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Sunday playbook: Bears’ cover-2 might be ready for new tricks

Adam Jahns Chicago Sun-Times sports writer is photographed studio Tuesday April 3 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Adam Jahns, a Chicago Sun-Times sports writer is photographed in the studio on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:33AM



Are changes coming to the Bears’ defense? Coach Marc Trestman certainly made it sound that way ahead of Sunday’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints.

‘‘We’ve done some things structurally to force and integrate some problems on the New Orleans side of the football,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll see what happens.’’

Any changes made by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker surely are designed to pester Saints quarterback Drew Brees as much as possible. The Bears undoubtedly will disguise their coverages and blitz, but how much change really is coming?

‘‘We’re not going to change what we’ve been doing for years around here,’’ defensive end Julius Peppers said. ‘‘We just have to do it better.’’

Staples of a solid cover-2 defense are the containment of big plays and a front four that generates a pass rush without much assistance. After four games, the Bears are lacking in both areas, giving up 23 plays of 20 yards or more with only three sacks by their defensive linemen.

As was the case under former coach Lovie Smith, man coverage and zone pressure also are used, but the cover-2 remains the lifeblood. Its beauty, it is often said, is its simplicity. But what if the Bears continue to struggle in the increasingly complex world of pass-happy NFL offenses?

Is it merely a coincidence that six of the seven top defenses by total yards — including the Saints at sixth — have 3-4 schemes designed to confuse and pressure?

While completely abandoning the cover-2 is highly unlikely this season, Tucker’s history with 3-4’s should be noted.

The Saints are the most recent example of it taking only months for defensive changes to be implemented and success to follow. Changes undoubtedly were coming after their abysmal 2012 season, which saw them allow the most yards in NFL history. Now teams are averaging 13.8 points against them. A complete overhaul wasn’t necessary. Nine of the starters on the Saints’ unofficial depth chart were on the team last year.

The Bears may be better equipped to make a change down the road than once thought. General manager Phil Emery has been targeting versatile athletes who ‘‘transcend scheme,’’ and you don’t have to look further than second-year defensive end Shea McClellin and rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene to see that.

McClellin may be better off upright and in space (as he was at Boise State) than with his hand in the dirt. Bostic played in a hybrid defense at Florida that is comparable to the Seattle Seahawks’ and New England Patriots’ defenses. Greene played in a system at Rutgers that mimicked some 3-4 alignments.

‘‘We’re not trying to trick anybody,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘We’re not trying to run any gimmick defenses.’’

But for how much longer?

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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