Notebook: Bears defense "vintage"

Bears LB Lance Briggs says Chicago's defense isn't aging, it's vintage, like a fine wine. We also bring you news and notes from Rod Marinelli, Brian Urlacher, the team's safeties and more.

The Chicago Bears are riding a three-game win streak and coming off their most impressive victory of the season. Against Philadelphia on Monday night, Chicago's defense shut down the vaunted offensive attack of the Eagles. QB Michael Vick passed for just 213 yards, rushed for just 34 yards and had zero touchdowns. The speedy receiver duo of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson was limited to six total catches for 79 yards. And RB LeSean McCoy, the league's second-leading rusher coming into the game, picked up only 71 yards on the ground.

The defensive coaches were creative with their blitz packages and did a good job mixing up their coverages. Yet Lance Briggs said that, more than any schematic adjustments, the defense simply did a better job of executing.

"It comes back to just executing," said Briggs. "We did things on defense that we needed to do. We did things on offense that ate up time and scored points. We took the ball away on special teams. The formula for winning, for us, is real simple."


LB Lance Briggs
Howard Smith/US Presswire

The Bears now head home for an NFC North showdown with the Lions. Detroit worked over Chicago in the first meeting between the two clubs, racking up 395 total yards, 181 of which came on the ground. Yet most of the damage was done on a pair of big plays: a 73-yard TD reception by Calvin Johnson and an 88-yard TD scamper by RB Jahvid Best.

"It was ugly," Brian Urlacher said of the Week 5 contest. "They had three plays for over 200 yards. That can't happen. If we get lit up again, we're not going to play well. We've got to eliminate those."

Luckily for the Bears, Best will miss his third straight game with a concussion. To replace Best, the Lions will rely on Maurice Morris and possibly Kevin Smith, who hasn't played any football since 2010.

Against Philadelphia, the Bears linebackers were all over the field, chasing down both Vick and McCoy on numerous occasions. There is a lot of talk right now that Chicago's two Pro Bowl linebackers are playing at the highest level in their careers, something Urlacher isn't buying.

"Probably not the best we've ever played," said Urlacher. "We're playing decent. We make mistakes still. We can still run a little bit. We know where we're supposed to fit. When you get an athletic quarterbacks like Michael Vick, it gives us a chance to run. We've always been able to run, we can do that still. But I don't think we're playing any better than we have in the past."

It's an impressive feat that these two, both on the wrong side of 30, are still performing at an elite level. Briggs believes they are getting better as they age.

"I think we should change ‘age' to ‘vintage,'" said Briggs.

Have the two players reached their respective peaks?

"I don't know. When does a vintage usually peak? We're nine years in right now, I don't know. We're a pretty expensive bottle right now, I can tell you that much," Briggs said laughing. "It all comes with the territory. As far as I'm concerned, as long as we're playing at a high level, people can call us old all they want. As long as you produce in this game, I don't think it really matters."

Chicago's defense is based on repetition, Urlacher said. So with those two having played together since 2003, it's only to be expected they would be excelling at this point in their careers.

"One thing is repetitiveness of what we do," coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "You do it over and over, it's like a golfer, you do the same thing, working on your stroke, working on your skill, just keep doing it.

"One thing they have, when you're in the system for a long time, you understand everything, and your angles are really good. [Urlacher] gets great jumps with his keys, he knows the game so well. Our system allows your instincts to grow, and his instincts are just incredible right now. He and Lance, both those guys are playing at such a high level. Very efficient."

Developing Safeties

Chicago stared youngsters Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety on Monday for just the second time this season. The duo played very well against the pass and did not allow any big plays downfield.

"I think it's just emphasis on doing our jobs," Marinelli said. "We kind of just took a step back with [Conte and Wright] and we kind of had an OTA mentality. Just make sure we're doing things exactly right, and just repeat it over and over and over again, until we start doing things right again. Technique, those basic things, and usually when those are off, you're off. Having your alignment exact, your landmarks exact, and then you'll start playing better."


S Chris Conte
Kyle Terada/US Presswire

Both players missed a few tackles, something they'll need to clean up going forward. After Wright's second missed tackle, the team inserted veteran Brandon Meriweather in his place. Meriweather has struggled this year since coming over from New England and is still trying to find a place in the Bears' defense. Marinelli said it's likely they'll continue to rotate both players at strong safety.

"They are definitely still rookies," said Briggs. "They're building trust by playing week in and week out. That's something that you have to do and continue to do. The NFL is about consistency. You can come in and play a few good weeks and play good ball and then have some down weeks. If you can consistently put up positive games where you're progressing, as a rookie or as a veteran, you'll earn your stay back there."

Resurgent Unit

Over the last three games, Chicago's defense has allowed an average of just 298 yards per contest, compared to 419 through the first five weeks. Yet a flip switched after the team's last loss – to the Lions in Week 5 – and the team has recently looked like the dominant unit most Bears' fans have come to expect.

So why did it take so long?

"I wish I knew. I wish we all knew, so we could have fixed it earlier," Urlacher said. "We didn't have OTAs. We didn't have all that stuff. Our defense is all about repetition and doing things over and over, which we do all summer long. We do walkthrough, OTAs, over and over seeing plays, especially for our safeties because they are so young, them seeing plays. Now we've seen them all, we're doing a bunch of walkthroughs again. Maybe that has something to do with it.

"We didn't play well. That's all there is to it. Somehow we figured it out, hopefully in the nick of time, so we have a chance to do a little bit better this season."

Injury Notes

-DE Julius Peppers (knee) and DT Matt Toeaina (knee) did not practice today. It's unclear whether either will play but based on his history of toughness, Peppers is likely to suit up.

-S Major Wright participated on a limited basis with an ankle injury. Meriweather will get the full allotment of reps at strong safety if Wright can't go.

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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.


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