CHICAGO--The Bears' top priority during the offseason was to revive their defensive line. They signed five free-agent defensive ends, re-signed a veteran three technique and drafted two defensive tackles, all with the hope of restoring its fierce, disruptive presence.
So the most important takeaway, good or bad, from Friday night's penalty-marred 34-28 exhibition victory at Soldier Field was easy to find looking into the Eagles' backfield.
The Bears pressured starting quarterback Nick Foles into two interceptions. Yes, it was only an exhibition, so all of the necessary qualifiers apply. But seeing the Bears' defensive line win in the trenches against the Eagles' first string was the most significant evidence to date that the line has regained a pulse.
Overall, the Bears advanced from their first exhibition with a few positives on which to build and more than enough coaching points to last until Thursday's exhibition against the Jaguars.
In a game for which the Bears did not scheme for the Eagles on either side of the ball, the defense forced four turnovers, and Jay Cutler quarterbacked the first-string offense on a 13-play touchdown drive.
But they surrendered a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, turned the ball over three times and were assessed 14 penalties for 103 yards.
The defense started fast by pressuring Foles up the middle, the type of impact that serves as the goal of general manager Phil Emery's rebuilding project. Star defensive end Jared Allen didn't play after missing practice all week after the birth of his daughter, but that didn't matter.
On the Eagles' third play from scrimmage, nose tackle Stephen Paea, the only returning starter from last year's opening day line, teamed with three technique Jeremiah Ratliff to force Foles into a throw that only linebacker Lance Briggs could have caught.
Ratliff drew a holding penalty on the next snap. And then the Bears swarmed Foles again, producing an errant lob that new safety Ryan Mundy easily intercepted.
"In the opening game the offenses keep it pretty basic," Mundy said. "The quarterback is not looking off too much, so that's an opportunity for us to work on our vision on the quarterback and get a good break. And basically that's what happened on that play."
The pressure continued on the next series, as the Bears forced two more holding penalties. New defensive end Trevor Scott accounted for one of them, and he wasn't done there.
On the Eagles' third series, with Foles still in the game, Scott came off the right edge and forced him to step up and throw off schedule. Cornerback Sherrick McManis picked it off. The first-string offense also exited on a high note. Cutler's 10-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Zach Miller was his second third-down conversion on a 69-yard drive.
Cutler completed 9 of 13 attempts for 85 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 112.7. He threw off his back foot multiple times, and he overthrew receiver Eric Weems when he fell away from the target, but he also made several pinpoint throws.
His 23-yarder to tight end Dante Rosario on third-and-10 perfectly cleared the jumping linebacker and dropped down before the safety arrived to break up the pass. And his throw to Miller fit through a tight window at the catch point.
"We were all a little bit jittery on that first drive," Cutler said on the Bears' telecast at halftime. "Everyone settled down."
Miller thrust himself to the forefront of the backup tight end competition with six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
"He has had a good camp," Cutler said. "Every time he has had an opportunity he has made a play. He has been a nice addition."
As for the bad, special teams were a wreck. In addition to the Eagles' kickoff return for a touchdown, the Bears muffed a punt when Micheal Spurlock and Michael Ford collided with each other. The Eagles recovered that fumble. The Eagles also blocked a field goal.
But Bears players celebrated a victory after the Eagles stalled in Bears territory as time expired, yet plenty of work remains.
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