The Bears went into the 2013 season with Pro Bowl players at both corners and two safeties who had stabilized a position area after years of turnover. They go into the Baltimore Ravens game with one of those corners – Charles Tillman – done for the regular season and safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright plagued by inconsistency.
For better or worse, that also would characterize the quarterback they are dealing with this Sunday.
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Joe Flacco has gone from a quarterback who guided his team not only into the playoffs in each of his first five NFL seasons, but also to at least one win every postseason and a Super Bowl last year.
“Their quarterback is a franchise quarterback,” Conte said simply. “He’s going to throw the ball up and try to make plays with his arm.”
That may be difficult even against a Bears’ defense that is allowing 41 percent of third-down conversions and 250 passing yards per game. The Soldier Field weather forecast is calling for rain and high winds, That becomes significant for Baltimore, which is struggling to run the football and needs a game out of Flacco and his wide receivers.
The Ravens have had to rely on speed on the outside, with Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith in particular. Smith is averaging 18.4 yards per catch, while Marlon Brown (6-5) has five touchdowns among his 27 receptions.
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Against that the Bears are turning to Zackary Bowman in place of Tillman. Bowman has not been able to hold a starting job in the past but has another chance at one now.
“We’re just focusing on what we can control and that’s how we play and how we prepare,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “And technique and fundamentals with our guys — make sure they are sharp on that. Make sure they understand the game plan. Make sure we give them the tools they need to go out and play fast.”
The Ravens have started Brown, Jones and Smith in each of the last three games, a personnel grouping that will have the Bears making extensive use of second-year man Isaiah Frey, a virtual rookie after spending last season on the Bears’ practice squad.
“You are prepared to play a lot of nickel defense in an NFL season,” Tucker said. “In a typical season, half of your snaps are going to be in some type of sub package. That’s normal and it’s also game-to-game, it depends on who are you playing. Frey has done a nice job for us and we are confident in base or nickel.”
What to watch for: The inescapable reality in the Bears’ secondary is inexperienced at two of the three key coverage spots. Bowman has played sparingly over the past several seasons and Frey is heading into just his 10th NFL game.
“We’re not leaving it up to just one guy,” Tucker said. “So just go out there and do your job.”