LAKE FOREST- In the National Football League, there is always bad that comes with good. Such as Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton tearing the ACL in his left knee in Sunday night’s win at Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old, three-technique specialist now has an uncertain future ahead of him (aside from surgery and rehab). But the loss of the Pro Bowl lineman has highlighted an even bigger concern along the defensive line as a whole.
The Bears’ pass rush this season has been underachieving to say the least. Out of the five total sacks that the Bears defense has collected so far, only two of them came from defensive linemen. End Corey Wootton has one full sack, while end Shea McClellin and tackle Stephen Paea each have a 1/2 sack. The front four has also only accounted for 16 of the teams 131 total tackles thus far.
The shortcomings of the defensive line came into full swing Sunday night as defensive coordinator Mel Tucker had to rely on outside blitzes to pressure Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (who threw for 406 yards and two touchdowns). There are many reasons for the front line’s lack of production…….
For starters, injuries always hinder a team’s progress. It’s safe to say that perhaps Henry Melton was not 100-percent as the season began back on September 8th. He missed the remainder of the preseason and the first few days of regular season practice after sustaining a concussion back on August 9th. Julius Peppers has also been bit by the injury bug. After battling a hamstring injury in training camp that lingered into opening day, Peppers did next to nothing against Cincinnati.
He was also ineffective against Minnesota in Week Two as he was battling “flu-like symptoms”. The 33-year-old North Carolina native has denied reports of any on-going health issues, but during the fourth quarter of Sunday nights victory, it was obvious that something is definitely not right with No. 90. In the closing minutes of the game, Peppers recovered a Roethlisberger fumble and returned it 42 yards for the Bears final touchdown of the night. Peppers was not running to the end zone at full speed and he looked hobbled in his stride.
While he may be the most important player on the Bears defense, it is also important that he is healthy in order for him to succeed. Perhaps the Bears should bench Peppers until he is completely healthy and able to compete at a high level once again. Another issue is the offenses that the Bears have been going against. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton along with Roethlisberger are very accurate passers. They both have quick releases. But there are some attributes that separate them.
“Big Ben” for example works his pump fake to perfection as he fooled the Bears with it on numerous occasions on Sunday. He also has a big body which makes him hard to bring down. His ability to extend plays with his mobility is second to none. Dalton on the other hand, is not as athletic as his counterpart in Pittsburgh but he can avoid the rush in the pocket.
As for the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears defense was focused on keeping Adrian Peterson at bay. But the bottom line is that the Bears need to find a way to bring pressure and get more QB sacks. The Bears have four games on their schedule before the bye week. In those games, they will play against teams with high powered offenses led by some of the league’s best signal callers. First up is this Sunday when the Bears head to Detroit to face the Lions. The best way to keep Calvin Johnson from doing damage is by making sure Matthew Stafford can’t get him the ball.
Next week the Bears return to Solider Field to welcome the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees has made the forward pass look too easy so far this year. The Bears will need to get in his face to keep him from running up the scoreboard. From there the Bears will go up against the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Granted both teams are winless at the moment, but Eli Manning has two Super Bowl’s to his name, while Robert Griffith III is one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league.
While all of that may be what the Bears need to do down the road, there are more pressing issues that they need to deal with right now. The biggest issue will be replacing Melton. His loss is already being felt at Halas Hall, he will be missed without a doubt. Nate Collins will start in Melton’s place just as he did during the preseason. Zach Minter, the other backup defensive tackle could see more playing time now. The Bears will also continue to line up Peppers and Wootton as defensive tackles in pass rush situations.
This will also mean more playing time for McClellin. Rookies David Bass and Cornelius Washington round out the rest of the active defensive linemen. But the Bears only have 52 players on the roster, they will need to add one more to take Melton’s spot. One possibility could be to elevate second-year defensive end Aston Whiteside from the practice squad to the active roster. General manager Phil Emery could also sign a free agent to fill the void. Although that would be easier said than done due to the lack of cap space available.
Perhaps the Bears could also trade for a defensive tackle. When the Bears get back to practice on Wednesday, we will know how they plan to move forward without Melton. We will also see what adjustments Mel Tucker and defensive line coach Mike Phair have implemented to improve the Bears pass rush. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82