Chicago Getting Downright Defensive

LAKE FOREST, IL — The Bears aren't known for fancy-pants offense. Sure, we'll never forget the way they thrilled the nation with the T-formation, but true fans of this team would rather talk about the 46 defense than the West Coast offense.

It's a simple truth that the citizens of Chicago care more about middle linebacker than quarterbacks.

Offense is great for some towns, but for the City of Broad Shoulders it's always been the defense that you pay to see. And if the opening of the season is no illusion--and there is no reason to think it isn't--the monsters of the midway are going to be a hot ticket for some time to come.

"It's coming around,'' defensive tackle Ted Washington said. "We got a good little ways to go, but it is coming around to the point where we are going to be a great defense.

"Just put up some points and we'll get the job done. Give us 10 points and we'll show people we can get the job done."

Washington spoke those words following the Bears 31-3 victory at Atlanta where the defense produced seven sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one knocked out quarterback, literally, and a near TKO on another.

It was a very important victory for the Bears because this is the kind of game good teams win. Good teams win when they have two weeks to prepare for an opponent. They beat teams that play without their best running back and best receiver. They win on the road. In domes. On turf. Good teams dominate on one side of the ball. Good teams watch their young players grow up, virtually overnight.

The Bears game plan heading into this season was to play ball control offense and dominate on defense. With Miller at quarterback they suddenly have big play capability on offense. Couple that with big play capability on defense and you get the team's most lopsided victory in nearly a decade.

"I think people realize we're a pretty good defense,'' said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who figures the tape of this game will alert nonbelievers to that fact in a hurry.

"We want people to know what they're going to get. That way they can expect it from us when they get it."

Urlacher pulled off the football equivalent of hitting for the cycle against the Falcons. He was named the NFC's defensive player of the week after a game that included eight tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

You really can't have a more complete game than that. Yet, while Urlacher was sensational, he didn't even lead the Bears in tackles. Warrick Holdman pulled off that feat with nine which gives him 27 on the year, or one more than Urlacher. Not to be outdone, the Bears other linebacker, Rosevelt Colvin, managed two and a half sacks, sharing one with Holdman.

Safeties Tony Parrish and Mike Brown both made interceptions, defensive end Phillip Daniels added a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Bears defender who didn't play well on Sunday. The improved defense is evident to anyone who suffered from the strange optical phenomena last year known, for lack of a better expression, as the Urlacher Effect.

When you watched the Bears in Urlacher's rookie year, your eyes would be drawn to the tall, rangy linebacker with world class closing speed. Didn't matter where the ball was going because sooner or later, Urlacher would get there. Even if you attempted to concentrate on some interesting matching on the line or downfield, you would end up watching Urlacher. It was unavoidable. The Urlacher Effect was commented on by opposing coaches, scouts around the league and even Bears players themselves as they studied game film.

Urlacher still is playing at a high level, but he doesn't stand out as much because other players are demanding attention too.

"Last year Brian had a phenomenal year, a Pro Bowl year, but we were still not that good a defense,'' Holdman said. "Now, everyone wants to be like that. It's not that we want to be like Urlacher, but we want to have the kind of success he's had. We're all striving to achieve at that level."

Defensive end Carl Powell, who signed with the Bears in the off-season after spending last year with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens said the Bears young defenders are all improving at the same time in much the way Baltimore's defense started making it's transition into a championship team.

He said that is especially evident in the linebacking corps where Holdman and Colvin are taking a step forward to complement Urlacher just like Peter Bouleware and Darren Sharper did with Ray Lewis.

"Everyone is getting a sense of urgency now,'' Powell said. "Everyone wants to be accountable. I see that here the way I saw it in Baltimore. Everyone wants to make a play. Everyone wants to be responsible. Everyone wants to take it on their shoulders."

Safety Mike Brown, one of the unheralded heroes of Sunday's game and the Bears defensive resurgence, said there is a healthy competition going on within the team to be the guy who turns a game.

"What it comes down to is we're all competitive,'' Brown said. "Once someone makes a play, it's like: 'All right, it's my turn. I want a little of the spotlight too." Once you start thinking like that, big plays happen.''

As unpopular as the idea may be to some, credit also has to go to Mark Hatley, Bill Rees and the other members of the personnel department who drafted players like Holdman, Colvin, Brown, Parrish and Jerry Azumah, who seem to be growing up together almost overnight.

While the Bears missed on first round picks with Curtis Enis and Cade McNown, they struck gold with Urlacher.

"Lack stands out still,'' Colvin said. "He still makes a lot of plays like you saw on Sunday. He has the talent to do things other people can't and the speed to make up for the mistakes he was making them last year.

"When Warrick and I came in we weren't first round picks so we had to learn the system instead of them adjusting the system to us. Now we are mature and we understand what is going on and where we need to be and we're making our share of plays."

Urlacher remains the star of the Bears defense. But now he's not alone.

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