ST. LOUIS — Any running back can gash the Bears these days. All-Pro or second-stringer, established veteran or off-the-street free agent, bruiser or speedster. Credentials are irrelevant.
This once-proud defense stops the run like a colander stops water. On Sunday, the world-famous tandem of Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham took its turn.
What, you hadn't heard of them? The Rams drafted Stacy in the fifth round out of Vanderbilt and signed Cunningham, an undrafted free agent from Middle Tennessee State, in April. Not exactly blockbuster material.
Resumes, though, don't matter against the Bears' defense. Stacy and Cunningham combined on 25 carries for 196 yards and scored a touchdown each, as the Rams won 42-21 and silenced the visiting half of a bipartisan crowd at the Edward Jones Dome.
"It's frustrating because it's something that has been a theme all year," Bears defensive tackle Corey Wootton said. "To win games, you have to be able to stop the run, and we haven't been doing it. Every week we're talking about this — starting fast — and every week it's the same result. We must make corrections if we want to win games."
Opportunity exists for the Bears if they can do so. Despite falling to 6-5, they remained tied for first place in the NFC North because the Lions lost at home to the Buccaneers.
But there's little evidence to expect such a turnaround. The Bears' problems defending the run Sunday were the exact deficiencies they have vowed to correct for weeks: Defenders losing blocks, being pushed out of their gaps, taking poor angles and tackling with poor technique.
"Some of the mistakes are repeats, but it's more of a thing where it's everybody not on the same page at the same time," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "You have 10 guys doing it right and one guy not doing it right, then that's an explosive play."
In previous victories over the Giants, Packers and Ravens, the Bears' offense played well enough to compensate for the run defense, and occasionally the defense has helped with a game-changing turnover.
Against the Rams, though, the offense turned the ball over three times and also failed to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Bears committed 10 penalties for 84 yards. Three of those penalties nullified touchdowns.
"We lost in all three phases of football," coach Marc Trestman said.
The run defense, though, continues to stand out among the Bears' shortcomings. The Rams needed only 29 attempts to gain 258 rushing yards, the most the Bears have allowed since giving up 311 to the Vikings on Oct. 14, 2007.
The Rams did it with speed, power and precision. Most troubling, perhaps, is that the Bears frequently positioned eight defenders near the line of scrimmage instead of seven because they knew how committed the Rams are to rushing, safety Chris Conte said.
First-round rookie receiver Tavon Austin opened the scoring with a blistering 65-yard run down the right sideline. He caught a toss while running left and then, by design, reversed field. Defensive end Shea McClellin and linebacker James Anderson were too far inside to recover, Conte stopped his feet while coming down to provide support, and the Rams executed several blocks in space to spring Austin.
"We can't let this stuff happen in the run game," Conte said. "We've got to find a way to tackle guys, get them down and fit our gaps right. It's just fitting the run right. That's all it is. It's fixable things."
Stacy gained 35 yards on a first-quarter run on which he cut back outside of McClellin and Anderson before outflanking Conte on the second level.
He left the game at halftime with a head injury, but Cunningham was just as effective.
After the Bears pulled to within 27-21 with 7 minutes, 15 seconds remaining, he powered a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, gaining 51 yards on six carries.
On his 9-yard touchdown, safety Major Wright and linebacker Khaseem Greene were blocked. Linebacker Jon Bostic overran Cunningham's cutback, and Cunningham powered through Conte's tackle attempt at the 5-yard line.
In other words, the usual.
And so the Bears' search for answers continues. Players and Trestman vowed to watch the video Monday, address the mistakes and move on toward Sunday's game against the Vikings, who have a pretty good running back.
"We have Adrian Peterson next week, who's arguably one of the best running backs," Wootton said. "So they're going to look at the film and say, 'We can gash them,' and I don't blame them. We have to figure out what it is."
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