Commentary

On the run

Bears' young secondary needs front seven to pressure Aaron Rodgers

Originally Published: September 10, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

For all you amateur John Maddens out there, here's a game-watching tip, courtesy of defensive end Adewale Ogunleye: If you see Aaron Rodgers patting the ball this Sunday, the Bears are in serious trouble. You might as well change the channel because HBO's "True Blood" will be less gory.

If the Bears' front four and outside linebackers can't put enough pressure on Rodgers to shake him up, the Bears' young, banged-up secondary is going to have quite a test chasing around Packers receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and the rest. If that happens, then Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson are going to go off again and, well, that brings up a lot of bad memories of last season.

"At the end of the day, the defensive line has got to be the secondary's best friend," Ogunleye said. "We've got to be able to get after quarterbacks and make life hell for opposing offenses. We can't let him pat the ball. That's all I've got to say."

"Pressure," Brian Urlacher said, "solves a lot of problems."

If Rodgers has time to throw, all the talk about the Bears' rejuvenated hunger and Brian Urlacher's health and Anthony Adams' maturation, you can forget it all and just pray that Jay Cutler throws for 400 yards and five touchdowns.

When someone asked Urlacher if he felt as healthy as he did in 2006, he feigned confusion.

"Did something happen that year?" he said.

Well, yeah, the veteran reporter replied, you were good.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Thomas E. Witte/Getty ImagesThe Bears need to keep Aaron Rodgers on the run.

Since the Bears' run to the Super Bowl, under defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, their defense has been closer to the bottom of the league than the top. Last season, they were ranked 21st in total defense. In 2007, the defense was 28th, ahead of just Atlanta, Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit. This is why coach Lovie Smith demoted his friend Bob Babich from his short-lived stay as the head of the defense and assumed play-calling duties this season.

The sea change at Halas Hall is almost complete. Cutler is the Man, and the defense is 11 Rex Grossmans. If things don't go well in the first three weeks, a lot of the blame is going to be placed on the secondary. You might be the biggest Bears fan this side of Bill Swerski, and I bet you couldn't name the starting four defensive backs for this week's game.

[Enter tumbleweed.]

Had enough time? Well, the starting safeties are expected to be Kevin Payne and Al Afalava, with Danieal Manning playing nickelback. The corners? Nate Vasher? Zack Bowman? Trumaine McBride? A still-injured Charles Tillman? There's a reason the team is carrying 11 defensive backs. No one knows who is going to be in there at the end of the season.

So this opener will be a great test for that group, but you can't judge its play by what you see on TV, which is why Ogunleye offered the "Aaron Rodgers Pat Test."

Still it doesn't matter in the court of public opinion. If the Bears can't get a good rush on Rodgers and the secondary can't keep pace with Green Bay's receivers, Chicago fans will know everyone's names and jersey numbers by the time they go to bed Sunday.

Last year, the Bears struggled mightily with pass defense, giving up the third-most passing yards in the NFL, but you can't blame it all on the defensive backs. The front seven did a bad job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and they know it.

"If guys are running around all day, I don't care what kind of corner you are, you can't cover them," Ogunleye said.

While the Bears had the second-most takeaways in the NFL last year, with 32, they only forced 13 fumbles, four off the league low.

[+] EnlargeBears and Packers
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesIf the Bears can't pressure Rodgers, Brandon Jackson, along with teammate Ryan Grant, will run all over them again.

"[I like] how aggressive we are, how we're getting upfield, attacking the gaps and going downhill, running through the gap" he said. "We've played fast. We're getting to the football and we're hitting people. It's fun."

The Bears have been watching film of last year's 37-3 bloodbath at Lambeau Field -- "We don't want to see that again," Urlacher said -- and to a man, the defense said it's committed to doing the basic things it forgot about last November when Grant ran for 145 yards on 25 carries. Like making tackles.

"You'll see Sunday how we're going to attack the run, starting with the front four guys," Ogunleye said. "It's not a new scheme. It's just a new attitude."

I think Ogunleye just coined the team's next marketing campaign: "Bears defense: It's not a new scheme. It's just a new attitude."

An attitude that tackles opposing runners.

Everyone is excited to see Cutler under center, to be able watch a Bears offense without the aid of four fingers covering their eyes, and I am too. How could you not be excited about the best quarterback in Vanderbilt history? The first All-Pro-caliber player that Josh McDaniels rubbed the wrong way? The guy who took Denver to the brink of mediocrity?

In any event, we know the Bears' offense is much improved, while the defense has much to prove. Maybe I'm a sucker for a good storyline, but I think this defense, with all of its problems in the back four, can make some things happen with some good old-fashioned violence. I think the Bears are motivated to shut up their doubters, and they have the experience to back it up.

When I asked Urlacher how the young safeties can prove themselves against the Packers' passing attack, he had a simple answer.

"When you get a chance to blast [receivers], hit them," he said. "They don't like it."

No, they don't. But fans will.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE NFL HEADLINES