For any nose tackle in the NFL, being pounded by double teams is part of the job. Typically the nose is a big-bodied player who is hard to move, forcing opposing offensive lines to commit two players in an effort to remove him from running lanes.
While most nose tackles can eat space due to their sheer size – particularly in 3-4 systems, where nose guards are ponderous, humungous human beings – Chicago Bears nose Stephen Paea goes about his job a bit differently.
Paea is only 6-1, 300 lbs. His size would make him stand out on the street but on the football field, he's relatively small for his position. Consider one of the best nose tackles in the game, New England's Vincent Wilfork, is 6-2, 325. Usually, the bigger the body, the better the nose tackle. Yet Paea's success comes mainly from his ability gain leverage on offensive linemen, as well as his massive strength – he broke the combine record for bench press reps (49) in 2011. He's able to use those two aspects of his game to successfully take on double teams, which he said is just part of playing his position.
"It's part of the game man," Paea told Bear Report. "It's not like the coaches aren't seeing that. Coach [Rod Marinelli] always says, ‘when you get a double, [you are] creating opportunities for the other guys.'"
Paea also has outstanding quickness and can explode off the ball. So his attitude toward taking on double teams differs from most NFL nose guards.
"Two of the double teams [in the Lions] game I got through," said Paea. "I've got to have that same attitude on double teams. A lot of guys, when they get double teamed, they just stand still."
Paea's blend of size, strength and quickness has made Matt Toeaina, the team's starting nose the past two years, an afterthought. Paea has been so good that the team has de-activated Toeaina in all but two games this season.
Paea has been outstanding at occupying blockers in the middle, allowing the club's Pro Bowl linebackers to make plays behind him. As a result, Chicago's defense currently ranks second in the league against the run.
"I take pride in that. Playing with [Brian] Urlacher and [Lance] Briggs behind me, I tell them, ‘just slap the back of my helmet if anybody touches them', because that motivates me [when] they're mad at me."
Yet Paea's contributions aren't just limited to stuffing the run. He plays with enough speed that the team can leave him in on passing downs, where he's arguably one of the best pass-rushing nose tackles in the league. He currently has 2.0 sacks, to go along with seven quarterback hurries. His prowess on passing downs means opposing offenses can't pay too much attention to his teammates, lest they risk allowing Paea into the backfield.
"Paea is just a beast in there," said Henry Melton. "Sometimes the center wants to slide back and help on me and he demands that it takes two. It has definitely been good to have him there."
Paea continues to quietly do his job in the trenches while the rest of the defense gets all the accolades. Although Paea – a quiet, unassuming player – doesn't mind if his teammates get all of the attention. He's just happy to be part of one of the best defenses in the NFL.
"For me to do my job, I'm part of the crew," he said. "I'm part of the Monsters of the Midway."
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.