Losing Pressure


Worry more about less proven player

Dickerson By Jeff Dickerson

People tend to overreact after Week 1. That's completely understandable. Think about it: The average NFL fan has to endure a six-month offseason followed by the tedious exercise known as training camp/preseason football. When the regular season finally gets here, fans are frothing at the mouth to pass judgment on their favorite team.

While I don't necessarily buy in to the philosophy that an NFL season is a marathon rather than a sprint, a lot can change from Week 1 to Week 2.

Here's hoping some of that change occurs on the Bears' defensive line, a group that did little to pressure Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the 24-21 victory at Soldier Field. Outside of Stephen Paea and Shea McClellin, it's difficult to remember Bears defensive linemen making too many impact plays.

That includes Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.

The easy argument to make is to cast doubt on Peppers' future production because of his age and his inability to dominate Cincinnati's reserve left tackle Anthony Collins in Week 1. But Peppers has been a model of consistency throughout his career, registering double-digit sacks in eight of 11 seasons, including the past two years for the Bears, when he led the team with 22.5 quarterback takedowns over that span.

On the flip side, Melton is in uncharted territory. He finally got paid when the Bears applied the franchise tag to him in the offseason, but it wasn't the lucrative long-term deal he was ultimately looking for.

This can go one of two ways. Either Melton plays his heart out this year in order to increase his chances of securing a big deal in free agency or he coasts through the regular season in order to reach free agency healthy, figuring he's already done enough to get a contract from someone next offseason.

Melton has never been known as a super hard worker. He missed nearly the entire preseason with a concussion he suffered in the preseason opener but returned in time to start against the Bengals and record one assisted tackle.

Tough to figure out where this is going. There is plenty of time left for this to work itself out. But I'll always worry less about the proven commodity than the younger player still trying to define his career path.

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com

Bears need their unique playmaker

Greenberg By Jon Greenberg

The Bears' defense might be FDIC-approved, because they sure got bailed out Sunday.

Three takeaways by Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings helped limit the explosive Cincinnati Bengals offense in the Bears' 24-21 victory.

But you can't count on that every week, even with the Bears' recent history.

Chicago led the NFL in takeways last year and is off to a good start in 2013, but to be a consistent defense it needs pressure from the front four. Andy Dalton had way too much time to find A.J. Green on Sunday.

Who better to rattle Dalton than Julius Peppers? Because he's the highest-paid defensive player, Peppers gets a lot of blame for games like this, when in reality the line as a whole has to create pressure together.

But Peppers can handle the blame. He is a physical freak, a rare athletic talent who can make plays on his own. In games like that, where the Bengals' offensive line is playing very well, it's not unfair to say he needs to make a couple of explosive plays to make Dalton nervous.

I know, easy for me to say from the air-conditioned press box, right?

At 33, Peppers is always rumored to have lost a step. The Bears' defense is right there with him. "When will the end come?" is the question we ask every season. With Lovie Smith gone, and many contracts set to expire, one could imagine a completely retooled defense next season.

But that's for later. Right now, the Bears need Peppers to earn his check by being himself, a unique playmaker.

It's too early to be worried about Peppers, or the Bears' defense, but the lack of pressure in the first game of the season certainly gives us something to watch for in the coming weeks.

After facing Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder this Sunday, the Bears face nine straight very good quarterbacks, starting Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh. Give these guys time to throw, and the Bears will need at least three takeaways a game. If not more.

They'll need Peppers to lead by example to give the secondary a chance to make those plays.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.


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