They will not be The Answer for all of the Bears’ problems in run defense but the expected presences of defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings is just about as close to good news as the embattled defense could hope for.
Ratliff, who has not played in more than a year since suffering a serious groin injury, practiced on Thursday and “is in line to go [Sunday],” coach Marc Trestman said. “We'll see what tomorrow brings but he got reps today.”
Paea practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, working his way back from a turf toe injury that has had him out or impaired in four of the last seven games.
Additionally on Thursday, running back Matt Forte practiced on limited basis with his hyperextended knee and Brandon Marshall was limited because of a quad injury that put him on the injury report for the first time this week. Cornerback Derrick Martin (hamstring) also went on a limited basis.
Due for some good news
But the improving status of Paea and Ratliff looms as season-altering, even if neither is 100 percent.
The Bears held their first three 2013 opponents to an average of 89 rushing yards per game, and that was with Adrian Peterson rushing for 100 of the Minnesota Vikings’ 123 in game two.
At that point, core players in the defensive interior began dropping:
Game 3: Tackle Henry Melton’s torn ACL at Pittsburgh.
Game 4: Paea’s toe injury at Detroit.
Game 5: Tackle Nate Collins’ torn ACL vs. New Orleans.
Game 6: Middle linebacker D.J. Williams’ chest injury vs. Giants.
Not surprisingly, the Bears allowed 100 rushing yards in one of their first three games. They have held just one of their next eight to fewer than 100. They ranked ninth against the run when Melton went down. Since then, as the interior defense suffered its weekly injury catastrophe, the rushing defense has dropped every week but one.
Paea, the starting nose tackle, and Ratliff are central figures in reversing that ominous trend line. Within reason, because neither is expected to play an entire game.
“We hope that he'll do what we've seen him do in practice,” Trestman said. “The little he's been in there he's holding the point. He's getting a [pass] rush. He hasn't played for a while so we don't have high expectations right now, but we certainly see the light and we're hoping we get a little bit out of him and it might be Sunday.”