Bears’ defensive line on roller coaster
By Mark Potash email@example.com September 22, 2011 8:48PM
Led by All-Pro end Julius Peppers, the defensive line is a unit the Bears rely upon to be a difference-maker. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
Updated: November 10, 2011 5:34PM
Bears coach Lovie Smith disdains complicated explanations about what went right or wrong on Sunday. And through two games, no charts or graphs have been needed to pinpoint the difference in each game: the defensive line.
When the Bears’ front four dominated the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field, the Bears looked like Super Bowl contenders. When the line was nullified by the New Orleans Saints last week, they looked like a struggling playoff hopeful.
“A lot of it has to do with who you’re playing. I just consider it maybe a bad week at the office and can’t wait to get back to the next week. That’s how our guys look at it,’’ Smith said.
‘‘A lot of times, you look at it and say ‘D-line — how many sacks? No sacks? Evidently, they didn’t play well.’ That’s not the case. They played hard last week.’’
As hard as the defensive line played against the Saints, it is going to have to play a little better to make a difference. In the opener against the Falcons, the Bears’ defensive line had five sacks, 18 quarterback pressures, two deflected passes, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Against the Saints last week, the line combined for one sack, 11 quarterback pressures and no deflected passes, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.
What was the difference?
‘‘We just have to get off blocks and hustle to the ball,’’ defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. ‘‘I’m not saying that guys weren’t [doing that against the Saints] but we needed a lot more, especially up front.’’
In the Bears’ defense, they lean on the defensive line even more than most NFL teams. With an All-Pro defensive end in Julius Peppers and quality and depth to go with him, it’s a facet of the team that is counted on the most to impose its will regardless of the opponent.
It’s early, but so far it hasn’t worked out that way. The Bears trampled the Falcons’ offensive line that had first-time NFL starters at center and right guard. But against a stronger interior line of the Saints — with Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks surrounding former Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, all that hard work didn’t net quite the impact.
‘‘They [the Saints] were definitely better than the [Falcons],’’ Matt Toeaina said. ‘‘They have two All-Pro guards and Olin, whose experience is priceless. It’s got to b better no matter who we play.’’
It was a learning experience for Henry Melton, who had two sacks and six quarterback pressures against the Falcons, but was all but shut out by the Saints’ interior line — no tackles, no sacks and one quarterback pressure.
‘‘Henry’s been working hard,’’ defensive line coach Mike Phair said. ‘‘All the guys have. They’ve been busting their butts, working hard all week and ready to go. That’s all I can say about that.’’
The Bears’ defensive line didn’t quite meet the challenge against a better Saints offensive line on the road last week. But sometimes it’s just a matter of recognizing the challenge.
‘‘You just gotta make the adjustments no matter who they put in front of you,’’ Adams said. ‘‘You have to bring your ‘A’ game and it was obvious we didn’t have ours [against the Saints]. I’ve got to do a better job. We all do, just to get a win.’’
Smith is confident the line will respond to the challenge Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers at Soldier Field.
‘‘The defensive line is always excited about playing at home. That home crowd behind you on third downs and all those things — and they’ll come back strong this week.”