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Bears’ D-line finally delivers solid game, but still has work to do

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Updated: December 7, 2013 6:40AM



Bears defensive lineman Corey Wootton got to do his robot sack dance in front of a national audience on Monday night. His takedown of backup quarterback Seneca Wallace might not have been the last play of the Bears’ 27-20 victory against the Green Bay Packers, but it certainly ended any far-fetched hopes of a comeback.

And the Bears can only hope what happened against the Packers — five sacks by the defensive line — is the end of whatever has been ailing their maligned defensive front.

“It’s something we can build off of,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “It’s definitely a big positive.”

Especially coming after so many negatives.

The Bears’ defensive line had generated only four sacks before going off for five in Green Bay, including defensive end Shea McClellin’s collarbone-breaking sack of Aaron Rodgers.

“We definitely felt a lot of pressure,” McClellin said. “We needed a game like this where we stepped up.”

But the Bears’ defensive line — or the whole defense, for that matter — isn’t out of the woods quite yet. The Packers still ran for 199 yards, and it was Wallace they were sacking often, not Rodgers.

This, they know.

One game doesn’t make up for a first half of a season filled with season-ending injuries, ineffectiveness and running backs running wild.

The Bears have been counting on McClellin (three sacks) and Peppers (sack, interception) to make an impact for weeks, and they finally did against an offensive line that has a rookie at left tackle in David Bakhtiari, while losing guard T.J. Lang with a concussion Monday night and turning to backup right tackle Marshall Newhouse after some reshuffling.

The struggles up front have been felt by those who aren’t even struggling. Wootton has been playing well while out of place in the three-technique tackle spot.

“I’m not concerned about what people are saying about [the Bears’ defensive line],” said Wootton, who has earned solid 4.2, 2.2 and 1.8 grades in Pro Football Focus’ reviews in three straight games at defensive tackle.

“I’m concerned about how my production has been this year. It hasn’t been the way I wanted it to. It’s something that has been frustrating. It’s something that drives me. I’m trying to get more production in there, more pressure and get more sacks, obviously. That’s something I definitely want to do. That’s something that’s been very frustrating to me, and I’m looking to changing this the second half of the season.”

It’s definitely a mind-set to follow. Wootton, who had his first sack since Week 2, has handled the switch to defensive tackle from end very well despite being in a contract year.

“They asked me to do this,” Wootton said. “I’m doing everything for the team. I’m a team player. The biggest thing is, I love football and I like challenges. This is a challenge for me. It’s something I’ve never done. A lot of people probably don’t think I can do it, but I believe I can be successful at it.”

The addition of veteran defensive tackle Jay Ratliff might give Wootton a chance to move back to end, but Ratliff is still weeks away from returning after groin surgery last December. Even then, there’s no guarantee that Ratliff will be anything like the Pro Bowl player he was with the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s good to have [Ratliff] up front,” Peppers said. “We were a little thin up front. It’s good to have some good veteran presence on the team. Hopefully, he can get healthy and be able to help us out on the back stretch.”

Until then, the Bears will continue to lean on Peppers, McClellin, Wootton and Stephen Paea to make game-changing plays like Monday night.

“We’re just trying to get better as a unit,” McClellin said. “We needed a game like this as a unit.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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