Urlacher on the Blitz

Brian Urlacher can run, tackle and cover with the best linebackers in the league. Yet his speed and athleticism also allow him to be successful in another area of the game: pass rush.

The Chicago Bears defense is one that does not rely on the blitz to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. The majority of the time, pressure needs to come from the front four, allowing the other seven players to drop into coverage. It's a bend-but-don't-break system, and one of the main reasons the team spent so much money on Julius Peppers last offseason.

Yet, coach Lovie Smith's unit isn't afraid to bring the heat when the situation calls for it. From the nickel position, D.J. Moore was outstanding as a rusher. Pro Football Focus (PFF) uses a Pressure Percentage formula, calculated by dividing the number of total blitzes by the number of QB disruptions (sacks, hits and pressures). In 2010, Moore had the sixth-best Pressure Percentage of any cornerback in the league.

Moore isn't the only one on the team who excels when getting after the quarterback. PFF recently analyzed every linebacker in the league in 2010 and put each player's performance into a formula called Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP). The formula adds up all the sacks, hits and hurries a defender gets and divides it by the number of snaps they spent rushing the passer, then multiplies it by 100.

LB Brian Urlacher
Mike DiNovo/US Presswire

Using that formula, the top blitzing linebackers in 2010 were Green Bay's Desmond Bishop (20.05 PRP), Denver's D.J. Williams (14.06) and Minnesota's Chad Greenway (13.74). Fourth on the list was Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, with a PRP of 12.50. He blitzed 96 times last year, resulting in 14 total pressures, four of which were sacks.

This just further reiterates Urlacher's value to the defense. He not only runs down ball carriers from sideline to sideline while still being able to cover the deep middle zone in the Cover 2, but he can also create havoc when he blitzes.

PFF also analyzed the PRP performances of linebackers over the past three seasons. Urlacher ranked 17th (9.71) in the league during that span. His partner in crime, linebacker Lance Briggs, finished 31st out of the 38 players that qualified. Which shows its much more effective to send the speedy Urlacher than the hard-hitting Briggs.

Another point of interest was the player who finished directly behind Urlacher in PRP in 2010: Carolina's James Anderson (12.40). Not only did Anderson rack up 130 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception his first full season as a starter, but he also was very effective as a blitzer. He will be a free agent once the lockout ends. If the Bears are unable or unwilling to bring back Nick Roach to man the strong side, the front office should look to Anderson (6-2, 235) as a starting option. He's a very good all-around player who would fit well next to the two Pro Bowlers already on the roster.

Going forward, the team should continue to deploy Urlacher on blitzes. His ability to disrupt the pass game while getting after the quarterback should not be underutilized. With Peppers taking up so much attention off the edge, seams open up in the middle through which Urlacher can run. His speed allows him to quickly make up that ground and put pressure on the opposing QB.

If the team brings on Anderson, and continues to deploy Moore in nickel situations, it would have a fierce group of second-level players to send into opposing backfields.

Urlacher peaked his rookie year with 8.0 sacks. If Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli can build some creative blitz packages this year that utilize the unit's best player, Urlacher could again reach that sack total.

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