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Bears Fri Nov 22 2013

The Key to the D is the Missing DT

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngThe Bears have been hammered with injuries this season, and weirdly, it's been all on the defensive side of the football sans Jay Cutler. At last check (since it's not out of the question that someone gets randomly added to the infirmary report later today), the team has lost five defensive starters for the season due to injury, along with Lance Briggs.

The biggest of those losses: Henry Melton, playing what is considered the most important position in the Cover-2 scheme.

Melton was voted to the Pro Bowl last season for his role playing the three-technique defensive tackle spot. Two of Lovie Smith's best Bears defenses (2012 and 2006 Super Bowl loss team) came when the team got a star performance from someone playing that position. Last year it was Melton. In 2006, it was Tommie Harris.

The three-technique tackle spot carries a massive amount of responsibility in the Cover-2. Since the defense is predicated on the front four getting to the quarterback without help from blitzing linebackers, the guy lined up on the outside shoulder of the right guard (in a standard formation) is tasked with overpowering the offensive linemen, and getting pressure in the quarterback's face. Since the nose tackle is typically drawing a double team, it's imperative for the three-technique to win his one-on-one matchup, or draw a double team, which opens up easier pass rushing lanes for defensive ends or fewer guys to worry about in coverage.

In the running game, it's all about gap control and penetration within in the scheme. The defensive tackles are, in a basic sense, trained to get in the way and clog up running room, allowing the linebackers can come in and clean up. A little bit of push upfield can help with that, but if you go too far, the offensive linemen can simply guide the DT right out of the play, opening up a gaping hole that the linebackers aren't accounting for.

When Melton went down, Nate Collins jumped in to man the spot. He played extremely well in 2012 during his rotational duties, and the Bears hoped the dropoff wouldn't be too extreme (especially considering how poorly Melton played the first two weeks). After Collins was lost for the season just a few weeks later, the Bears were toast in the middle. Corey Wootton has done a commendable job trying to fill in, and has done OK, but his value is in his versatility, not playing the three-technique full time.

Cue Jeremiah Ratliff. Despite the fact that he's still recovering from an injury that stole most of his 2012 season along with the beginning of this year, the Bears signed the former Pro Bowler after Dallas cut him in hopes he could get healthy and make an impact late in the season. He's still out for this week, and likely next, but is targeting the Monday Night matchup against his former team as a return date. Signing and holding an injured, albeit talented player is proof how important the position is in the Bears defense.

When asked earlier this week what recovering player would have more of an impact, Briggs or the 2011 version of Ratliff (ignoring the probabilities of that happening), CBS's Adam Hoge admitted that it would be the latter -- more verification that the Bears are missing a key cog in their defense, even compared to the signal calling and three-time All Pro, Briggs.

If Ratliff can return to something close to previous form, it would go a long way to improving what has been a pretty awful Bears defense so far in 2013. The Bears are taking gamble letting him recover on their dime, but it's one well worth taking.

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