INSIDE PRESSURE: A KEY TO SLOWING DOWN
HIGH-POWERED PASSING OFFENSES
Defenses around the league aim to combat high-powered passing attacks by pressuring the quarterback, which starts with a productive interior pass rush.
"It's important to have an interior rush," says NFL Network analyst and former NFL linebacker WILLIE MC GINEST. "It collapses the pocket and it doesn't allow the quarterbacks to step into their throws, which makes them inaccurate. As an outside rusher, when you're coming around the edge you want the quarterback to stay in that pocket. If there is no interior rush, it allows the quarterback to escape, to step into his throw or step up to avoid the outside pressure."
Houston defensive end J.J. WATT knows from experience how inside pressure from the defensive front can wreak havoc in the passing game. Watt is tied for an NFL-best with 24 sacks since 2012.
"You can disrupt the quarterback just by causing pressure up the middle," says Watt. "Whereas on the outside you really have to get to the quarterback to disrupt him."
The 6-0 Kansas City Chiefs have placed a high emphasis on getting to the passer. The Chiefs defensive unit ranks first in the NFL with 31 sacks this season, tied for the fifth-most sacks in the first six games of a season since 1963 when team sacks became an official NFL statistic (individual sacks became an official statistic in 1982).
Chiefs' second-year nose tackle DONTARI POE has been the catalyst for Kansas City's defense collapsing the pocket. The former Memphis product has already registered a career-best 4.5 sacks in 2013.
"He's the classic guy to push the pocket, but Poe can beat you individually," says Chiefs defensive coordinator BOB SUTTON. "Dontari can go by you just like one of the edge rushers can get past you, so he provides both things to our defense. That whole combination can be really good for us."
Added Chiefs linebacker JUSTIN HOUSTON, who is tied for an NFL-best with 9.5 sacks this season, "He's played a major role. Any time you can get a big guy up there to push the center back into the quarterback's face and not allow the quarterback to step up, it's a whole lot easier to bring pressure off the edge. Without him, I wouldn't have gotten at least a couple of those sacks."
Teams with the most sacks in the first six games of a season since team sacks became official in the NFL in 1963:
MOST SACKS IN FIRST SIX GAMES
Los Angeles Rams
Kansas City Chiefs
Cincinnati Pro Bowl defensive tackle GENO ATKINS, who leads NFL defensive tackles with 24 sacks since 2011, has been an integral part of the Bengals' pass rush. Since 2012, the Bengals have registered 69 sacks, tied for the most in the NFL during that span (DENVER, 69).
"This guy has some power rushes where he just takes linemen back and it just looks like they're on roller skates," says Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK. "He just walks them, literally, right back into the quarterback. He's very quick. He can get the edge. Then when they try to take those quick moves away from him, he can turn those into power moves and collapse the pocket. He can ruin a game, there's no question the guy can ruin a game by himself. He's a factor in the running game, he's a factor in the passing game."
BEARS' DEFENSE KEEPS SCORING
The Chicago Bears are 4-2 and are tied for first place in the NFC North. One of the keys to Chicago's success has been the team's opportunistic defense.
"The Chicago Bears' defense is one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL," says NFL Network analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer DEION SANDERS. "They go after the ball when the ball is in the other team's possession. They know how to take the ball away."
This season, the Bears have scored four touchdowns on defense: three interception-return touchdowns and a fumble-return touchdown.
"That's what we do, we take the ball away," says Chicago defensive end JULIUS PEPPERS, who returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown in the Bears' Week 3 win at Pittsburgh. "We stress it in practice every day, and it carries over to the game. We have to continue to do that on a weekly basis to continue to win, and I believe we'll be able to do that."
2nd Quarter, 2:51
2nd Quarter, 8:57
4th Quarter, 3:57
New York Giants
1st Quarter, 9:50
In last week's win over the New York Giants, Chicago cornerback TIM JENNINGSreturned an interception 48 yards for the game's first score in a 27-21 victory. It marked the second interception-return touchdown for Jennings this season – the most in the NFL – and his third over the past two years – tied for the most in the league.
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Bears have recorded 11 interception-return touchdowns, far and away the most in the NFL. Chicago is 9-0 over the past two seasons in games in which the Bears record an interception-return touchdown.
St. Louis Rams
San Diego Chargers
"The Bears' defense can go from defense to offense instantaneously," says Sanders.
Over the past 20 games, Chicago's 11 interception-return touchdowns are tied for the most over any 20-game span in NFL history.
September 23, 2012-October 10, 2013
January 1, 2012-September 22, 2013
Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers
November 20, 1960-September 7, 1962
Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers
November 27, 1960-September 16, 1962
In the past decade (since the start of the 2004 season), the Bears have 29 interception-return touchdowns, the most in the NFL. During that span, Chicago is 22-4 (.846) in games in which the Bears score an interception-return touchdown.
"It happens a lot around here," says Bears quarterback JAY CUTLER about the team's defensive scores. "I think we're getting a little bit used to it. They make the big plays and their ability to create turnovers is fun to watch."
Green Bay Packers
The Bears have won 12 in a row when recording an interception-return touchdown and 20 of their past 21 such contests.
"This is what the Bears do," says NFL Network analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer MARSHALL FAULK. "The defense practices taking the ball away and then everybody has to sprint to the end zone."