When the safeties are as much of an issue as they've been for the Bears this season, it usually can be traced back to the defensive line. It looks like Lovie Smith finally has connected those dots.
After a dominant performance against the Atlanta Falcons in a 30-12 victory in the season opener -- four sacks and 17 quarterback pressures against Matt Ryan -- the Bears' defensive line has been mediocre at best. Certainly not the game-controlling outfit the Bears were expecting.
Asked earlier this week about the performance of the defensive line in the first seven games, Smith was in full protective mode -- defending his guys and avoiding the root issue of the question.
''We love our defensive line,'' Lovie told me. ''I know they're excited about playing an offense like this. And whenever you get a chance to play against a player like Mike Vick ... they made a lot of improvements. We'll have to get good pressure on them. But Philadelphia's the No. 1 rushing team in the league, so the defensive line will have a big say in that.''
So does that area need to be better in the second half of the season?
''We need to better in everything,'' Smith said. ''We'll be better in everything: D-line, linebackers, secondary.''
That was Tuesday. By Thursday, Smith had changed his tune, startling many of us who cover the team on a regular basis. Asked whether teams have adjusted to defensive tackle Henry Melton, who had a huge game against the Falcons but has been almost silent since then, Lovie not only challenged Melton to ''show up,'' but finally answered the defensive line question from two days prior.
''Well, I think you bring up a good point,'' he said. ''I mentioned that to Henry today. He hasn't showed up as much. Whether teams have adjusted to him or whatever, we need to get more production from him because he's capable of it. Sometimes when you have this break, you get recharged a little bit.
''We need Henry to come back the way he started the season off. In order for us to do things this next part of our season, our defensive line has to really take off. Henry is a big part of that.''
I'm not sure what changed his mind. But maybe it's the prospect of facing the Philadelphia Eagles tonight at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football. When the Bears beat the Eagles 31-26 at Soldier Field last year, their defensive line made the difference in containing Michael Vick and the Eagles' offense.
Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina had sacks. Anthony Adams and Melton had key pressures that led to third-down stops. Julius Peppers corralled Vick like few defensive ends in the league can. And Tommie Harris tipped a Vick pass that led to Chris Harris' interception that turned the game in the Bears' favor.
That's the kind of performance the Bears will need tonight, especially on the road in a marquee, nationally televised Monday night game against a team even more desirous of showing the nation they're better than they've looked
than the Bears are.
''We expect that kind of effort each week really,'' Smith said. ''We did play well against them up front last year. We'll of course need it this week. [We're] getting better. We're fresh right now. Some of the players that haven't made as many plays as they have in the past realize that. They're anxious to play. I have a good feeling about our defensive line this week.''