The day Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene were drafted, among the first text messages that popped on their phones were ones from new teammates James Anderson and Lance Briggs, telling the new Bears, “We’re here for you.”
The message now from Briggs is considerably more pointed, if not specifically targeted: “In an eight-man front, every gap is accounted for no matter what defense you’re playing,” Briggs said. “So when you’re getting gashed time after time after time, it means that somebody is not getting it done.”
In the loss to St. Louis, with middle-of-the-pack backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham lead a trampling of 258 rushing yards, those somebodies were too often Bears linebackers. Only defensive end Shea McClellin had a poorer run-defense grade from ProFootballFocus.com than Bostic and Anderson, with Bostic registering his worst overall game of the season.
Against Adrian Peterson the concerns increase exponentially. He took the heart out of the Bears last Dec. 9 with 154 rushing yards and two touchdowns, beginning with a 51-yard sprint through the middle on the game’s first play.
And that was a defense that had Briggs, who is out of this game with a fractured shoulder, and Nick Roach in the middle. Roach is now Oakland’s middle linebacker by virtue of a multi-year contract last offseason.
Which leaves Peterson for Anderson, Bostic and Greene, none of whom was in Chicago the last time Peterson took advantage of gap issues that were less severe than the current ones confronting the defense.
Having tackles Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff in front of them will help. But “in order to play great defense, especially run defense, everyone needs to be exactly where they need to be on every play,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “It only takes one breakdown to cause a big play. We really don’t have margin for error, especially when you’re playing good teams with good talent. Everyone has to be on point.”
What to look for: Bostic and Greene have worked to play fast, even if it means going somewhere wrong. The problem last Sunday was that the rookies and Anderson were going to the wrong places and they weren’t doing it especially fast, either. Hesitation on first steps will be fatal vs. Peterson, one of the great cutback runners in NFL history. If the linebackers overrun gaps trying to head Peterson off, he will top 200 yards. Maybe by halftime.