Bears defense needs to toughen up

Inability to stop run an insult to proud tradition of franchise as it shows a lack of physical grit

It's time to change the fight song. Well, at least the version of "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" that everybody has grown used to — the one that blasts out in Soldier Field after every score for the home team. Keep the song, but maybe try a Muzak version.

Elevator music is appropriate for the 2013 Bears.

Sadly, there is little monster left in this bunch. Once a franchise of ferocity, the Bears have undergone a complete transformation into, well, teddy Bears. This team comes up woefully short in virtually every area that measures team toughness.

The Bears can't stop the run, ranking dead last in the NFL. They struggle for an inch, let alone a yard in goal-line and short yardage situations. They seemingly have lost the ability to play smash-mouth special teams.

The only tough-guy element that hasn't faded is the ability to block downfield. Too bad none of the skill position guys can line up at defensive tackle or linebacker.

Heck, even the fan base seems to have fallen under some oblivious spell. Such is the awesome power of the forward pass, or the lure of a championship in the hapless NFC North, that nobody in town seems sufficiently indignant about the way this defense has obliterated the proud defensive tradition of the franchise.

Injuries have been devastating, no doubt about it. But players get hurt in the NFL. The simple fact is your backups have to be able to beat an opponent's backups. It would be great if everyone can fill in as well as quarterback Josh McCown, but that certainly hasn't been the case. Not on defense, for sure.

The Bears haven't been gashed by the run, they have been trampled. So far they have allowed a league-high 1,597 yards rushing through 11 games, an average of 145.2 that projects to 2,323 for the season. The most rushing yards any Bears team ever has given up in a year is 2,509 in 1973. At least that record is not in danger. Or is it?

The loss of Henry Melton after three games and backup Nate Collins after five started a domino effect that robbed the team of consistency up the middle. Then starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost for the year against the Giants in Game 6 and star linebacker Lance Briggs went down the next week against the Redskins. In their last five games, the Bears have allowed 985 rushing yards, 197 per game.

At that pace, the Bears would allow 2,582 yards on the season, a franchise record for futility. Briggs should be back in a couple of weeks. Ditto Stephen Paea and perhaps even Cowboys castoff Jeremiah Ratliff. That combination should help.

Nevertheless, the Bears have no business giving up these kinds of rushing yards. Not to the Rams, and certainly not against the host Vikings on Sunday. Stopping the run is about toughness and attitude. It takes individual players beating a guy in front of them and making a play. It takes commitment from coaches.

If you can't stop the run, put an eighth guy in the box. If you still can't stop it, make it nine. At some point, the quarterback is going to line up, do his head count and opt to throw the ball. When you are playing against guys like the Rams' Kellen Clemens or the Vikings' Christian Ponder, you make them beat you as opposed to Zac Stacy or even Adrian Peterson.

There is nothing so demoralizing, so disheartening to a defense than to be manhandled, steamrolled and embarrassed in the running game. Are the Bears so wrapped up in the idea of preventing big plays that they will allow Peterson to go off instead of risking the exposure of a frail secondary and lackluster pass rush?

The Bears must be aware that getting Peterson a rushing title is one of the few things the Vikings still have to play for at 2-8-1. He is just 12 yards behind the Eagles LeSean McCoy for the league lead with just three yards to go for 1,000. McCoy will get his turn against the Bears defense in Philadelphia in a few weeks. And another top-10 rusher, Packers rookie Eddie Lacy, will get a second shot at the Bears in the season finale.

The toughness issue in short yardage and goal-line stuff is more difficult to quantify. The Bears are 4-of-6 on fourth-and-1 attempts. But they have failed when it comes to the mano-a-mano smash-mouth stuff, relying instead on tactical finesse in those situations.

Maybe the sequence that best illustrates the point is the failed two-point conversions against the Lions. First came a pass out of the heavy package, followed by a run from a more conventional spread look. Why the need for trickery? Because it appears the Bears have no faith in their ability to line up over the rear end of a tough guy offensive guard like Kyle Long or Matt Slauson and drive the ball into the end zone.

That's not their game. Nope, they're a West Coast finesse team with a hypnotic ability to throw the ball and score some points. But they aren't going to win on defense or special teams. Those units are as bad as they have been in more than a decade.

Throw in the lack of mental toughness a rash of penalties demonstrated the last two weeks and the picture is clear. If this team doesn't toughen up in a hurry, the season will be lost.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m., on WSCR-AM 670.

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