OAKLAND — The Oakland offense will not be the standard used to measure any defensive accomplishment. But the Raiders were the only other team on the field in O.Co Coliseum on Friday night, and the Bears did what they were supposed to do.
A near-perfect first half would have been a shutout but for a 58-yard field goal as time expired. With the full No. 1 group on the field the Raiders had four of six possessions net zero first downs, and they managed just 47 total yards on those possessions.
The Bears’ defense has produced four takeaways now in three straight games.
Regardless that the Raiders will never be confused with the Brady Patriots or Manning Colts, the evening’s work by the Bears still did allow for some trend-spotting:
Getting Julius Peppers back from his Aug. 3 hamstring strain, even for a handful of snaps, had a predictably positive effect on the entire defense. Peppers’ one tackle was for a loss, and the domination of the Raiders was complete. Stephen Paea looks increasingly like the designer nose tackle for the Bears’ scheme, stout enough at the point but with a little burst on pass rush. Henry Melton is still out with his concussion, and Paea is working a little in nickel and nearly ran down Matt Flynn for a sack.
Both Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton showed up early without getting stat-sheet credit. McClellin closed down against running plays, and Wootton was able to mount some inside pressure on nickel.
Trending: In the race for the No. 4 defensive end billet, both Cornelius Washington and Kyle Moore were credited with a sack, quarterback hit and tackle for loss. Washington, the Bears’ sixth-round pick, also broke up a pass in addition to showing excellent pursuit speed down field. He arguably gained a roster edge on Moore, a veteran of multiple teams and seasons, and will have a chance to pull away in game four when McClellin, Peppers and Wootton play greatly reduced snaps.
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The story of the preseason remains Jonathan Bostic, the more so with each passing week in which D.J. Williams is unable to work because of his July 31 calf injury. Bostic led the defense, in true middle-linebacker fashion, with eight tackles, one for a loss. But he also was not quick enough with his coverage of Raiders rookie tight end Nick Kasa, and the result was a touchdown, the second in two weeks when Bostic’s coverage failed.
“They quick-snapped us,” Bostic said, “but that’s my responsibility to get out there and make sure the quarterback’s got to put some air under the ball.”
The Bears signed James Anderson to be the starting strong-side linebacker to replace Nick Roach (who went to Oakland and led the Raiders in tackles on Friday). What they clearly are getting is considerably more than the standard strong-side linebacker. Anderson had a quarterback pressure and was second to Bostic with six tackles. Anderson also continues to stay on the field with Lance Briggs in nickel, not the norm for strong-side linebackers.
Khaseem Greene was in on a couple of tackles and was paired with Bostic in the second half when coaches wanted Bostic to stay on the field for more work. Blake Costanzo is having some impact as a reserve middle linebacker in addition to his special-teams work, and if Williams’ calf injury lingers, Costanzo represents a not-insignificant name on the depth chart. Costanzo had two tackles and was aggressive in coverage, breaking up a pass.
Trending: The middle was once the domain of Brian Urlacher. For the Bears’ scheme to work requires a “Mike” linebacker with range in coverage. Bostic is not being beaten by above-average tight ends; if that continues, offenses will find him.
With the front four squarely in position, this preseason has been about second-echelon figures at both cornerback and safety. Isaiah Frey stepped up his bid for the No. 1 nickel back spot with an interception and pass defensed. Frey is showing a willingness to attack as a tackler despite his slight build. Charles Tillman forgot this was just preseason, with a sack on a corner blitz that effectively turned back a potential scoring drive in the first quarter.
Impressive about the secondary is the work done without a Pro Bowl end (Peppers) and tackle (Melton) applying pressure. The Bears have seven interceptions in three games. “We have guys stepping in and filling those roles,” said cornerback Tim Jennings, who also with an interception vs. Oakland. C.J. Wilson picked off a pass and made two tackles to continue his surprise push for a roster spot as an undrafted rookie free agent. Brandon Hardin collected two solo tackles but is still in a battle to earn a roster spot.
Trending: The back end of a very good defense is in place. The Cleveland game becomes a time of extended snaps for reserves who will factor into special teams as well as offer depth in a good unit.