CHICAGO – The Bears’ core defensive players were supposed to be past their prime.
This season would be all about a high-powered offense. Games would be shootouts, not slugfests.
“That’s what everybody else said,” Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said. “We didn’t say that.”
The Bears’ message was loud and clear Sunday during a 23-6 win against the St. Louis Rams. No matter whether the offense shines or struggles, the Bears are at their best when the defense leads the way.
It’s an old recipe, but one whose ingredients rarely lose flavor.
The Bears (2-1) will head into a crucial Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 with renewed confidence thanks to a playmaking defense filled with veteran leaders. They have allowed 279 yards a game while tallying six interceptions and 14 sacks in the season’s first three games.
On Sunday, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford received a harsh introduction to the Bears’ defense. He posted a 39.2 passer rating (18 of 35, 152 yards, 2 INTs) after entering the day with a 112.4 rating.
A strong Bears’ pass rush and a weak Rams’ offensive line led to a half-dozen sacks against Bradford, including 2½ sacks by Idonije and one apiece by Stephen Paea, Amobi Okoye and Nick Roach. Seventh-year cornerback Tim Jennings continued his improbable season, as he notched his fourth interception and deflected another pass that safety Major Wright returned for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Those are numbers Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will hear as he prepares for the Bears’ defense.
The credit for the Bears’ defense depends on which player you ask.
Ask Jennings or nickelback D.J. Moore, and they’ll tell you that a relentless pass rush forced Bradford to rush his passes, which created opportunities for interceptions.
Ask Idonije or defensive tackle Henry Melton, and they’ll tell you that their teammates in the secondary were blanketing the Rams’ receivers and forcing Bradford to hold on the ball for too long.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said.
“The front and back end (of the defense) work together, so when we play well, they play well, and vice versa,” Peppers said. “Right now, it’s all clicking for us, and it’s showing on the field.”
Good thing, because the Bears’ offense has not shown much in the past two weeks.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t shove any teammates in Week 3, but he didn’t raise his arms to celebrate any touchdown passes, either. Cutler posted a subpar 58.9 passer rating (17 of 31, 183 yards, 1 INT), which was not helped by a high pass that went between Devin Hester’s hands in the end zone.
Running back Michael Bush (18 carries, 55 yards) scored the only touchdown for the Bears’ offense, which managed only 274 total yards but benefited from a pair of Rams’ 15-yard penalties that extended drives. Some fans booed the offense after a pair of three-and-outs to start the second half, but Wright’s defensive touchdown increased the lead to 20-6 with 9:06 remaining, and the Rams finished quietly.
Bush and his teammates on offense appreciated the support.
“That’s excellent,” Bush said. “Any time you do that, you take some of the pressure off the offense. But at the same time, when they stop them, we’ve got to come in and capitalize.”
Until then, the Bears’ defense is willing to take charge.
They’ve done it plenty of times before. Not to say that they’re old or anything.
“For us, internally, age was never an issue,” Idonije said. “We know the work ethic of the guys in our room. We know the drive, the mentality, of the guys in our room.
“So all of that ‘old’ stuff, that’s outside talk. And on the outside, what do they know?”