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JAHNS: Bears defense hunkers down on Andy Dalton in second half

Lance Briggs Jermaine Gresham Tim Jennings

Lance Briggs, Jermaine Gresham, Tim Jennings

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Updated: September 8, 2013 8:59PM



Cincinnati Bengals ­quarterback Andy Dalton was putting together a ­fantasy owner’s dream day. And the Bears’ defensive front was having problems preventing him from doing so.

As the Bengals kept driving, similar questions kept coming up. Where’s the Bears’ vaunted pass rush? Why isn’t Julius Peppers working over Bengals backup left tackle Anthony Collins? Where are Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin and Henry Melton?

“They had a good game plan to pick away at our defense,” Melton said. “It was hard because [Dalton] was getting it out quick. It’s hard to get pressure when he’s throwing it that quick. But we need to keep going and keep ­attacking, and we did a little ­better job in the second half.”

That the Bears’ defense did in a 24-21 victory Sunday at Soldier Field.

How the Bears do without linebacker Brian Urlacher roaming the middle and former coach Lovie Smith calling the shots will be a prevailing story line for some time. And the Bears did enough to hold off any concerns for at least one more game.

“They are a very explosive team,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “And they got their plays, but we were able to make more towards the end.”

In fact, the defense looked a lot like it did when Urlacher and Smith were here. They forced three turnovers and made plays at crucial points in the game. They could be bent — actually torn apart at times by wide receiver A.J. Green (nine catches, 162 yards, two touchdowns) — but didn’t always break.

Cornerback Charles Tillman, drawing the assignment of Green, made two interceptions in the first half, returning one 41 yards and preventing a complete takeover by the Bengals. Jennings forced two fumbles and recovered one of them to end a Bengals’ scoring opportunity on the Bears’ 19. And McClellin finally reached Dalton for a sack to hinder a key drive at 7:58 in the fourth quarter.

The defense managed to turn Dalton’s dream day into simply a decent one. Dalton finished 26-for-33 for 282 yards, but 189 of his yards and both of his touchdown passes came in the first half.

The long marches that characterized his first half — scoring drives of 97 and 90 yards — turned into just six offensive plays in the fourth quarter.

“We needed to get the quarterback and Shea comes up with a big play,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “We needed to get off field and James Anderson comes up with a big play [a pass breakup]. We’ve got to continue to do that. We’ve got to do more of that.”

Were they like the defense of old?

“For the most part,” Briggs said. “This Bears defense is 2013. There’s things that we’ve got to do and we’ve got to correct if we want to be successful and to continue to get more wins.”

It all starts with getting after the quarterback and the Bears left unhappy with what they accomplished against the Bengals, who were without starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee).

The Bengals’ game plan of three-step drops by Dalton and quick, short routes admittedly frustrated the Bears. But while it could be a recipe for other teams, it also showed that the defense still is a more-than-capable group.

It’s going to take more to beat them. And everyone knows they can play better.

“There were some long drives in there and we kept getting kind of bailed out, but that’s what we do on defense,” Melton said. “You have to be perfect the whole way down. And if you’re not, we’re ­going to take advantage of that.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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