Bears Defense Searching for Solutions Against Wrong Opponent
There's a good reason for the Bears defense to be concerned about stopping the run this week against Indianapolis.
It goes beyond the fact the Colts have one of the hot young runners in the league in former Wisconsin runner Jonathan Taylor.
The Bears haven't just been leaking against the run, they've been pushing the floodgates wide open.
"Guys can't break the line of scrimmage and not get a glove on a guy," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said.
When the Bears defense first ascended in 2017 during John Fox's final year, they finished 11th against the run and they were No. 1 in 2018. Even after losing Akiem Hicks last season for three-quarters of the season, along with both inside linebackers during the season's second half, they were ninth.
They are now 17th and have been trampled by Todd Gurley and 35-year-old Adrian Peterson. Saquon Barkley was knocked out of the game early after he broke a 19-yard run, and they did manage to hold the Giants to 75 yards rushing.
Pagano keeps blaming himself, which is an old coaching maneuver -- deflect the blame from those who deserve it.
"We gotta be better, I gotta coach it better, we gotta play better," Pagano said. "We've just given up too many big ones. So we gotta be better, I gotta be better."
The Bears finally have their own running game in order and are averaging 4.87 yards a carry, but they're giving up 4.96 yards a carry.
'We pride ourselves on stopping the run," defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris said.
Losing nose tackle Eddie Goldman to an opt-out was bad enough.
"You'd love to have him but we got more-than-capable guys in there," Pagano said. "So it's not that we don't have guys that can't play it, it's just again I gotta coach it better, we gotta be on the same page, you gotta communicate better."
Losing backup nose John Jenkins to a thumb injury last week only exacerbated the problem. He was the only lineman they had with extensive nose tackle experience. In the meantime, they've started defensive end Bilal Nichols at the nose and rotated players into the spot.
They plucked Daniel McCullers last week from Pittsburgh's practice squad, and at 6-foot-7, 352 there is hope he might contribute as a nose tackle.
"We have only had him for a few days," defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. "I think he got here on (last) Thursday so right now we are just trying to teach him the things he needs to know. We will see how he practices through the week and find a role for him if he were to be up for the game.
"He is a big man and has provided some positive plays for Pittsburgh in the past. And we will get him caught up to speed much like we got Mario Edwards caught up to speed (at end) and we will see what happens from there."
Running back Cordarrelle Patterson had a personnel answer when he began going on Twitter and talking to Snacks Harrison about signing with the Bears, but nothing has happened. Harrison had a visit planned for Seattle and talked about one to Chicago but nothing has happened. He'd probably need a few weeks just to get into shape.
"I've been playing against Snacks for a long time, so I see what he brings," Patterson said. "It's a no-brainer. For a player like him, it's great. But at the end of the day, it's a business. It always is.
"I'm just doing my little part on Twitter, reaching out to any player I can to come help us win the championship. I’m just doing my part. But at the end of the day, it's all going to go down to the business side."
Rodgers doesn't view it as a problem associated just with nose tackle.
"I think if you asked all the defensive linemen, there are plays out there that we played very well, and there are plays that we need to do better in," he said. "And then at the same, it’s 11 guys that have to be able to rush and cover, and got to be able to play the run. It’s not just one or two guys, it’s the whole group. We’ll look at the plays that we feel like a little leaky and see how we can make it better."
Regardless of what they believe is the solution, this week the matter is more pressing because of Taylor.
"You know Jonathan Taylor, just knowing what he did last year in college and now what he’s doing now, I have a lot of respect for him as a football player and as a back," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "When he catches the ball, he can take it the distance. When he hits a crease in the run game, he can take it the distance.
"But where it all starts is up front and that offensive line that they have is dominant. They're very physical, they're nasty. They do a lot of good things in the run game."
It's easy to be nasty and dominant when the left guard is former Notre Dame lineman Quenton Nelson, possibly the best guard in the game.
"He comes off the ball really good," Robertson-Harris said. "He's a good run (blocker). I don't think he's given up any sacks from what I understand. It's going to be a good challenge. We're going to play ball."
The feeling is their defensive line will pull it together the further into the schedule they go.
"We're gonna keep growing, we're gonna still get better," Roberston-Harris said. "We have plenty of time, but right now we're focused on stopping the run and getting the chance to rush the passer."
They need to hurry because this might be their toughest run-stuffing assignment until they face Green Bay.