Commentary

Defense not resting

New coach Marinelli credited with front four's renaissance

Originally Published: October 4, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Alex Brown took the stats pack and threw it on the ground.

[+] EnlargeTommie Harris
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTommie Harris said defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has taught him to "play miserable."

"Be happy for me!" said his defensive line teammate, Adewale Ogunleye said.

The focus of Brown's displeasure was a first-half sack he was credited with sharing with Ogunleye, not to mention a facemask penalty on Detroit's first series.

"Let the record show, I had a whole sack and a fake penalty," he said.

Ogunleye didn't have to argue. He finished with 2½ sacks, a few quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery, to Brown's half sack and three tackles. The once-undrafted 32-year-old is now tied with Brown for sixth place in the Bears' record book with 40 sacks. And don't think Brown won't hear about that this week.

The two high-motored, highly quotable defensive linemen put on a two-man comedy routine as media gathered around their adjoining lockers. Right now, it's all jokes and sacks and Tommie Harris interceptions these days for the Bears' front four, a fearsome and dominating group that shut down Detroit in the second half of a 48-24 blowout at Soldier Field. The Bears are 3-1 going into their bye week, one bad first half in Green Bay away from being undefeated.

Brown and Ogunleye are in the middle of a defensive renaissance in Chicago. The previous two seasons have yielded unimpressive defensive results for the Monsters of the Midway, a Super Bowl hangover that hasn't gone away.

Head coach Lovie Smith took over defensive play-calling this season, going back to his roots, but perhaps the most important addition to the Bears outside of Jay Cutler is the hiring of Rod Marinelli, the tough Vietnam vet defensive line coach, who has received the lion's share of credit for whipping this defensive line rotation into a run-stuffing, quarterback-crushing unit, the A-Team of a defense missing three linebackers and featuring a less-than-formidable secondary.

Marinelli got a Lion's share of heartache last year as the coach of the first-ever 0-16 team. All week leading up to this game, Marinelli all but refused to address the revenge factor. Ogunleye admitted this win meant something special because of the affection he and his peers have for the coach. He presented Marinelli with the game ball after the win.

"He didn't say one word about Detroit all week," Ogunleye said. "But we knew this was a game we had to get. One, because of the division, and two, because of him, and the way he puts his heart and soul into coaching us."

As an assistant coach, Marinelli was off limits to the media after the game. But his players spoke for him, and their play spoke of his impact. For example, last year, the Bears had 28 sacks, ranking 22nd in the NFL. The Bears have 14 already this year. They were tied for second in the league going into Sunday's action.

"It's competition," Brown said. "Wale and myself, we want to get to that quarterback. I know they say we got to the quarterback together on one of them; I think I beat him there. It's a split second, but I think I beat him. It's great to have competition; it's great to have guys pushing each other."

The Bears posted five sacks of rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, all from the front seven, and held the Lions to just a fourth-quarter field goal in the second half. Running back Kevin Smith finished with 30 yards on 19 carries.

But the Bears also gave up 21 first-half points to go into halftime knotted up. Detroit, fresh off its first win in more than a year, scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. The Lions had 17 first downs in the first half, controlling the clock almost by a 2-1 margin as Stafford threw for 221 yards, half of which were to Calvin Johnson.

Needless to say, Smith wasn't pleased at halftime. The Smith we see with microphones in his face is calm and gentlemanly, his Texas drawl a study in somnolence. Ogunleye said he had never seen him so animated.

"He said something that made us get going, that's all," Brown said. "That first half, that wasn't us. That's not how we play defense around here."

Johnny Knox kicked off the second half with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. On Detroit's first series, linebacker Nick Roach sacked Stafford for a 10-yard loss on second-and-9, leading to a punt and a 20-yard Earl Bennett return. Robbie Gould then hit his first career field goal longer than 50 yards, a 52-yard bomb that gave the Bears a 10-point cushion.

Ogunleye then sacked Stafford to start the next drive for a 9-yard loss, leading to a punt. On Detroit's ensuing possession, Israel Idonije sacked Stafford, forcing a fumble, which Ogunleye recovered at Detroit's 19. Gould hit another field goal to make it 34-21.

"The defense played lights out," Cutler said. "In the third quarter, they were unbelievable. The defense did a great job of getting the ball back to us, but we didn't capitalize in the red zone."

Smith wouldn't go into specifics on his second-half adjustments, noting "we matched up a little more" with Johnson by putting Charles Tillman on his side of the field.

"Besides that, the guys played our defense a little better," Smith said. "We had them in situations that favored us."

Ogunleye sacked Stafford again at the end of a 14-play drive to start the fourth, knocking the quarterback out of the game with a twisted knee. Jason Hanson kicked a field goal, but Matt Forte responded with a 37-yard touchdown run.

"I think I'm playing faster," Ogunleye said. "Last year, I kept telling you it's a roller-coaster season, and my career has been up and down. I think I finally got a guy [Marinelli] who helped me forget about each play. Even after the sacks, I don't think about trying to get another one, I just try and play for the now."

Harris was glowing after his first NFL interception (caused by a Mark Anderson rush), and his first since college, back in "1982," he joked. But the much-criticized defensive tackle said Marinelli has taught him how to revel in the misery of his NFL existence.

"He's taught me how to play miserable," Harris said. "Learn how to play miserable, that's one of his sayings. You might not feel great, but going out and playing hard makes the difference. … This is the NFL, you're going to be banged up. Everybody's banged up. You need to learn how to love it, and just keep going and going and going."

You know the saying, of course. Misery loves company. For Marinelli's Lions, misery was a bad thing. Week after week of losing. For Marinelli's charges on the Bears, misery is something they embrace, a feeling they want to take into the bye week and beyond.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

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.

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