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SportsMonday: Sack Happy

The Bears didn't just pile up sacks during their 23-6 victory over the Rams yesterday; they piled up big sacks, ones that resulted in 10-plus yards lost. The evidence is growing that the team's pass rush is more dangerous than a crew of replacement refs.

It started early. The Rams put together a little bit of a drive the first time they had the ball. The team from St. Louis actually traveled a yard past midfield for a play. But then Amobi Okoye used a power rush to break through the line and sacked Sam Bradford for a loss of 13 big yards, forcing a punt. Okoye is the veteran tackle whom the Bears released last off-season. But when other options on the interior of the line didn't work out, they brought Okoye back.

Reunited and it feels so good.

Then on the last play of the first quarter, after the Bears caught a huge break when St. Louis wide receiver Brandon Gibson dropped a bomb that would have given the Rams possession inside the 10, Stephen Paea stepped to the fore.

The young defensive tackle from Oregon State who has struggled to overcome injury during his brief career had assisted on Okoye's sack, arriving at the quarterback a split second after his teammate. This time Paea did the damage himself, spinning Bradford down for a loss of 10.

Then, after an exchange of punts, Israel Idonije got into the act. While the defensive end's first sack only resulted in a loss of five yards, it had a big impact. It forced the punt that led to the Bears' first, and only, offensive touchdown of the day at the two-minute warning of the first half.

Nick Roach got the sack parade started in the second half. The outside linebacker from Northwestern seemed almost surprised that Bradford still had the ball in his hands when he arrived at his doorstep on a blitz with about four-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter. Roach didn't exactly wrap the quarterback up as he ran into him but Bradford went down in a heap for a loss of nine.

Julius Peppers (remember him?) achieved a small measure of redemption when he and Idonije combined on a seven-yard sack late in the third quarter, a sack that led to a short Robbie Gould field goal that stretched the lead to 13-6. Peppers had kept a Ram drive alive with an almost unbelievably uncharacteristic late hit/unnecessary roughness personal foul a few plays earlier. But soon the Rams were punting again anyway.

It must be said that the biggest hit on Sam Bradford wasn't even a sack. It was the double shot that led to the pick six that for all intents and purposes, put this game away. Bradford got rid of the ball when he faced a heavy rush with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter but Idonije still took him down as Paea crashed in from the other side. Sure enough, a wobbly Bradford tried to force a pass on the next play; cornerback Tim Jennings broke it up and Major Harris corralled the tip and raced untouched into the end zone to give the Bears a two-score cushion.

Finally in the fourth quarter, Idonije recorded the team's last sack of the quarterback for a loss. The Bears had earlier been credited with a team sack when Bradford went down after a teammate stepped on his foot, so it added up to six glorious sacks in all. Idonije was credited with 2.5 of them in the post-game stats but Paea may have made the biggest impression. He was the player the Bears dreamed he would be when the drafted him in the second round two years ago; the sort of powerful yet quick defensive tackle who can wreak very valuable havoc on opposing offenses.

The consistent pressure was an undeniable drag on Bradford's overall performance. The quarterback who had completed more than 70 percent of his passes in his first two games combined this season (43-for-60) found his targets barely half the time (18-for-35) on Sunday.

As for the offense, well, coordinator Mike Tice had apparently been hearing it from all corners that he needed to emphasize the ground game. Play-by-play man Dick Stockton told the story that even Tice's young son had sidled up to him at some point in the last week and told him the team needed to run more.

That advice would have made a lot more sense had Matt Forte not been sidelined by injury. Backup Michael Bush made a strong initial impression with several powerful runs up the middle and by catching a screen pass and running for an unlikely third-and-long conversion in the first half. He also ran through St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis for a big fourth-down conversion in the first half.

But later on Tice made way too many predictable running calls, especially with third-stringer Kahlil Bell (10 carries for 20 yards) in the backfield. The possessions that consisted of Bell being blown backward followed by almost desperation pass plays on second- and third-and-long in the second half in particular conjured up ugly memories of dimwittedly conservative game plans of seasons long past.

I thought we were through with those.

The most notable thing about the special teams, besides continued excellence from Robbie Gould and continued competence from Adam Podlesh (he was especially good absorbing that cheap shot that led to the penalty that led to Gould's first field goal), was that Devin Hester was dangerous. He didn't break any particularly long returns but on several occasions he made slick and speedy little moves to slip through the first line of cover-men and into the second level of the Rams coverage. If he keeps that up, he will break one some time soon.

And look at that, we've wrapped up a Bears game without mentioning a certain signal-caller even once. Sweet.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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