Sunday playbook: Bears DT Stephen Paea might have earned respect from foes
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter September 14, 2013 1:50AM
Updated: October 16, 2013 6:52AM
Stephen Paea thought the Cincinnati Bengals insulted him and the progress he has made. Their decision not to double-team him last week as the Bears’ nose guard felt like a huge slight.
It fired him up more.
‘‘I did get a lot of one-on-one blocks, and they shouldn’t have done that,’’ Paea said. ‘‘When you get one-on-ones and you’re a nose, that’s a slap in the face.’’
The lack of impact plays by defense end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton in the Bears’ 24-21 victory overshadowed Paea’s performance, but he looks to be a big positive moving forward.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Paea graded out as one of the Bears’ best performers. He made two tackles for loss and had two quarterback pressures and half a sack. Pro Football Focus ratings had Paea with a defense-best 3.5 mark.
His performance should have sent a message to the Minnesota Vikings for the game Sunday at Soldier Field: Paea must be accounted for if you scheme against Peppers and Melton, as the Bengals did.
It’s tough to say whether that always was the case in 2012, when Paea started 14 games in his second season. Even Paea says he feels like a better player now, crediting his health (he had injuries before his rookie and 2012 seasons) and comfort level in the Bears’ scheme. He feels faster while the game has slowed down.
‘‘I have a lot to prove,’’ said Paea, whom former general manager Jerry Angelo moved up to draft at No. 53 in 2011. ‘‘I feel like the sky is the limit for me. I feel like I’m going to help this team out a lot.’’
Assistant defensive line coach Michael Sinclair, a three-time Pro Bowler for the Seattle Seahawks in the 1990s, said Paea has improved how he combats offensive linemen with his hands.
‘‘He’s already a powerful guy,’’ Sinclair said. ‘‘He’s very quick and has a fast switch. But I think in terms of learning how to set up his rushes and using your hands the proper way to attack a guy, that’s come in and that’s played a big part in his game this year.’’
It has made Paea a better pass rusher. He still comes out during most passing downs, but the goal is for that to end.
‘‘I want to be known as the best DT in the league,’’ he said. ‘‘It comes from just showing up. You earn your respect. You just don’t have somebody write up cool news about you. If you put it on tape, people will see it. The tape doesn’t lie.’’
The Bears’ Week 1 tape shows Paea will handle single blocks.
‘‘It makes a team ask, ‘Which guy are we going to double?’ ’’ Sinclair said. ‘‘You’ve got to have four guys who are constantly good rushers because it makes it hard in terms of, ‘Who do we double?’ You can’t just have two because you can take those guys away with double teams.So [Paea] has definitely done a good job of using his hands better, setting up his rushes. And the one thing that he has — and all good rushers have — is determination.’’
COACH’S CORNER WITH ASSISTANT DL COACH MICHAEL SINCLAIR
The Vikings return all five starters from an offensive line that cleared the paths and opened the holes for running back Adrian Peterson to surpass 2,000 rushing yards last year.
Beating left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Charlie Johnson, center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt and getting to Peterson will be a challenge for the Bears on Sunday.
‘‘First of all, they’re big and they open holes,’’ Sinclair said. ‘‘They get Adrian Peterson to the second level. I mean, the guy almost broke Eric Dickerson’s record last year. You have to worry about stopping the run against those guys. You’ve got to get your pads down. You’ve got to play with technique.
‘‘It’s basically a fight, and you have to stay in the fight. You have to at least get those guys into a third-and-7, third-and-8 to get after them. Because if you’re sitting there at third-and-4, you know they’re going to hand the ball off and they’ve got that monster they have in the backfield. He can get you four yards. So you’ve got to jump on them fast.”
The Vikings primarily use a man-blocking scheme up front to let Peterson get downhill.
‘‘We call it big-on-big, and whichever guy has the one-on-one, that guy has to win,’’ Sinclair said. ‘‘Whoever those guys are that are singled, they have to win one-on-ones.
‘‘We’ve got to be who we are, and that’s relentless. We’ve got to have determination.’’
UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT: LEFT GUARD MATT SLAUSON
Slauson, a former three-year starter for the New York Jets, may be the least storied offensive lineman, but he was a major factor in the Bears’ ability to negate Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins last week. Slauson had a solid 3.3 rating in Pro Football Focus’ analysis.
‘‘I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous going in with a guy like that who can single-handedly wreck a game,’’ Slauson said of Atkins. ‘‘I had a lot of nerves going in, but it was good.’’
The Bears are very pleased with what they’re getting after signing Slauson to a one-year deal. He’d like to earn more time in Chicago.
‘‘Our line has the potential to do amazing things,’’ he said. ‘‘I love Chicago. I would like to be here for a really long time, but I’ve got to earn it. I’ve got to keep on rolling.
‘‘It’s only been Week 1, so it’s a long road. I have to make sure I stay on top of things and really buckle down.’’
The Bears only had three defensive tackles active against the Bengals — starters Stephen Paea and Henry Melton and top backup Nate Collins. But with running back Adrian Peterson (right) coming to town, more DTs may be needed, and that means activating rookie Zach Minter for the first time.
‘‘We don’t have a plan to start moving people on and off the 46 [-man roster],’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘It will just be relative to that week.’’
Stopping Peterson is first and foremost Sunday, and a deeper rotation in the middle of the trenches could help. Minter’s quick first step can be very disruptive.
The Bears will insert veteran tight end Dante Rosario against the Vikings. He’ll take the place of recently cut tight end Kyle Adams, who got 11 snaps on offense and 14 on special teams against the Bengals.
Trestman used multiple-tight-end sets often against the Bengals but said he doesn’t have a preference for them. But if they turn to those personnel groupings again, Rosario is a more proven receiver than Adams, who was split out wide at times. Trestman said that Rosario is faster than Adams.
How well Jermon Bushrod handles Vikings defensive end Jared Allen will be crucial. But don’t forget about rookie Jordan Mills’ matchup against defensive end Brian Robison on the right side.
Trestman made sure to mention Robison this past week. According to Pro Football Focus, Robison had a team-best six quarterback hurries in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions.