The defense may be an emerging strength of the Bears, but “not in the run game,” scoffed linebacker Pernell McPhee. “We [aren’t] doing good in the run game right now so hopefully we can tighten up the screws. I think our secondary is doing a great job of covering; they did that all year.
“But we just got to get better in the run defense and that's what our focus got to be on. Because San Fran is going to come in here and probably try and run the ball down our throats.”
The Bears have made good on their stated commitment to run the football, ranking seventh in rushing attempts through 11 games and 16th in yards.
But the prime directive in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s philosophy is to interdict opponents’ efforts to run, at which they are succeeding arguably not all, yet stand on the brink of .500 after winning three of their last four games.
The Bears have held only three opponents to less than 100 yards, all victories (Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis). They were dramatically out-rushed by both Kansas City (87-117) and Green Bay II (101-177), yet won both of those. They managed to substantially out-rush the Packers (189-133) in Week 1, yet lost.
“It hasn't been good enough, but we've been able to overcome it,” Fangio said. “It's a little bit of everything. It starts up front. We haven't been consistently good enough up front. We haven't been consistently good enough at the linebacker position. And your secondary is involved in run defense, too, and there's been plays where they haven't been consistent enough. So it's been a little bit of everything and…we've got to get it rectified.”
They need to. And soon.
The Bears stand 29th in rush yards allowed per game, 30th in rushing average. If there is a concern coming into Soldier Field with the San Francisco 49ers, it’s that the one thing the 49ers do with even modest ability is run (20th in yards per game).
The 49ers crushed the Minnesota Vikings 20-3 in Week 1 with 230 rushing yards (168 by Carlos Hyde) while holding the Vikings to 71, with Adrian Peterson tallying 31 of those. Meaning: It can happen.
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The Packers rushed for their 133 and 177 yards in part by utilizing a nickel package as their base offensive personnel group, forcing the Bears into nickel as well and then running against the lighter lineup that uses only two true defensive linemen.
Hybrid linebacker/end Willie Young, who played only seven snaps as recently as the Minnesota game last month and is primarily a nickel pass rusher, played 59 of Green Bay’s 78 snaps last Thursday while the Packers were rushing for those 177 yards.
Lamarr Houston, after playing four snaps vs. Minnesota, played 38 of Green Bay’s snaps (49 percent).
The anomaly of the victory: In something of a rope-a-dope vs. the run, coaches freed the front four to focus less on containing and more on rushing Aaron Rodgers, who escaped for 33 yards. Rodgers was pressured into his poorest passing game in two years. The tactic effectively conceded some running opportunities to the Packers, but other than by Rodgers scrambles, the defense was gashed for only one running play longer than 10 yards.
Two of San Francisco’s three wins (Minnesota, Atlanta) came with the 49ers’ best rushing games (230, 133).
“We’ve got to do a great job staying in our gaps,” McPhee said. “We got a lot of young guys on the inside and a lot of guys new to the system. I just think everybody’s got to communicate a little better and stay fitted in their gap.”