NEWS

Banged-up Bears secondary needs strong pass rush

Matt Trowbridge

Starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman (shoulder) and Nathan Vasher (wrist) finished the Atlanta game standing on the sideline. Nickel back Danieal Manning (hamstring) and backup corner Trumaine McBride (shoulder) also finished Chicago’s last-second loss on the sideline.

All remain on the injured list for Sunday’s game against Minnesota (3-3).

“I don’t know who is going to play this week,” said Corey Graham, a second-year, fifth-round draft pick who started in place of Vasher the last two weeks. “We don’t know what’s going on exactly with the injury thing, but no matter who is out there, they are going to try to attack us regardless. We’ve just got to keep our eyes on our keys.”

And get help.

Tillman, who said he won’t know if he’ll play until Sunday, said the key to protecting the battered secondary is: “Pass rush.”

“It all starts up front with our D line tackling their quarterback and getting the timing off,” Tillman said.

The Bears’ defensive line includes many of the team’s healthiest – and wealthiest – players.

Adewale Ogunleye is the second-highest-paid Bear this season ($6.4 million). Alex Brown and Tommie Harris signed off-season contract extensions. Dusty Dvoracek, Israel Idonije, Anthony Adams, Marcus Harrison and Mark Anderson provide quality depth. All, except Harris, who has been slowed by a bad knee, are in perfect health.

Yet the Bears rank 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass play. They’ve had zero sacks in 97 pass attempts in their last two losses, to Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

“I don’t know what the reason is,” Dvoracek said. “The Falcons had a good game plan for how they blocked us, getting Matt Ryan out of the pocket and sliding the protection.

“But we’ve just got to play better. No matter what we get, we have to get pressure on the quarterback.”

The line has been strong at times. The line is a big reason why the defense ranks No. 5 in the NFL against the run. And the pass rush has been good at times. The Bears had a combined seven sacks in back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Lions.

But their pass rush hasn’t been consistent. And it hasn’t been enough. The Bears rank No. 27 in the NFL against the pass.

“You always need a big push up front,” Idonije said. “Any team, their D line has to show up, get after the quarterback and create problems up front.”

And when the secondary is injured and unproven?

“It’s the same,” Idonije said. “We have to get after the quarterback. We have to take over that line of scrimmage. It’s the same as every week. Not more so. It’s the same. We gotta get after the quarterback.”

The Bears have gotten occasional pressure from a lot of linemen. Brown has three sacks. Idonije and Harrison have two. Ogunleye has 1.5, but none since he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in the season-opening win over the Colts. And Harris, who has missed two games, has none.

Harris may be the key, because pressure from a defensive tackle can be even more disruptive than pressure from an end. Minnesota’s Kevin Williams showed that with four sacks last week.

“As a quarterback, you are always trying to step up in the pocket and get away from those defensive ends and help your tackles out,” Kyle Orton said. “It’s tough when you have a 3-technique like Kevin. You are trying to step up and there he is.”

The Bears like to trumpet Harris as the best 3-technique tackle in the league. Now is the time for Harris to step up. His linemates say he is ready to do just that, even though Harris has just three tackles in four games.

“He gets up the field so fast, he’s creating problems and disrupting the blocking schemes,” Dvoracek said. “We had seven or eight tackles for loss (last week). Just because he might not be in there making that tackle for loss, doesn’t mean he didn’t make the play by getting off the ball.”

Idonije agreed that last week was Harris’ best game of the season.

“He’s fine,” Idonije said, “but when you have an injury, it takes time. … We all know what Tommie Harris brings to the table. This week we look for him to continue to step it up and make plays.”

Harris almost got to Matt Ryan on the play that set up Atlanta’s winning field goal, hurrying the rookie on his key 26-yard pass.

“I’m just starting to feel better,” Harris said. “And it’s starting to show out on the field.”

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 ormtrowbridge@rrstar.com.