With the proliferation of the passing game in the NFL, a stingy run defense seemingly has lost some of its value. But the Bears realize that stopping an opponent's ground game is paramount to success.
"It's still important because most offenses in this league, if they can bludgeon you with the run, they will," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
"Now sometimes there isn't as much patience as there used to be around the league with that. But if you're not doing well against the run, now you start playing stuff that makes the passes even better for them. So the value of the run has gone down a little bit just because of the way teams are playing, but if [a good run defense] is not there, it will bother you."
A perfect example came last Sunday when the Bears beat the Jets 24-10 at Soldier Field. Asked what aspect of the defense he was most proud of, Fangio pointed to a run defense that allowed just 57 yards on 24 carries, a 2.4-yard average.
"I thought we did a good job playing the run, better than we had recently, which is something that [the Jets] had done really well coming into our game," Fangio said. "That was probably the highlight."
The Bears defense currently ranks third in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of just 83.1 yards per game. The unit has permitted just two 100-yard rushers in its last 25 games, with only the Dolphins' Frank Gore accomplishing the feat with 101 yards on 15 carries Oct. 14 in Miami.
"If you can't stop the run," said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, "they'll run on you all day and it's demeaning to a defense."
This weekend's opponent, the Bills, rank 23rd in the NFL in rushing. The Buffalo ground game is led by running backs LeSean McCoy (75 carries for 257 yards) and Chris Ivory (73-244).
"They've got the perfect mix-and-match combo," Hicks said. "They've got Ivory, who can go downhill, and then you've got 'Shady' (McCoy), who likes to dance and is elusive. They've got a good mixture."
Hicks is among a new breed of versatile NFL defensive linemen that excels against both the run and pass.
"There aren't guys like [run-stuffers] Casey Hampton, Vince Wilfork and Tony Siragusa anymore," Hicks said. "To play defensive line in this league and be effective and play for a long time, you've got to be able to rush the passer and play the run. I think the emphasis has been taken away a little bit from guys that can just step in and be run-cloggers."
While that may be true, a defense that can stop the run is bound to be much more successful than one that can't.
"It makes it a lot harder [on offenses] because it can force you to become one dimensional," said coach Matt Nagy. "As a play-caller, if the runs aren't working, it can force you to not be as persistent with it. As far as us on defense, that's really great for us to be good against the run and force teams into throwing the ball. That's an advantage for us."