Bears playbook: Mel Tucker’s defense in need of turnovers
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter October 9, 2013 10:57PM
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:52PM
Defensive end Julius Peppers offered a concise summary of the Bears’ plan for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Thursday night.
“We’re going to try to make him play bad,” Peppers said.
The details of that plan will be worth watching. The goal for the defense might have been to keep things as similar to last season as possible, but too much has or hasn’t happened through five games for that to remain.
It might have been naïve to think the Bears’ defense wouldn’t experience some hiccups after its crazy takeaway-heavy season of 2012, especially with Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli and Brian Urlacher gone. It’s on coordinator Mel Tucker to smooth things out and show why he’s considered head-coach material.
Tucker said the structure of the defense might remain the same, but he’s still learning about his players.
“It’s very, very important that we know what guys do well because you want to do what your guys can do and put them in position to where they can be successful,” Tucker said. “And that’s what we’re working hard to do.”
Work is needed because aspects that have defined successful cover-2 teams — a consistent pass rush from the front four and keeping big plays to a minimum — are absent.
The defense needs to be rejuvenated:
◆ The Bears have only eight sacks, third-fewest in the NFL.
◆ They have allowed 25 completions of 20 yards or more, second-most in the league.
◆ Opposing quarterbacks have averaged a 95.1 passer rating against them.
◆ Defensive end Shea McClellin leads the Bears with six combined quarterback knockdowns and hurries, but he ranks 73rd in the league, according to STATS. Peppers has just one sack and one tackle for loss in five games.
◆ With Henry Melton and Nate Collins injured, the Bears will play defensive end Corey Wootton at tackle with Stephen Paea. Landon Cohen, Zach Minter and Christian Tupou will back them up.
“We evaluate every single thing that we do,” Tucker said. “It’s not just game-to-game, but sometimes it can be year-to-year as things unfold, as guys develop and sometimes the scheme develops with them.”
That could be the Bears’ story right now under Tucker. The defense is developing.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the plan involved more blitzes by linebackers. Against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the most noticeable difference was McClellin rushing more from an upright position. McClellin responded with his best pass-rushing game of the season, according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings.
“We felt in the previous game it would be a good time to do it, so we rolled it out and we felt good about it,” Tucker said.
The Bears’ defense could use a game to feel good about. And the Giants, who have a league-worst minus-13 turnover ratio, look like the perfect opponent.
“We’re going to play what’s called,” Peppers said. “And we’re going to get the job done.”
Looking at the Giants’ Eli Manning with defensive coordinator
The New York Giants’ offense might be an injury-plagued, turnover-stricken unit — which is a big reason the team is 0-5 — but the Bears say they still see a threat.
It starts with quarterback Eli Manning.
“They’ve got a future Hall of Fame quarterback that’s got a couple of Super Bowls,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.
Manning has been horrendous this season. He’s completing only 53.7 percent of his passes with 12 interceptions and a 65.8 passer rating.
Tucker said the Giants have “playmakers all over the field,” especially wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
Tucker said the key is eliminating big plays.
“These guys take more shots down the field than almost anybody in the NFL,” he said. “They’re in the top of the league in air yards and shots down the field. So that’s big.”
Tucker described Manning as a “fierce competitor.”
“There’s not a whole heck of a lot you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen,” Tucker said. “He’s got good firepower around him — backs, receivers and tight ends that are a dangerous group.
“We’re going to have to play as a team, work hard to fit the run [and] in the pass game, keep everything in front [and] not give up the big play. When we get a chance to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to do that so we don’t expose ourselves to more plays.”
This is a very important season for defensive end Corey Wootton, who’s in the final year of his contract.
But the 26-year-old might finish the season out of position. With Nate Collins and Henry Melton out for the year, Wootton is the Bears’ starting three-technique tackle.
Wootton, who has one sack in five games, had rotated in at tackle on third downs since the preseason.
“[I] never thought [I’d be] full-time three technique,” he said. “But injuries happen, and I just had to step up where they needed me.”
He’s handled the situation like a professional.
“I’ve got to do everything I can to give it my all,” Wootton said.
After spending last season with the Giants, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett knows them better than his teammates do. He considers the 0-5 Giants “a sleeping giant.”
“You never know,” said Bennett, who had his breakout season (55 catches, 626 yards and five touchdowns) last year. “Sometimes you get to step over [the giant] and you don’t wake him up. Sometimes you step over him and he grabs your leg. So we don’t want him to grab our legs.”
The Bears promoted defensive tackle Christian Tupou to the active roster and put Nate Collins (torn anterior cruciate ligament) on injured reserve.
But undrafted rookie defensive tackle Zach Minter remains next in line for playing time.
Minter said he believed he would get some snaps against the Giants after being active and not playing against the Saints. He rotated in with the first-team defense during walk-throughs.
Bennett (knee), cornerback Charles Tillman (knee), linebacker Lance Briggs (foot/hip) and defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) are questionable. Paea’s status is the most precarious after he sat out last week.
Coach Marc Trestman said Bennett, Tillman and Paea would be game-time decisions. Bennett, though, said he felt great after walk-throughs Wednesday.