Bears Quick Shots: Bears’ best on ‘D’ haven’t made big plays this season

Matt Trowbridge

Chicago’s defense hasn’t lived up to its preseason billing, but it has played better than it has been given credit for. The main problem is the defense has been at its worst on the easiest plays. Atlanta converted on third-and-16 (22 yards), third-and-9 (15 yards), third-and-10 (recovered fumbled), third-and-8 (15 yards) and third-and-9 (47 yards). The Vikings converted on fourth-and-3 (10 yards) and fourth-and-16 (19 yards).

The problem seems to be in Cover-2 situations. The Bears’ signature defense relies on playmakers up the middle, and defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown have been fairly quiet. The Pro Bowl trio has combined for zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and two sacks.

And once the problem might have been the defense itself. The Bears are 4-3 instead of 5-2 because they gave up a 26-yard pass to the sidelines with six seconds left against Atlanta. Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian, a former Bear, said he wasn’t surprised the next week.

“That’s the nature of that defense. That defense gives that up,” he said.

Orton learns to use tight ends

Greg Olsen is starting to live up to his billing as Chicago’s 2007 No. 1 draft pick. He has 22 catches for a team-high 296 yards, and 237 of those yards have come in the last four weeks. Looks like Kyle Orton has been listening to his mentor.

Orton often credits former backup Brian Griese with helping him mature as a quarterback. On the field, perhaps the best thing Griese did was use the tight ends. Olsen averaged 4.8 catches for 56.3 yards in the four full games he played with Griese last year, and 2.0 catches for 16.4 yards in his other 10 games.

St. Clair finds a home

John St. Clair has quietly been almost as big a surprise as quarterback Kyle Orton. He was supposed to be far too slow to deal with athletic pass rushers at left tackle. Instead, the nine-year journeyman, who made only nine starts the last three years at guard and both tackle spots, has quieted some of the league’s top pass rushers.

“He’s proven a lot of people wrong,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.

Turner said part of St. Clair’s success is playing only one position for the first time in years.

“Anybody would want to do that,” Turner said. “On the offensive line, so much of it is about technique and fundamentals. To get to the point where you feel confident, you’ve got to get reps day-in and day-out in practice and all the individual time and team work next to your linemen. It’s huge (to be in one place).”

Bears odds and ends

The Bears are 12-7 following bye weeks, sixth-best in the NFL. ... Chicago has 45 of its 53 players signed through at least the next two years. ... The Bears and Sunday’s foe Detroit are tied for first in the NFL with 14 blocked kicks since 2004. ... The Bears rank second in the NFL with 60 points off 16 takeaways this season. Green Bay has 69 points off 14 takeaways. ... The Bears are tied for third in the NFL in tackling runners for negative yards with 23 stuffs for a league-high minus-69 yards.

Matt Trowbridge’s Quick Shots on the Bears appear Fridays. He can be reached at (815) 987-1383