Sunday playbook: Jeremiah Ratliff still week or two from returning, but Bears excited
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter November 9, 2013 12:58AM
Jeremiah Ratliff was a four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle for the Cowboys, but he hasn’t played since midway through last season because of a groin injury. | Getty Images
Updated: December 11, 2013 6:25AM
It has been almost a year since defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff has played in the NFL, and it still will take a week or two for him to be ready healthwise. But Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knows what type of player he has. Or hopes he has.
‘‘First and foremost, he’s a veteran guy,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘He’s no-nonsense, a pro’s pro. He’s very serious about the game of football. He’s a leader-by-example type of guy. Those are the intangibles there. And then, obviously, his ability to win one-on-one [matchups] and make plays. . . . I’m happy that he’s here.’’
Ratliff’s also here because of the never-ending stream of injures to the Bears’ defensive line. The attrition continued last week with defensive end Shea McClellin, who finally had the breakout game the Bears had been hoping for with three sacks against the Packers, pulling his hamstring during practice drills. He’s doubtful for Sunday against the Lions.
‘‘I don’t think we’re getting used to losing anybody,’’ defensive end Julius Peppers said. ‘‘Injuries are part of this league; it’s expected. You never want to see your friends go down, but we’ve got to have guys willing to step up, and we’ve got to have guys get healthy.’’
The Bears’ injuries up front are an old story, but the issues from them linger. Many of their defensive problems stem from the slow destruction of what once was a formidable front.
The best-mapped plans can’t prepare for what the Bears have gone through: Sedrick Ellis abruptly retiring before training camp; Henry Melton suffering a concussion, then tearing an anterior cruciate ligament; Nate Collins tearing an ACL; nose tackle Stephen Paea dealing with a nagging turf toe; and now McClellin tweaking his hamstring.
‘‘We just have to play with who is healthy,’’ Peppers said.
Right now, that includes veteran defensive tackle Landon Cohen, who has played surprisingly well, and rookie defensive end David Bass, who figures to start in place of McClellin.
But not Ratliff.
‘‘He’s been limited,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘He hasn’t been doing very much at all out there.’’
The Bears are putting a lot of hope in Ratliff, who still is recovering from groin surgery last December. Expectations shouldn’t be too high, considering his circumstances, but the Bears will take any contribution they can.
‘‘I’m feeling pretty good, man,’’ Ratliff said. ‘‘I’m just taking it one day at a time.’’
When does he think he’ll return?
‘‘I don’t want to say anything yet,’’ Ratliff said. ‘‘I’m definitely working hard to get out there.’’
Ratliff, a dominant 3-4 nose tackle during his Pro Bowl seasons of 2008 to 2011 with the Cowboys, said he’ll play ‘‘wherever they need me,’’ but he figures to see time at the three-technique spot once he’s healthy.
‘‘I’m just happy to be playing again,’’ Ratliff said.
But it’s only in practice for now.
‘‘We got him here,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘We feel good about that. And we’ll just be encouraged moving forward and see where it goes.’’
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on the Lions’ Reggie Bush:
The addition of running back Reggie Bush has undoubtedly made the Lions’ offense more formidable. The Bears experienced that in the Lions’ 40-32 victory in Week 4, when Bush totaled 173 yards (a season-best 139 yards rushing) and ran for a 37-yard touchdown.
‘‘In that game, it was a combination of run fits and tackling,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘So we’re going to have to get those things done in order to contain him. Just seeing him another time, watching the film, we know what we’re up against, so we’re going to have to make sure we make those corrections, make sure we’re fitting the run properly.’’
Tackling has been a big issue for the Bears during the first half of the season, and Bush’s talents only add to those woes. He literally hurdled over safety Major Wright on his 37-yard touchdown run in their first meeting.
Bush has totaled 853 yards from scrimmage, scoring four touchdowns. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 10.8 yards per reception.
‘‘We’ve got to get more guys to the ball,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘He’s very elusive. He does a great job in space. He’s their second-leading receiver, I believe. There’s going to be a lot of space-tackling opportunities with him, so we have to get more guys to the ball. We have to play with great leverage, great toughness and a swarming mentality. If you do those things, then you have a chance to contain him.’’
Larry Grant, linebacker:
The special teams need to turn back into a positive for the Bears, and veteran linebacker Larry Grant is hoping he can give them that ‘‘positive’’ boost while he’s involved.
‘‘Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been a core special-teams guy,’’ said Grant, a six-year veteran, who was with the 49ers last season. ‘‘The role that I’m taking here is just hopefully becoming a core special-teams guy, be on all teams and become a big positive here.’’
Grant was signed after Lance Briggs fractured his left shoulder. He’s backing up James Anderson, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, but the Bears are looking for an immediate impact on special teams. He had one special-teams tackle against the Packers.
‘‘Special teams is one of the three phases of the game, and I just feel like you don’t win games when you have an onside kick recovered, a blocked punt and other mistakes that we had in the special-teams area [against the Packers].’’
Quarterback Jay Cutler’s success against the Lions is well-documented, his Week 4 matchup against them notwithstanding. But on the other side of the ball, defensive end Julius Peppers has been just as good against the Lions.
In 11 games against the Lions as a member of the Bears, Peppers has 12 sacks, 35 tackles, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Pro Football Focus had Peppers with a 5.6 rating against the Lions in Week 4, by far his best grade of the season.
Coach Marc Trestman’s aggressiveness — whether it’s going for it on fourth-and-inches against the Packers or just his offensive game plans in general — has won over the locker room. The players love it.
‘‘You want a coach who can do that,’’ running back Matt Forte said. ‘‘That shows that he trusts in us to execute the play like that to make it.’’
Our weekly stat to consider: Need any more proof that the Bears are an offense-oriented team? They are averaging 377 net yards, their most in the Super Bowl era. Just to compare, the Bears’ famous 1985 team averaged 364.8 net yards.