Chicago has a reputation
for having one of the better defenses in the NFL, but that's not exactly
the case. In fact, they are pretty ordinary. The Bears are 19th in
points per game, and 25th in yards. They don't do anything particularly
well, and are especially prone to the passing attack, entering Monday
night ranked 28th in the league.
The reason is quite simple: they
are a unit anchored by three aging playmakers who are surrounded by
otherwise pedestrian talent.
RDE Julius Peppers
One of the few
gems from 2010's free agent class, Peppers migrated north from Carolina
last spring and enjoyed a fine first season in his new uniform. His
eight sacks were a little deceptive, as he was still disruptive and
commanded extra attention from time to time. Plus, he forced three
fumbles and intercepted two passes. Even at 31, there aren't many
defensive ends who can wreak havoc in such a variety of manners.
are signs he is finally slowing down in his tenth season though.
Peppers has just four sacks so far, and he's created zero turnovers. To
be fair, he was fighting through a sprained MCL at one point, and he's
still on pace to match last year's sack total. He's also a 6-7, 287 lbs.
monster-man, so that should probably be noted as well. But Peppers is
not quite the dominant force he was the previous decade either, and
that's good news for Michael Vick and Jason Peters at least.
MLB Brian Urlacher
middle of the field still belongs to Urlacher, who at 33 still has the
range to patrol huge chunks of turf in Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense.
Last season was his first trip to the Pro Bowl since 2006, and he's
working on what would be his eighth selection in 2011, already racking
up three interceptions on the year. He can blitz too, but hasn't visited
the quarterback yet this season. A genetic freak like Peppers, Urlacher
always was one of the few linebackers in the league who could almost
match athletic ability with Vick, and he can quickly turn a
highlight-reel scramble into a costly mistake.
CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman
of the underrated playmakers in all of football, Tillman has been
remarkably consistent throughout his nine-year career. Only twice has he
intercepted fewer than three passes, and he is one of the game's great
strip artists, punching 27 balls free and three or more in five of the
past six seasons. Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant should take note, as
they've each experienced spells of critical ball control issues.
the rest of Chicago's core, Tillman's best days are likely behind him.
He hasn't done a whole lot in 2011 -- zero picks, and two forced
fumbles. And when a cornerback is knocking all those balls loose, that
means wide receivers are making catches. Protect the ball, and you've
And now the rest...
OLB Lance Briggs
get me wrong, Briggs is a fine player, quite possibly the best 4-3
outside linebacker in the NFL since Derrick Brooks. He's a sound
tackler, fits well in the Bears' system, and constantly wants a new
contract, so we've no doubt all heard of him. He's also yet another
30-year-old -- 31 this Saturday -- and doesn't come up with many
game-changing plays. Briggs has 10.5 sacks and 13 INTs in nine seasons.
A sound veteran player, a perfect fit for their system... and possibly a
LDE Israel Idonije
Not one to buck the trend,
Idonije is also going on 31, but last season was his first as a
full-time starter. He benefited greatly from the presence of Peppers on
the opposite side, doubling his career sack total with eight. He's
having another decent year at three so far, but the Niegerian-Canadian
won't overwhelm linemen, and isn't anything Todd Herremans shouldn't be
able to handle.
DT Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina
Believe it or
not, there is some youth on this defense, including the two starters
along the interior defensive line. A fourth round pick out of Texas last
year, Melton is in his first season as a starter, and has three sacks
thus far. The 27-year-old Toeaina finally stuck as a starter last year.
The former sixth-round pick by Cincinnati missed the last two games due
to injury, and figures to give the run defense a bit of a boost with his
The rotation also features former Texans first round
pick Amobi Okoye, who remarkably is still only 24 in his fifth NFL
season, and Stephen Paea, this year's second rounder who appeared in two
games so far.
S Chris Conte and Major Wright
Chicago also has
a pair of young safeties. Conte is a rookie free safety out of Cal. The
third round pick has seen increased play time lately, taking over as
starter for the disappointing Brandon Meriweather over the last two
weeks, and recording his first interception last week. Wright was a
third round pick last season, and on the heels of the recent release of
Chris Harris, he's pretty much the man at strong safety.
Bears don't ask too much of their safeties in their Cover-2. They are
mostly there to prevent big plays down the field, which is why they can
get away with such inexperienced players. Just don't be surprised to see
a gameplan that attacks them.