed is accentuated, making the four-ends look a clear possibility.
“We’ll see. We’ll see where it goes,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Typically in some obvious passing situations, we’ll try to get as much speed on the field as we can. Really, the game situation, who we’re playing and the matchups will dictate what we’ll do.”
The matchups can be problematic. The Rams live with smallish ends Chris Long (268) and Robert Quinn (265) because they have massive defensive tackles in Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford who have managed enough pass rush for 6.5 combined sacks.
The Bears are a speed-based, one-gap defense that risks giving away too much size with the four-end look, even with Peppers (287) and Wootton (280).
“Like we’ve done, guys sometimes have to move around,” Tucker said. “Some guys have to play a little bit more. That’s kind of what we do. We ask guys to step up and be ready to go. We have guys that can play multiple positions.
“So that’s kind of how we go about it. We cross train them in practice, and tell guys, ‘Hey you’ve got to be ready to play end and tackle, or three-technique and nose.’ Those guys do that. That’s what we do.”
What to look for: The Ravens spread the field and then ran Ray Rice 25 times for 131 yards. St. Louis is 20 pounds bigger than Baltimore at each offensive tackle position, so that if Peppers and Wootton slide inside in a four-end alignment, the Bears may be giving up 70 pounds per man on the edges, against a team that has started running the ball effectively with rookie Zac Stacy.