Defensive line dominance

Defensive line dominance
Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

Since Julius Peppers was brought to Chicago, there hasn't been a player on the defensive line who consistently takes advantage of the double- and triple-teams Peppers often sees. But this year . . . just take your pick.

The guy once known only for ending Brett Favre’s career, Corey Wootton, is now healthy and showing signs that he can be a legit player. Injuries have been his downfall since college, but he is healthy for the first time in his NFL career.

Wootton’s stat line through five games:

3.5 12.0 0 5 2 0 0
On pace for: 11 N/A 0 16 6 0 0

S = Sacks, YL = Yards lost on sacks, TFL = Tackle for loss, QBP = Quarterback pressures, FF = Forced fumbles, FR = Fumbles recovered, Ret. = Return yards on fumble recoveries

Now before telling me I'm jumping the gun, know that I'm not. Wootton’s not Julius Peppers, but this guy has legitimate talent. Before his knee injury in college, he would have likely been a first-round Draft selection.

I watched a lot of Wootton throughout training camp, and when the Bears left Bourbonnais, I had a feeling this might be the year he would finally contribute. With his size at 6'7”, 260 pounds, and with his speed around the edge, Wootton can, one day, be a real-deal defensive end.

Sack or no sack, Wootton has been close a number of times, and at times I’ve seen him rush a little too far back. But overall, he has been pretty active in the backfield. The defensive rotation has helped him significantly, too. It’s also helped rookie defensive end Shea McClellin.

The defense currently tied for fourth in the League in sacks (18) is only surpassed by teams that have played six games already (Bears have played five). The closest team to the Bears through five games is the Carolina Panthers, who have four less than Chicago’s front.

The defensive line rotation is nothing short of ridiculous. Everyone stays fresh, and for players like Wootton, that comes in handy. I am concerned about him carrying a starting load down the road with his injury history.

McClellin is really a one trick pony for the most part right now; he does his spin move all the time. But it’s also working. He will need another move or two before everyone realizes what’s going to happen on every down, but that guy has some wheels, too. I know my expectations went all the way down after watching him in training camp, but he has been a surprisingly good player at times.

McClellin’s stat line through five games:

2 11.0 0 5 0 0 0
On pace for: 6 N/A 0 16 0 0 0

Henry Melton has finally taken that next step, it seems. After having seven sacks last year, and really being inconsistent, Melton has come alive this season, and there are times where the guy looks like Tommie Harris getting to the backfield. Melton repeatedly makes plays when he has to and has been consistent.

Melton's stat line through five games:

4.5 34.5 2 10 0 0 0
On pace for: 14 N/A 6 32 0 0 0

I would imagine this is a tough unit to game-plan for. They go with their speed package with McClellin, and other times where Peppers is in at the 3-technique position, where Melton goes outside. Melton has been really successful with running stunts as well. They can seriously do anything with the guys they have; come out with Peppers inside next to Melton, with Wootton and McClellin on the outside.The front rotation the Bears run makes them a Super Bowl caliber defense again. Everyone on that line gets pressure at some point. Even in games when the defensive line struggles to start, they come through when it matters most. Peppers finally doesn't have to do it all on every play. While he is the thing that makes this defensive line tick, everyone else is finally taking advantage of the attention Pep gets.

It’s impressive, and Rod Marinelli has done a fantastic job of rotating this unit. He keeps everyone fresh, and if there’s a fresh Julius Peppers in the fourth quarter of a close game, I like the Bears chances.
For the first time in a long time, you can safely say that the Bears’ defensive line can get pressure on a consistent basis.

And that's what makes this Cover-2 defense work.

Julius Pepper’s stat line through five games:

2.5 14.5 0 6 0 2 0
On pace for: 8 N/A 0 19 0 6 0

Israel Idonije’s stat line through five games:

2.5 15.5 1 2 0 0 0
On pace for: 8 N/A 16 6 0 0 0

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