Bears’ Tucker has work cut out with injury-laden, poor-tackling unit
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter October 16, 2013 8:43PM
Updated: October 18, 2013 3:31PM
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker says he loves a challenge. Well, he’s got one.
Six weeks into his first season with the Bears, injuries and an uncharacteristic spate of poor tackling have Tucker scrambling to halt a defensive downturn that threatens to get worse before it gets better.
With defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins and middle linebacker D.J. Williams out for the season with injuries, the Bears’ defense heads into the game Sunday against the Redskins at FedEx Field ranked 20th in total yards, 29th in yards per play, 32nd and last in passing yards per play and 31st in sacks per pass play. The news isn’t all bad: The Bears are 12th in rushing yards allowed and ninth in rush yards per play.
‘‘It is what it is,’’ Tucker said Wednesday after the Bears practiced at the Walter Payton Center. ‘‘I feel great about the group we have. We’re all in this thing together. We feel like we can do what we need to do to play winning football.
‘‘Every day is a challenge regardless of the situation. But that’s why we play this game. We’re competitors, and challenge is really what it’s all about.’’
It might take a magic wand for Tucker to perk up a defense that’s suffering where it hurts the most — the defensive line. The Bears’ line has four sacks in six games — a pace for 11 this season. Last year, the Bears’ defensive line had 38 of the team’s 41 sacks.
Ineffective line play has led to fundamental breakdowns. With running backs too often coming at them at full speed, linebackers and defensive backs are missing tackles at an alarming rate — the Bears have 55 missed tackles already this season, tied for the second-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s a rate of 147 for the season. Last year, the Bears had 85 missed tackles.
Tucker is trying every trick he can to prop up the line play. Rookie end David Bass was with the Raiders in the preseason. Tackle Landon Cohen was with the Cowboys. A year ago, undrafted rookie Zach Minter was at Montana State. They combined for 81 plays against the Giants. It’s going to take some heavy-duty player development to make a difference as quickly as the Bears need it. But that’s what the coaching staff believes it does best.
‘‘Our goal is to get better every day,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘And to continue to teach, motivate and develop. We’ll continue to work with these guys. We haven’t hit our ceiling with any of the guys that we have now. We feel like some guys have higher ceilings than others, but we all need to get better. We should get better day in and day out, and carry it over into the game. That’s our goal.’’
The Bears are hoping defensive tackle Stephen Paea can give them a boost on the line after missing the last two games with a sprained toe. But he has to stay healthy — if Paea starts against the Redskins, it will be the Bears’ fifth tackle combination in five games.
What the Bears need next is some continuity.
‘‘It’s all about chemistry,’’ Paea said. ‘‘How many games have we played [together] so far? I don’t feel like we have enough chemistry in there to be comfortable playing with one another — knowing the timing of stunts, whatever you’re doing. When we get the chemistry down, it’s a no-brainer — we’re going to get after the quarterback and be disruptive like we’ve always been.’’