’Tis the sea­son for stuff­ing

With stout run stop­pers, it’s all gravy for rest of Bears de­fense

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports -

de­fense, co­or­di­na­tor Vic Fan­gio, isn’t as eas­ily im­pressed just past the half­way point of the sea­son. The Bears are on pace to al­low only 1,344 rush­ing yards, not far off the club record for a 16-game sea­son of 1,313 set by the 2001 NFC Cen­tral cham­pi­ons.

“Ob­vi­ously, the amount of take­aways we have had has been great and our run de­fense has been good,” Fan­gio said. “But we did have those two weeks there where we lost that the run de­fense wasn’t as good.”

The old adage is you have to earn the right to rush the passer, and the Bears have done that. They’re putting op­po­nents in pass­ing sit­u­a­tions by win­ning on first down (4.46 yards al­lowed per play, sec­ond in the NFL) and then build­ing leads.

It starts up front, and while Mack has proved dis­rup­tive against the run and skilled at set­ting the edge, the credit goes first to nose tackle Ed­die Gold­man and de­fen­sive end Akiem Hicks. They’re play­ing at a high level and al­low­ing lineback­ers Danny Tre­vathan and Ro­quan Smith to flow be­hind them and make plays.

“(Gold­man) is an un­sung hero,” Hicks said. “He’s eat­ing up blocks in the mid­dle for both ends, for both lineback­ers. Ed­die has been do­ing that for a num­ber of years. I know that he’s bat­tled some ad­ver­sity as far as play­ing through­out the sea­son, but he’s strong — man, he’s strong — and he has a will to be there for us. I know he doesn’t get a lot of at­ten­tion, but he’s a great player.”

Smith’s range from side­line to side­line fits pre­cisely with what the Bears want to do, and the rookie has shown im­prove­ment, to­tal­ing a team-high 22 tack­les (19 solo) in the last two games. Cal­la­han is the light­est de­fen­sive player on the ros­ter at 188 pounds but ranks fourth with 32 solo tack­les — 12 more than he had last sea­son.

Cor­ner­back Kyle Fuller has al­ways been stout in run sup­port, and the Bears credit Amuka­mara with im­prov­ing ver­sus the run so they don’t have the kind of cover cor­ner who gets out of a game with a clean uni­form, un­will­ing to tackle.

“Prince was that guy,” Fan­gio said. “We have shamed him into tack­ling bet­ter.”

“Vic would al­ways poke fun at me,” Amuka­mara ad­mit­ted. “I am not fly­ing in now. Kyle is su­per ag­gres­sive. Me, I am just try­ing to get you down and make the play.”

Cer­tainly it helps that the Bears are in their fourth year in Fan­gio’s scheme with lit­tle turnover from last sea­son be­yond the ad­di­tion of Mack and Smith. Fan­gio has done a good job of defin­ing roles and putting play­ers where their strengths are ac­cen­tu­ated and weak­nesses min­i­mized. While play­ers were slow to un­der­stand some of the con­cepts in Years 1 and 2, they’re play­ing fast and down­hill now.

A lot of times the de­fense will align with split safeties, but one — Ed­die Jack­son or Adrian Amos — will roll down and the Bears will play one rob­ber or Cover Three cover-3 and have an ex­tra de­fender player in the box to de­fend the run. With two lineback­ers that who can run, the per­son­nel re­ally matches what Fan­gio wants to run, and be­ing able to spend the ma­jor­ity of the snaps in sub pack­ages helps the pass de­fense.

“It doesn’t mat­ter,” Tre­vathan said. “What­ever the of­fense is try­ing to do, Vic could call any­thing and in our mind we are go­ing to win. We are go­ing to dial up our play, we are go­ing to let you see it and you are go­ing to have to try to beat us.”

So far, the Bears have been win­ning with their nickel de­fense against the run, and that’s as im­pres­sive as any­thing they’ve done in terms of rush­ing the passer or cre­at­ing their pass rush and take­aways.

BRIAN CAS­SELLA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Bears nose tackle Ed­die Gold­man, tack­ling the Bills’ LeSean McCoy, and de­fen­sive end Akiem Hicks, not pic­tured, are a dy­namic duo.

Brad Biggs

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