Ratliff, Paea will strengthen Bears’ run defense
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter November 28, 2013 9:33PM
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23: Stephen Paea #92 of the Chicago Bears celebrates a sack against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field on September 23, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: November 28, 2013 10:53PM
It’s not a cure-all, but it might be close.
The Bears’ most glaring defensive weakness — which, when you think about it, is saying something — could be fixed by two proven veterans Sunday in Minneapolis.
Defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea, with a combined 107 career starts and four Pro Bowl appearances, figure to play against the Vikings.
They’ll improve the Bears’ league-worst rush defense — almost by default.
Ratliff, signed Nov. 2 as he recovered too slowly from groin surgery for the Cowboys’ taste, is in line to go Sunday, coach Marc Trestman said.
And Paea said he most likely will play. He missed the game against the Rams after he reaggravated his turf-toe injury.
Both were limited practice participants Thursday at Halas Hall.
“It’s been great here,” Ratliff said. “It’s a different atmosphere, a good change of pace. I feel like myself again. I feel really good.“
Ratliff had sports-hernia surgery last December to fix muscles that tore away from the bone. He hasn’t played in a game in more than a year, but he practiced on a limited basis the last two weeks.
“I guess it was best for both parties to see how comfortable I was, explosive, being able to move around and how quickly I can pick up the defense and things like that,” Ratliff said. “Everything turned out pretty well.”
Trestman said neither Ratliff nor Paea will be asked to fix the Bears’ sieve of a run defense on his own and shouldn’t feel the pressure to.
But they bring a dynamism the Bears have been missing while starting off-the-street free-agent signee Landon Cohen and converted end Corey Wootton at defensive tackle. Against the Rams, they played Christian Tupou and Tracy Robertson, who were unemployed earlier this season.
“Well, we hope that [Ratliff] will 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 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.”
A little bit might be enough, given that the Bears have given up 145.2 rushing yards per game.
“I’m just eager to play football, period,” Ratliff said. “Stopping the run, that’s part of our job.
“I fully embrace that role and look forward to doing it.”
It has been frustrating for Paea to watch from the sideline, too, since reinjuring his turf toe in the muck against the Ravens. He has missed three starts and parts of two more games with the problem.
“When Coach puts me in, he trusts me that I’ll be able to do my job,” Paea said. “I have responsibilities, and I know that if I don’t do my job, I’m not supposed to be out here. They’re gonna pull me out.
“That’s why I’ve gotta be smart. Because when I’m in there, I have to go full speed, 100 percent.”
Discipline is key in stopping the run, he said.
“There are no supernatural running backs,” he said, “unless we’re talking about Adrian Peterson.
“If we are disciplined and stay in our gaps, there’s nowhere Adrian Peterson is gonna run — unless he’s going to hurdle over our heads and keep running.”
Maybe the NFL’s second-leading rusher could do that, actually.
“If that’s the case,” Paea said, “then we gotta put 15 guys in there.”
For now, two new faces will suffice.
“I feel good,” Ratliff said. “That’s all I need.”