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Joniak's Journal: Run Defense Biggest Concern For Bears

By Jeff Joniak:

First Impression
The water cooler talk in the city and burbs regarding the Bears is no doubt a raging debate of Jay or Josh at quarterback. However, the most pressing concern remains the run defense.

The Bears are living with the growing pains of rookie linebackers, and a defensive line handicapped at some level by injury. The Bears were 6th, 12th, 9th, 14th, 13th, and 12th against the run in the first six weeks. By Week 12 the Bears were giving up a league worst 145.2 yards per game on the ground and that average has grown to 157 yards per game after 14 weeks.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told reporters his players are now getting to the right spots, filling the right gaps, but now need to make the play. This week's emphasis will be on shedding blocks in order for plays to be made. At this point, every snap is significant. One blown snap can ruin the playoff drive.

The Bears will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since September and their chances grow if they finally plug the leaks in their run defense.

Second Thought
If we thought Jay Cutler was under the microscope before, it's amplified with his likely return. Everyone will analyze every throw, scramble, decision, and stat and compare it with McCown's 2013 resume.

All that really matters right now is the record. The Bears are 7-6 with a shot. Cutler's won four starts, McCown three and combined they've put together a 98.1 rating with 26 touchdowns which is tied for fifth in the NFL at a rate of 5.4% which is 7th in the NFL. As a duo, they are the 7th highest rated quarterback in the league, tied for the third lowest interception rate in the league, and the third lowest sack percentage.

Since Cutler's arrival in 2009, the Bears have finished tied for 10th with 27 touchdown passes in 2009, 20th in 2010, 24th in 2011, and 22nd in 2012.

Third Degree
It doesn't sound like Lance Briggs is ready to return. Trestman did not sound optimistic and indicated it's a bone structure issue in that shoulder. If it's not healed, Briggs can't play.

A return by Briggs could give the Bears defense a little juice and more confidence, but if the fracture isn't healed, it's not healed. What are you going to do? That's the way it goes until doctors give Briggs the green light.

Some of the injured Bears were in the locker room Wednesday for the first time in a while. Cornerback Charles Tillman was sporting a brace on his right arm. A torn triceps put him on injured reserve, but with the designation to return if the Bears make the playoffs. Defensive tackle Nate Collins, linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Kelvin Hayden were also spotted. Hayden said if the season were starting today, he would be about two weeks away from being ready to return from a torn hamstring suffered August 7th during training camp.

4th and Short
Despite not taking a snap until the third game of the season, Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon has piled up a league best 1400 yards, including the second most yards after the catch in the league.

A supplemental draft pick out of Baylor in 2012, Gordon has exploded. He's hauled in an historic 774 yards in his last four games, or as much as Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald has produced in 13 games. Gordon has dropped five balls, and has caught 57.7% of passes in his direction.

He's been targeted 123 times, trailing Alshon Jeffrey of the Bears for 8th most in the NFL. Just so you know, Brandon Marshall is sixth in targeted throws with 132 and he's caught 63.6% of his passes. Gordon and Jeffrey both have had 17 passes broken up, which also ranks in the top 10 among receivers according to Stats Inc.

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