A year ago at this time, I felt like the Bears' defensive line consisted of All-Pro Julius Peppers and a whole lot of mediocrity. The numbers backed that up as the 2010 Bears totaled just 34 sacks, finishing 17th in the NFL.
Hey, as good as Peppers is, he can't do it all. When the opposition double-teams Peppers, somebody else has to beat single coverage and get to the other team's quarterback. That didn't happen nearly enough last season.
Coming into this year, I wondered whether the Bears might have the exact same weakness. However, if Sunday's 30-12 victory over Atlanta is any indication, maybe defensive tackle Henry Melton is gonna be the guy to finally give Peppers the help he needs.
Melton finished Sunday's game -- his first career start -- with two sacks, two tackles for loss and SEVEN quarterback hits. That guy was in the backfield a lot. Peppers also recorded two sacks. All told, the Bears sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan five times. Ryan passed for 319 yards as he tried to rally his team from a deficit, but he did not get his team into the end zone a single time. The Falcons' only touchdown came on an interception return.
Only time will tell if Melton is a legitimate answer to the Bears' question marks on the defensive line. But after watching a washed-up, injured Tommie Harris get blocked into oblivion the last two seasons, it's good to see the Bears inject some youth, speed and athleticism into their aging defense. Melton and Amobi Okoye seem capable of providing just that.
For the record, Harris totaled only 1 1/2 sacks all last season. After just one game, Melton already has him beat. Okoye had a sack yesterday, too, so maybe things are finally looking up for the Bears' pass rush. As we all know, the key to any pass defense is a good pass rush. The Bears are a threat in the NFC this year if they can put enough heat on opposing quarterbacks.