The Chicago Bears find themselves worrying about improving their pass rush at a time when there could be a somewhat more pressing issue facing them: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
A week after they recorded only one sack and one hit on Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bears' defensive linemen realize they have to find a way to pressure Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on Sunday — even though Peterson is capable of breaking open a game the way he did in a 21-14 win in their previous matchup last December at the Metrodome.
"Up front, I didn't feel like we had the strongest game and it's something we've been striving for," defensive end Corey Wootton said. "Me, personally, I need to get better rushes in there.
"I didn't feel like we affected (Dalton) enough as a whole, so it's something that we've been working on."
The Bears had 44 sacks last season — their highest total since 2001 — and the high expectations for the defensive line this year includes franchise free agent Henry Melton and Julius Peppers. Yet head coach Marc Trestman held nothing back when assessing his defensive line's pass rushing after a win in his debut game.
"We've got to get more pressure with the four-man rush," Trestman said.
Dalton went 26 of 33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 97.2 passer rating. The Bears' only sack came from Shea McClellin in the fourth quarter, while Charles Tillman had both interceptions.
Dalton led three scoring drives of 80 yards or more and the Benals had a 64 percent third-down conversion rate.
"On our end, he was throwing it quick," McClellin said. "It's hard to get pressure."
Trestman traced the problems in pass coverage back to the pass rush.
"I think the biggest thing is that when you go to (man-to-man) coverage you've got to be able to get there with four or five and we didn't do that (Sunday) and that made it more difficult," Trestman said. "You can't cover without a rush and we didn't rush the way we're capable of and I think we'll do a better job this time around."
Melton was playing Sunday for the first time since a concussion during the first preseason game, and Peppers, who is now 33, missed practices occasionally throughout training camp.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said both are fine now, although in Melton's case conditioning could be a concern for a while.
"We're going to keep pushing him on his conditioning," Tucker said. "Obviously he missed a lot of time, but he stepped up for us and he went in there and gave us some plays. We'll just keep working on him and get him to where he needs to be.
"I really liked the way those guys (on the line) finished. That's a testament to their character, and they kept their poise, they were very patient, with adjustments and things like that. And we'll just take that into this week's game."
Trestman and Tucker did not want the blame focused on Peppers, who in the past frequently drew double teams from offensive linemen. Trestman said Peppers is entirely healthy.
"I know Julius didn't play as well as he would want to play, but I think he still impacted the game," Trestman said. "I don't think you have to have three sacks or two sacks to impact the game.
"He played his position. He was effective at times and we were ineffective collectively at times."
Facing Peterson this week, the Bears still see a need to keep heat on Ponder. The Detroit Lions did it to Minnesota last week and recorded three sacks while picking off three passes in a 34-24 win.
"I think as a D-lineman, we definitely want to stop the run," Wootton said. "But pass rush, that's what this defensive scheme is known for.
"Obviously we have to stop the run and be in our gaps but pass rush is definitely something that impacts and changes the game."
Tillman took some of the pressure off his defensive line by citing poor tackling by the defense as a whole for some problems.
"I think we gave away too many big plays and we missed a lot of tackles, myself included," he said. "It's definitely something we need to work on and we need to see some improvement from Week 1 to Week 2."