Charles Tillman could punch the whiskey out of a drunkard’s hand.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears defense should rely on he and his band of merry men’s remarkable ability to create turnovers as a sound defensive strategy. Turnovers are to defensive football what fifty-yard plus touchdown passes are to offensive football: thrilling, momentum-shifting moments. But they are also unreliable, even for teams with a particular specialty in creating them.
Defenses need to be good for three downs. They need to be consistent for three downs. And to be a consistent three-down defense in the modern NFL means you must pressure the opposing quarterback. There was only one NFL running back to go over 100 yards Sunday. One. The position has been devalued. It’s only a matter of time before some statistic proves a team is likelier to win if they throw every down and an inspired young coach gives it a try. Pressuring the quarterback has become more important than stopping the run and Item #1 for defensive coordinators for the first time in football history.
And according to the new-age statisticians over at Pro Football Focus and my human eyes, nobody in the NFL did a worse job of pressuring the opposing quarterback Sunday than the Chicago Bears. This with Bengals quarterbacks being sacked more than Bears quarterbacks in 2012.
There is no need to overreact to the results of the season’s first game. Sunday’s lack of pass rush does not signal the end of Julius Peppers’ career or that Henry Melton is headed for a flop contract year. But if the Bears find themselves lacking consistent pressure out of their front it will be incumbent upon defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to generate pressure with a blitz here or there. That is a risky proposition but it may be a necessary risk.
Because players like A.J. Green are coming down the line. Calvin Johnson twice. Dez Bryant. Passing games far better than Cincy’s are coming too. Green Bay twice. Washington. New Orleans. New York Giants’ three-headed monster. Trestman said in his Monday press conference, “You can’t cover without a rush”. He’s right. The rules don’t allow it any longer. The only way to stop an opposing offense is to hit the fella attempting to do the passing.
And it’s more than just a defensive consideration. The Bears finally have an offensive head coach and a system capable of stringing together successful drives and lighting up the scoreboard. The old Lovie Smith approach of allowing the opponent to move down the field and eventually forcing them to kick field goal or take the ball away was fine with his record of offensive production. For the Trestman Bears, the ball needs to be in Jay Cutler’s hands as often as possible.
That won’t be possible should the defense allow quarterbacks to sit in the pocket, survey the field and throw it deep. Now matter how good Peanut and Jennings are. No wonder how prolific they are punching the football loose. They must pressure and hit the opposing quarterback.
It starts with the men up front. Then it moves to the coach upstairs.