Arkush: Bears' "D" Impresses but questions still remain
By HUB ARKUSHfirstname.lastname@example.org
As we've come to expect from a Bears defense, this year's group was extremely impressive when the first unit was on the field against the Oakland Raiders starters in their final tuneup for the 2013 regular season.
But unlike their teammates on the other side of the ball, when grading the defensive unit's performance, it is much harder to ignore the ineptitude of the Raiders on offense.
For example, let's start with the secondary which you have to give an A grade to against the Raiders. When they pick off three passes (the Bears fourth pick was by linebacker, Jerry Franklin) and hold the Raiders first string offense to 51 yards passing in the first half, and Pro Bowl cornerback, Charles Tillman has a ferocious quarterback sack on a corner blitz your DB's have had a pretty good night.
But a closer look will show that while Tim Jennings and Isaiah Frey both made excellent plays on the ball (C.J. Wilson was just lucky on his after dropping a sure interception on the previous play), their interceptions were horrible throws by Matt Flynn and that Raider receivers never had a chance to make a play on the ball. Will other QB's be as generous during the regular season?
Tillman and Jennings continue to play like Pro Bowlers and Chris Conte and Major Wright appear extremely comfortable together at safety, but they were never really challenged in the passing game.
We must also be terribly concerned that No. 3 cornerback, Zack Bowman went out with a hamstring injury and until he returns Sherrick McManis is now the only corner on the roster behind the starters with any NFL experience.
The linebackers earned a B. Lance Briggs was outstanding, as we've come to expect and on his own had an A performance. James Anderson was steady and Khaseem Greene was nowhere near as visible as he was in Carolina. Greene has a long way to go.
Clearly all eyes are on Jonathan Bostic in this group and he was once again better than average. I would say he took a little step forward. As he has each week, he made some plays and missed some, and did give us another highlight when he refused to be shaken by Aaron Pryor in the backfield, eventually bringing him down. It is worth noting for those of you who watched on TV, he made maybe half the plays for which play-by-play man Sam Rosen gave him credit.
The defensive line gets a B as well. Julius Peppers appeared to be himself in his preseason debut and the Bears actually lose very little with Nate Collins in the lineup for Henry Melton. While Melton is clearly the better pass rusher, Collins held his own pushing the pocket and is more dependable against the run.
The one concern on the line and for that matter all across this defense (the backups allowed the Raiders 250 yards of second half offense) is the lack of depth everywhere. Other than Collins, none of the backups showed much against the Raiders and the competition for the left end spot between Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin is a competition in name only. Wootton is clearly the better player and versus the Raiders, McClellin appeared to be the exact same player he was last year.
I'd give defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker a B-plus on the evening, as he opened up his playbook a bit and showed us, that unlike Lovie Smith, he will dial up blitzes from all over the field early and often and his favorite blitzer in Oakland was Chris Conte.
I'm stopping Tucker just short of an A though because blitzing against a real NFL quarterback, something we have reason to doubt the Raiders possess, usually leaves your DB's in man-to-man coverage, and that has not been the strength of this group.
Still, Tucker and his guys executed his multiple blitzes extremely well in Oakland.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at email@example.com.