Stephen Paea didn’t have to look at the film and he wasn’t about to take 24 hours to enjoy this one. He already was looking forward to Dallas.
‘‘We’re not going to sit here and be comfortable. We’re going to get after [Tony] Romo next week,’’ the Bears’ second-year defensive tackle said in the Bears locker room Sunday. ‘‘I feel like coach [Rod] Marinelli is going to do a great job of preparing us to get after Romo.’’
When you’re as hot as the Bears’ defensive line is, the next game can’t come quickly enough. The Bears sacked Sam Bradford six times and forced several incompletions and other mistakes with constant pressure in a 23-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.
The Bears have 14 sacks in their first three games — an impressive statistic that is not skewed by one big game or one phenomenal player or a blitz-based, element-of-surprise scheme. Eight defenders, including all seven active defensive linemen, have at least a share of a sack so far — equaling the number of players who had at least one sack all of last season.
After sacking the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers five times in their last game, the Bears were even better against Bradford. Israel Idonije (21/2), Amobi Okoye, Paea, linebacker Nick Roach and Julius Peppers (half-sack) had sacks against the Rams. The three times the Bears had five sacks in a game last year, they had one in the following game.
‘‘We have a little bit more depth [this season],’’ said Peppers, who shared a sack with Israel Idonije in the third quarter that atoned for a personal foul penalty that kept alive a Rams drive. ‘‘Guys got better since last year. We have a good rotation that keeps us fresh. And the end result is seen in the stats.’’
Bradford, who had passer ratings of 105.1 against the Lions and 117.6 against the Redskins in his first two games, was 18-for-35 for 152 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 39.2 rating against the Bears. The Rams, who averaged 351 net yards in their first two games, had 160 against the Bears.
‘‘The best part about it is we’re fighting for the sacks,’’ Paea said. ‘‘There’s not just one person on the quarterback, but two or three. We have to play as a team.’’
Cornerback Tim Jennings made one of the biggest plays of the game on his own — defending a bang-bang fourth-and-one pass on a slant route to Brandon Gibson. But almost every other key play, including the Jennings deflection that led to Major Wright’s clinching interception and touchdown return, was a result of pressure from the defensive front.
‘‘This is our defense,’’ safety Chris Conte said. ‘‘We’re playing the same as we’ve always played. We have a lot of good chemistry going on right now — the guys believe in each other. On the back end we believe in the pass rush.
‘‘I think they believe in us to give them time to get after the quarterback. We’re just working well together. We do what we do. And we’re always going to do what we do. As long as we execute we’re going to do well.’’
Courtesy: MARK POTASH | Chicago Sun-Times
EDITORS COMMENT: Stephen Paea is a defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears. He was taken with the 53rd overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Paea attended Oregon State University, where he played from 2008 to 2010. Making an immediate impact for the Beavers, Paea played in all 13 games, starting 12 of them, and recorded 41 tackles, 11 for a loss, and five quarterback sacks. In February 2010, a YouTube video showed him bench-pressing 225 pounds 44 times. At the NFL Combine, recorded 49 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, the highest since Justin Ernest’s 51 reps in 1999. In a Sunday Night Football game on October 16 against the Minnesota Vikings, as well as his NFL debut, Paea sacked Donovan McNabb in the end zone for a safety, being the first Bears player to record a safety in his debut since at least 1970. During the preseason, Paea injured his left ankle during a workout, but started in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
IRVING, Texas – As he sat on the Cowboys bench in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers, his right shoe and sock taken off, Barry Church had a look of sheer disappointment.
He had just learned his season was over far too early following a Achilles tendon tear – either full or partial – that will require surgery on Tuesday. Teammates came around to try to console him, but what could they say to make it better? Called too slow, Church had gone undrafted following four years as an all-conference star at Toledo, only to make the Cowboys in 2010, slowly work his way up the ranks and easily beat out veteran Brodney Pool for a starting job this offseason.
As disappointed as Church was on the sideline, his mood had turned less than an hour later. Speaking to reporters in the Cowboys locker room, he supported himself not only with a pair of crutches, but with his familiar smile.
“On the sidelines it was kind of just shock, like, wow, this really happened. But once I sat down I just kind of had a little talk with myself and figured, you know, you can’t be negative about everything. If you keep on the negative, you’re just going to become a negative person, so I’ve got to keep upbeat and keep positive, and see what happens.”
What will happen is a months-long recovery that will determine the direction of Church’s career.
Some players returning from Achilles injuries are never quite the same – longtime Cowboys fans will remember former first-round pick Kevin Smith, who was hurt in the season opener in 1995 and came back the next year, only a half a step slower. But outside linebacker Greg Ellis suffered the same injury in 2006 and then won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2007 after posting a career-high 12.5 sacks.
With the final year of Church’s contract coming in 2013, a lot is riding on his recovery. It will only help to remain optimistic.
“I’ve just got to keep my mind straight,” Church said. “I’ve got to keep my head up. I can’t let this injury get the best of me. I’ll be at the house for a while just relaxing with the cast, but I just can’t let it get the best of me. I’ve got to go out there and continue to get better.”
Though the injury certainly has career path implications, the thing that bothered Church the most in the aftermath of Sunday’s game was that he won’t be able to help this year. Over the preseason and his three starts in September, he had appeared to solidify the safety position of a much improved defense.
“It’s pretty tough,” Church said. “I came out this year looking to make improvements on my game. I feel like I did that the first couple games I played, but this happened. It’s a freak accident. Things happen. But I’ve just got to battle back and try to come back stronger.”
EDITORS COMMENT: Barry Church was a favorite here on The Boys Are Back blog. It looked like he was coming into his own this year. Hopefully, Church will be able to come back from this injury and pursue his dream of playing football in the NFL.
F: Rushing Offense
The Cowboys got their first rushing touchdown of the season, but that’s about the only thing that went right for the running game. DeMarco Murray finished with only 38 yards on 18 carries. He lost yardage seven times. Felix Jones lost a yard on his only carry. Other than Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run, in which Tyron Smith made a dominant block, this was a really poor performance by the offensive line. It’s one thing for the interior offensive line, which was whipped by McCoy, to be shaky. Doug Free, the Cowboys’ most expensive, experienced O-lineman, has been the weakest link. He got dominated by Bennett, who matched McCoy with two tackles for losses.
F: Passing Offense
The Cowboys’ passing game committed three turnovers and produced zero points. That’s awful, especially against a Tampa Bay defense that allowed 510 yards against the New York Giants the previous week. Tony Romo threw for 283 yards on 25-of-39 passing — 107 yards coming on five catches by Miles Austin — but the QB took a beating from a defensive line that barely touched Eli Manning last week. The Buccaneers sacked Romo four times, forcing two fumbles. The Cowboys couldn’t figure out how to keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett away from Romo.
A: Rushing Defense
A week after Marshawn Lynch marched all over them in the second half, the Cowboys made it tough on the Tampa Bay running backs. The Bucs averaged only 3.0 yards on their 25 carries. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was a force again, leading the Cowboys with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Speedy inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter each had a tackle for a loss, too. The run defense got stronger as the game went on, a stark contrast to last week in Seattle. Tampa Bay gained on 28 yards on 13 carries after halftime.
A+: Passing Defense
Give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a ton of credit. He came up with a genius game plan to mask the absence of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, one of three starters who weren’t available, and rattle Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (10-of-28 for 110 yards with a TD and INT). In nickel situations, Brandon Carr played safety for the first time in his career, with Mike Jenkins coming in at cornerback. Those two combined to shut out $55 million receiver Vincent Jackson until the Bucs’ final possession. A week after being shut out, DeMarcus Ware had another two-sack outing, forcing fumbles both times he got to Freeman.
A-: Special Teams
The Cowboys avoided disaster, although they came close on a punt that the Bucs should have blocked, and they made big plays. Orie Lemon made his mark in his NFL debut by recovering a muffed punt, the key play on a scoring drive. Dez Bryant set up the field goal that essentially sealed the win with a 44-yard punt return, the first time this season he has resembled the elite punt returner he was during his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals. And, hey, Felix Jones didn’t fumble.
This grade reflects solely on the head coach. Rob Ryan’s performance would lift the overall grade to a passing mark, but we’ve got to flunk Jason Garrett after such a ridiculously sloppy outing by his offense. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties, including six false starts. (Strange but true: They are 2-0 when committing 13 penalties this season.) The offense was out of sync all day, and Garrett never adjusted to keep Tampa Bay’s defensive line from teeing off on his quarterback. That’s two straight weeks Garrett’s offense scored only one touchdown. The offensive coordinator looks overwhelmed.
Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas
EDITOR COMMENT: Do you agree with this assessment? What are YOUR grades?
AN UGLY WIN IS STILL A WIN: Tony Romo doesn’t impress with stats, but is very satisfied with the outcome
Tony Romo entered with a 3-0 record against the Bucs, with a 70.1 completion percentage, 908 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 144.8 passer rating.
This one wasn’t so pretty.
Romo went 25-of-39 for 283 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He also lost two fumbles.
The Cowboys had 297 total yards, as the Dallas defense saved the day.
“I don’t want this to go by without talking about how great it feels really to win this game, with the way that our defense played and our ability to grind it out on the offensive side when nothing was easy,” Romo said. “This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it’ll kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move through the season sometimes, because of the way it looked. But these are the kinds of wins that you have to have. We’ve played better on offense before and lost football games. We’ve played better as a team sometimes with the way that it looks and lost games. But to win the game with the way that we did today really excites me and gives us a chance going forward.”
Romo was sacked four times, losing fumbles on two of them, while taking four other hard shots.
"Obviously, it’s not good enough," center Ryan Cook said. "We would like, in a perfect world, to have no shots [on Romo], no pressures and for him to sit back in the pocket all day and throw the ball. But that wasn’t the reality today. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting him and giving him time to make those long throws down the field."
DALLAS’ NEW FLEX DEFENSE: Brandon Carr’s quick adaptation to safety gives Mike Jenkins a chance to impress at cornerback
Brandon Carr said he got it in a text. The plan was for him to play safety this week.
If it caught him by surprise, it should have. He had not played safety in the NFL or college. Maybe a snap in high school, he said.
But whatever. He had to get ready.
“They let me know on Monday. I got a head start,” he said. “Got my mind right. Watch extra film. Not at corner, but at safety, just to get a feel for how things were going to be coming at me.”
He said he worked with injured safety Gerald Sensabaugh to get ready.
“I picked his brain a little bit,” Carr said. “It helped me just as far as reaction of where to be on the field, pre-snap, what should I be looking for, different personnel, different ways they line up and things like that. He was always there for me, giving me a helping hand.”
Whatever he did, it worked.
Carr shuttled between safety and cornerback, and his work got extra snaps at corner for Mike Jenkins. Between them and Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest threats at wide receiver in check in a 16-10 victory Sunday.
Mike Williams caught two passes on six targets. Vincent Jackson caught one pass on seven targets. And quarterback Josh Freeman completed only 10 of 28 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a 45.2 passer rating.
“The game is different back there,” Carr said. “You know, at corner everything happens so quick. It’s at the line of scrimmage. It’s physical. At safety, it’s more reading the quarterback, trying to get a break on balls. Sometimes you have to be the quarterback back there and call out the plays and our checks and stuff. So I knew it was a different ballgame.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Carr looked good enough at practice to let the Cowboys try their experiment.
“It was a little bit of a challenge for us because Vincent Jackson is such a good football player. He is a big guy, and Brandon matches up with him well,” Garrett said. “At the same time, Mike Jenkins is healthy. … We said, let’s get our four and five best DBs out there as much as we can, and the guy we felt was most suited to play safety was Brandon Carr. He told me he hadn’t done it since 11th grade. He was a quarterback and safety in 11th grade.
“He looked real comfortable when we started doing it in practice early in the week. Jenks played really well. It was good to see him playing the way he is capable of playing, and Brandon’s versatility allows him to do that.”
Of Jenkins, Carr said, “Man, he played outstanding ball. Like I said, I want to give guys the opportunity to go out there and play and make a difference. That’s what he did. He went out there, seized the moment. When he got his chance, he went out there and did an exceptional job on 83.”
Told he might have the best hands on the team, inside linebacker Sean Lee laughed.
"I have streaky hands," Lee said. "I’ve been on a good streak here for a while."
Lee intercepted a Josh Freeman pass in the first quarter as the ball bounced off running back D.J. Ware’s hands and up into the air for Lee to nab. The Cowboys used the good field position to tie the game, going 23 yards in four plays for the touchdown.
"I went to make a tackle, and he tried to hit a check down and the ball was floating right up in the air for me," Lee said. "It’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Just please catch the ball.’ That’s what you’re concentrating on. Right place, right time."
Lee now has seven career interceptions in only 32 games. It is one less than cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Brandon Carr have in their careers.
"He has a nose for the football," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You see that in the number of tackles he makes. We have seen his ability to play the ball. He has done that throughout his career. He has made some real signature interceptions in his career. His ability to track the ball and make the play in the air, in traffic, like he did is tribute to his athletic ability. He shows up throughout the game. he is a great leader for our defense."
Lee tied a team record with 21 tackles last week, including 15 solos.
DeMarco Murray scored the Cowboys’ first rushing touchdown of the season with an 11-yard stretch play in the first quarter. It was his third career rushing touchdown and first since Nov. 13, 2011, against Buffalo.
However, that was one of the few holes he found. Murray had only 38 yards on 18 carries.
“All day long, it was tough,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of creases up there.”
Despite the lack of running room, Murray blamed himself for failing to capitalize on a couple of opportunities.
“One was a really, really bad play by me,” he said. “I got tripped up and let a guy arm tackle me. There definitely could have been two home runs for me, and it didn’t happen.”
As a team, the Cowboys (2-1) had only five rushing touchdowns last season: the fewest of any season in franchise history. With one rushing touchdown in three games this season, they are on a comparable pace in 2012. On his TD run, Murray said: ““It felt good. Tyron (Smith) made a good block. Miles (Austin) made a good block and it was open, so I’ve got to give credit to those guys.”
Danny McCray was ready to play significant snaps, but it was Brandon Carr who stepped up and showed his versatility. The fifth-year cornerback was a surprise starter at safety, playing there on nickel downs and allowing Mike Jenkins to start at cornerback.
The move allowed the Cowboys to take advantage of their depth at the cornerback position. Since Jenkins came back from his shoulder rehab, the Cowboys have been experimenting with ways of getting him onto the field to contribute.
Through two weeks of the season (and the entire preseason), Carr stood out as the Cowboys’ best lockdown corner. Many expected him to spend the entire game matched up with lengthy Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson. Instead, the Cowboys put faith in Carr’s discipline and versatility by moving him over to safety to serve as a security blanket in certain situations.
It is a credit to Carr that the Cowboy’s felt so strongly about his defensive awareness that they would instruct him to play anything other than the position at which he was the NFL’s most prized free agent this offseason.
“Whatever it takes to win, I’m down for it,” Carr said. “We put Jenkins out there at corner and it wasn’t a letdown at all. He held his own.”
While the move was a surprise to many watching the game, Carr explained that he had been preparing to play safety all week.
“I got a head start, I think it was Monday they let me know,” Carr said. “I just had to get my mind right, watch extra film, not at corner, but at safety, just to get a different feel for how things were going to be thrown at me. I think I did a decent job.”
When asked after the game how much experience he had at safety, Carr provided a lighthearted, if not revealing, response.
“60 minutes,” Carr joked. “I took a couple snaps in high schools back in my early, early days playing, but other than that, it’s been a long, long time.”
After starting safety Barry Church went down, the Cowboys required contributions from every defensive back on the roster.
Despite depth concerns at safety, the result was a very impressive defensive effort and a near shutdown of the Buccaneers passing game. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was limited to only 110 yards passing after racking up 243 yards against the Giants in his last game.
Morris Claiborne explained that the Cowboys have such talent at cornerback that when Carr moved over to safety, the coverage did not miss a beat.
“We have a lot of depth on this team and we have a lot of guys that can fill in when other guys are down,” Claiborne said. “We won’t lose too much.”
The Cowboys’ cornerbacks were also able to keep their impressive streak of not allowing a wide receiver to score on them all season. In fact, Tampa’s only touchdown of the game – a one-yard pass to tight end Luke Stocker – came after a Tony Romo interception gave the Buccaneer’s terrific field position. Jackson, the $55 million free agent addition, was held to just one reception for 29 yards.
When asked if he thought the cornerback core was attempting to build upon something special, Claiborne did not hesitate.
“Oh yeah, I think we are,” Claiborne said. “Coach Henderson does a good job with us, preparing us and getting us ready to go out and play ball. And we take a lot of pride in ourselves, to get ourselves ready to go out and play.”