To see a Bears defense rank last against the run is as bad as seeing the Green Bay Packers hoist the Lombardi Trophy after winning the Super Bowl. It’s like a punch in the gut.
The Bears have long been known for their defense, but last year’s injury-riddled season left a broken down defense yielding 5.3 yards per carry and 161.4 rushing yards per game. Awful.
Stopping the run is the single most important duty of a defense. And if the defense can’t stop the run, seeing an opponent’s running back churn out yards and consistently move the chains is one of the most emotionally draining aspects of watching a football game.
Stopping the run is attainable through the Three As of fundamentals: Alignment, assignment, attitude.
The first step is to make sure the defense is aligned correctly, which falls on the veteran leadership of the team. Linebacker Lance Briggs missed a lot of time last year with an injury and his absence reverberated throughout the defense. Briggs’ return, plus that of Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams, along with the addition of veteran Jared Allen, ought to make sure the Bears are aligned properly.
Next comes assignment. The Bears need to make sure all 11 members of the defense know what their assignments are. This was exposed to the nation in the final game of the regular season last year when safety Chris Conte blew his assignment, leading to a Packers touchdown that cost the Bears the game, the division, and the playoffs. That was a passing play, but assignment is just as important in run defense. A player missing his gap assignment can lead to big runs.
Finally, stopping the run involves attitude. Due to the collective bargaining agreement and the evolution of the game, teams no longer work on tackling in training camp, preseason, or even during regular season practices. In order to effectively tackle, players have to want to do it. Dig deep down and find the will to put their pads on the ball carrier and drive him to the ground.
Without these fundamentals, the Bears run defense won’t improve. But after last season, it can’t get any worse.