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Dissecting the D

What makes Chicago's defense so tough

Posted: Thursday February 1, 2007 2:24PM; Updated: Thursday February 1, 2007 2:33PM
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Brian Urlacher's ability to cover receivers adds another dimension to the Bears' defense.
Brian Urlacher's ability to cover receivers adds another dimension to the Bears' defense.
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Back in the early fall, comparisons were being drawn between the 2006 Chicago Bears' defense and the fierce 1985 unit that was truly one of the best in NFL history. After a 40-7 beatdown of the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field last Oct. 8, in which the Bills scored a meaningless touchdown with 66 seconds to play, Bears' defenders were genuinely livid in the postgame locker room.

In all, the Bears surrendered 10 points or fewer in five of their first seven games and a total of only 69 points. Then came a 31-13 home loss to Miami that burst the bubble. By December, strong safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Tommie Harris, two of the most vital pieces to the Bears' D, were on the disabled list and Chicago was giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter to Tampa Bay.

Still, the Bears finished first in the NFC (and fifth in the entire league) in total defense and forced more turnovers (44) than any other team in the NFL, including four against New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game. They are not an epic, history-making unit, but they are a formidable bunch.

Eight things you need to know about the Bears' defense:

1) They want to play Tampa Two -- The Bears are the ultimate Tampa (Cover) Two team. They want to stuff the Colts on first down and make them predictable on second and third, so they can sit in their Cover Two shell, bend-but-not-break, make tackles and get off the field. Likewise, they want to get a lead and do the same thing: Make you catch up four yards at a time, which will take approximately forever.

2) And they're good at it -- As I wrote in a Sports Illustrated November feature on the Tampa Two, the Bears play this defense as well as anybody in history. If you don't believe me, believe Brett Favre. He said it, too. You could make a Cover Two blueprint from the Bears' defense (especially when Brown and Harris were healthy): A front four that pressures the quarterback without blitzes, athletic outside linebackers (Hunter Hillenmeyer and, especially, Lance Briggs) who make plays in space, physical corners (Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher) and ball-hawking, punishing safeties (Brown when he was healthy, but now Chris Harris and Danieal Manning). And of course: ...

3) Brian Urlacher -- The freakishly talented middle linebacker who elevates the entire operation. Urlacher can cover slot receivers 30 yards down the middle of the field and also rally to running plays just beyond the line of scrimmage. There hasn't been a Cover Two Mike linebacker like him since Jack Lambert of the Steelers in the 70's, and as Archie Manning said to me last week, "Jack probably weighed 215 by the end of the year; Urlacher weighs 260.''

4) As the Carter High coach said in Friday Night Lights, (the movie, not the TV show), "They do know how to tackle.'' -- This is what Detroit Lions' quarterback Jon Kitna said about the Bears' defense: "They seem unbelievably fast. They close on the ball so quickly and then tackle. They make it look almost like defensive players are just faster than offensive players.'' Space closes down. Ballcarriers wind up on the ground. Tampa Two was designed to allow four- and five-yard gains. The Bears, when they are clicking, allow two- and three-yard gains, even on checkdown completions.

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