Bears' defense dominates Rams

FootballSportsChicago BearsSt. Louis RamsDallas CowboysBrandon MarshallLovie Smith

It was not a performance that offered conclusive answers when it comes to Jay Cutler, his line and the Bears offense.

But the Bears are in no position to worry themselves with style points.

Ten days after a meltdown of more than just the offense at Green Bay, the Bears took advantage of the Rams when they played without poise and the defense throttled Sam Bradford in a 23-6 victory Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

The defense sacked Bradford six times, giving it 14 through three games, and Major Wright returned a deflected pass by Tim Jennings 45 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to improve the Bears to 2-1 in advance of a "Monday Night Football" showdown with the Cowboys Oct. 1 in Texas.

Jennings had his own interception in the closing minutes to make it four straight games with a pick dating back to the 2011 season finale. Defensive end Israel Idonije had 2.5 sacks and now five players have at least 1.5. It took the Bears six games to record 14 sacks last season, and this is the most the team has had through three games since 1987, when the club totaled 70 in 15 games.

"It's been good," defensive end Julius Peppers said before amending his remark. "It's been OK.

"I probably said it about 50 times already, but we have a little bit more depth. Guys got better since last year, we have a good rotation that keeps us fresh and the end result is shown in the stats."

A consistent pass rush makes the secondary better, but Jennings has been playing at an elite level himself. Not only does he have an NFL-high four interceptions, he has deflected two other passes that teammates have turned into interceptions. Wright's second career touchdown broke open a 13-6 game with 9 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.

The offense was listless through the first half before an 81-yard drive produced a 3-yard touchdown run for Michael Bush with 1:56 remaining until halftime. A roughing the passer penalty on Darian Stewart kept the drive alive, and a roughing the kicker call against Jo-Lunn Dunbar in the first quarter extended a drive that led to a 54-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

But coach Lovie Smith was unprepared and called a timeout when allowing the Rams to set up for a 56-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal just before halftime to get the Rams on the board.

Bush ran 55 yards on 18 carries with Matt Forte out with a sprained right ankle, and the offense finished with 103 yards on 34 rushes, but 21 yards came on one Cutler scramble.

Cutler looked off again. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 183 yards and was intercepted once when a ball went off Brandon Marshall. Marshall was targeted 11 times and had five catches for 71 yards.

The only time the passing game looked in sync was when Cutler began hitting Alshon Jeffery for intermediate gains in the second half. He was sacked twice, there were drops and a couple of throws were way off.

"It was hit and miss," Cutler said. "We won the game. Offensively, there were some things we could make better, but the idea is to win. It's not a one-on-one tennis match."

Cutler was happier with his line that had a new face as Chilo Rachal replaced Chris Spencer as the starting left guard.

"The line played well," Cutler said. "They had a little edge to them,"

Bradford was consistently in third-and-long situations because the Rams (1-2) managed just 59 yards rushing. Steven Jackson was held to 29 yards on 11 carries, and Bradford completed only 18 of 35 passes for 152 yards. A week after making 15 receptions, Danny Amendola had just five for 66 yards.

It's impossible to say exactly what kind of team the Bears will face in Dallas after the Cowboys (2-1) squeaked past the Buccaneers with a 16-10 victory at home. But the Bears are impossible to peg just yet. They got back on track with a needed win and now have victories over the Rams and Colts — teams that combined for four victories in 2011.

"This was a bounce-back game for us," Smith said. "Something that we seem like we've been practicing forever."

The longer until they need a bounce-back game again, the better.

bmbiggs@tribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

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