Bears season in review: Defensive Line

Julius Peppers and Henry Melton combine for a hit on Matt Ryan

Shortly after the 2010 season there was concern surrounding the defensive line of the Chicago Bears and how thing would progress heading into the future.  Tommie Harris was the starting three technique defensive tackle a key cog in the Lovie Smith one-gap Tampa-2 scheme and he had yet another disappointing season.

Even with Julius Peppers enjoying an All-Pro year, questions surrounded every other position on the defensive line.  Anthony Adams was a free agent, Henry Melton looked good in spot duty as a rotational DT, Matt Toeaina was good but not starter value.

So the Bears did some revamping on the defensive line, cutting Harris, moving Melton into the starting role, drafting Stephen Paea in the second round and signing Amobi Okoye after he was cut by the Houston Texans.

Questions further surrounded the defensive line with young not yet proven talent in Melton and Paea and a first round player in Okoye that had been seen as a bust after being a first round pick.

Now at the conclusion of the 2011 season, what is clear is that the defensive line is the strength of this team.  In comparison to the 2010 season the Bears’ front four is absolutely dominant in comparison, to be it nicely there IS no comparison between 2010 and 2011.

While the 2010 season the Bears finished with 34 sacks on the season as compared to 33 sacks in 2011, the difference is in the overall pressure on the quarterback.  According to the Chicago Bears’ 2011 season review packet, a review conducted by Bears coaches concluded that the Bears finished with a total of 205 quarterback pressures on the season.  In comparison the 2010 defense finished with a mere 76 QBPs on the season.   In total there were 631 passing attempts by Bears opponents.  Out of the 631 passing attempts the Bears had 205 QBPs for a percentage of 32.4-percent.  Essentially the Bears got a pressure on the QB one out of every three pass attempts the QB made.  A pretty solid statistic considering the need for pressure on the quarterback within the defensive scheme.

Leading the way as always was Julius Peppers who wound up with 11 sacks on the season and 55 QBPs on the season.  In comparison Peppers had eight sacks and 23 QBPs in 2010.  Peppers was strong in the stuffs category with a total of five on the season.

Following up Peppers by  making plays in the backfield was Israel  Idonije who had five sacks 37 QBPs and nine TFL according to coaches review.

Also experiencing a strong season disrupting the QB and making plays in the backfield was defensive tackle Henry Melton.  Melton did take some snaps at DE this season in some rush packages.  In total Melton finished with seven sacks, 34 QBPs and four TFLs on the season.

As a rotational DT Amobi Okoye proved to be a strong asset for the Bears in 2011.  Okoye spent time at the nose but mostly taking snaps as a three technique.  Okoye finished the season with four sacks, 27 QBPs and two tackles for a loss.  Okoye likely earned himself a pay raise and also could wind up competing for a starting job in 2012.

With Toeaina, Melton, Okoye and Paea all playing at a starter’s capable level in 2011 and Anthony Adams in an inactive role for five game this season the Bears could choose to move on from  Adams.  Adams signed a two-year deal with the Bears during the off-season and with only a year remaining on his deal and being a 31-year-old DT Adams could possibly have played his final game in a Bears uniform.  Adams has essentially become expendable with the performance from the younger players.

Heading into the off-season the Bears will obviously look to find a solid third DE.  Corey  Wootton hasn’t found a groove yet in the NFL journeyman Chauncey Davis is the only other option on the 53-man roster.  Peppers obviously didn’t lose any steam from one year to the next but with as many snaps as Peppers has taken over the last two seasons and at times he obviously played hurt it’s hard to imagine him holding up for much longer.

Drafting an eventual replacement for either Peppers or Idonije may not be out of the question.  At the least the Bears are going to want to find someone to help lessen blow on Peppers.  Preserving Peppers over the next four years of his contract would be the smart thing to do.  

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