Bears Monday Playbook: Paea, others in Pro Bowl conversation
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The future face of the Bears’ defensive line offered a unique tribute to a teammate who has handled the dirty work for the last three years.
“Paea for president,” rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said.
That won’t happen, but “Stephen Paea for Pro Bowl” might work.
The 2014 season has been a fiasco. But there are a few players such as Paea who have performed well enough to deserve some attention amid the mess.
“It’s been my best season personally . . . and there are a lot of reasons why,” Paea said before shrugging off the consideration in light of the Bears’ woes.
Paea led all defensive tackles in Pro Bowl votes as of last week’s official tally on NFL.com. The last day to vote is Monday. It can be considered a consolation prize for a nose tackle who dealt with injuries his first three seasons and has a new deal to earn.
“You appreciate all the fans,” Paea said.
In the Bears’ scheme, Paea typically is responsible for handling double teams and preventing guards from reaching the linebackers. He’s not a pass-rushing three-technique in the mold of Henry Melton (Cowboys) or Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers).
But Paea has been productive. He has taken advantage of the pass-rush snaps provided by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and line coach Paul Pasqualoni in light of injuries to Lamarr Houston and Jeremiah Ratliff.
Entering Week 15, Paea was sixth among defensive tackles in sacks with six. According to the Bears’ reviews, Paea also has 10 quarterback hits, two batted passes, a forced fumble and 27 solo tackles. His numbers look even better in Pro Football Focus’ advanced analyses.
“Every year [the Pro Bowl has] been a goal,” Paea said. “For every player, if you don’t come in here and you don’t want to be a Pro Bowler, there’s something wrong with you.”
Pasqualoni, Tucker and coach Marc Trestman have commended Paea at various times this season. He also has made a fan out of Jared Allen, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
“He has a lot of upside,” Allen said. “He’s strong as all can be. Obviously, he’s showing signs that he’s one of those guys that can rush from a nose position. . . . He’s going to be really, really good. He’s already doing great things for us.”
And he needs to be re-signed.
Paea wasn’t drafted by general manager Phil Emery, but he has proved that he can excel under two coaching staffs. The 2014 selections of Ferguson and Will Sutton have only spurred Paea, a second-round pick in 2011.
“It’s either you do your job or you’re out,” Paea said. “I had no other options.”
Paea considers Chicago home.
“It’s a business, but this has been my family for the last four years of my life,” Paea said. “It’s a big deal [to stay here].”
Here’s a look at the Bears’ best chances for the Pro Bowl:
Tight end Martellus Bennett: He has become a top target for quarterback Jay Cutler, setting individual highs. He had the most catches by a tight end with 77 entering Week 15. He also was third in receiving yards at 821. His 77 receptions broke Mike Ditka’s team record for tight ends.
Running back Matt Forte: He entered Week 15 third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage at 1,578. Before Sunday, he also was the only player in the NFL with at least 800 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards. He could surpass 100 catches.
Right guard Kyle Long: He quickly has become one of the NFL’s most consistent guards. According to Pro Football Focus, Long only has allowed Cutler to be hit twice.
COACH’S CORNER — Looking at Saints tight end Jimmy Graham with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker
‘‘[Graham is] big. He’s fast. He’s strong. He has a big catch radius. They use him all over the formation to create mismatches. They try to get him on a linebacker. They try to get him on a safety, try to get him on the corner. He’s toward the top of the league in terms of run-and-catch tight ends. He’s a matchup problem on every film that you put in.
‘‘We’ll put together a plan. Obviously, we need to know where he is at all times. People have tried different things with him. None of it has seemed to work.
‘‘People have . . . tried to jam him at the line. That has been effective at times, but he does do a good job against press coverage, as well. He’s a really good player.
‘‘The tight ends like Martellus [Bennett and Graham], those guys are big. They’re usually a tougher matchup for the linebackers because of the speed and agility. And then, it’s the size mismatch on the defensive backs, whether they’re corners or safeties. Therein lies the matchup dilemma that you face with most of the really good run-and-catch tight ends. Typically, offenses do a really good job with formations. They put them in different positions to work on those mismatches or give them free access.’’
UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT — CHRISTIAN JONES
As the Bears make their evaluations over the last three games, general manager Phil Emery and Co. can pat themselves on the back for signing undrafted rookie linebacker Christian Jones out of Florida State.
Jones has had his ups and downs — and that will continue Monday night against the Saints — but he’s starting to look like starting material as his experience catches up to his natural talents and ideal frame.
Jones will be making his third start.
He has worked all week at weak-side linebacker in the base and nickel packages.
“You’re seeing [his development] on tape,” coach Marc Trestman said.
“He’s playing faster. He’s long. He’s a guy who’ll go out and hit you. And he’s learning. He is growing as he gets more game opportunities. We’re excited about him and the direction he’s going.”