Bye Week Report Card: Defense

There was talk in Bourbonnais that the Bears might field one of the best defenses in the history of the league. But since holding down first LaDainian Tomlinson and then Larry Johnson, things have gone horribly wrong. Your Editor in Chief hands out his midseason report card for the defense.

RUSHING DEFENSE
Raw Numbers:
130.9 yards per game (26th), 4.6 yards per carry (T-26th), 8 touchdowns allowed (T-28th), long rush of 73 yards (29th)

The Skinny: Head coach Lovie Smith's defensive approach is relatively simple and predicated on forcing turnovers, but a lack of size up front can be exploited if those turnovers don't come. Losing both S Mike Brown and DT Dusty Dvoracek in the season opener was a crushing blow, and a litany of other injuries to quality players at key positions has certainly made it tough on freshman defensive coordinator Bob Babich to live up to the high standards on defense that the Windy City expects. Nevertheless, Dallas' Marion Barber III ran over everybody during the second half of Week 3, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson racked up a franchise record 224 yards rushing in Week 6, and Kevin Jones topped the century mark for the first time all season in Week 8 – all three of those embarrassments came at the supposedly friendly confines of Soldier Field.


LB Lance Briggs
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thumbs Up: While Brian Urlacher is dealing with arthritis in his back and doesn't resemble the player who was voted Defensive Player of the Year just two seasons ago, Lance Briggs has established himself as the best linebacker in Chicago. One of the top open-field tacklers in football, Briggs leads the team with 50 stops even though he missed the second half of the Dallas game in Week 3 and all of the Detroit game in Week 4 with a groin injury. If Urlacher's health problems turn out to be significant, GM Jerry Angelo may have to think twice about throwing a big bag of money at Briggs' feet in order to keep his defense relatively intact.

Thumbs Down: Mark Anderson replaced Alex Brown in the starting lineup at right defensive end, and while he does look like a potentially great pass-rusher in this league, he is not getting the job done in run support. Brown has never had fewer than 40 tackles in a season and registered as many as 58 (2003), yet Anderson has only 14 total tackles in eight starts. Brown is still a more well-rounded player and never did anything to warrant his demotion in the first place, plus Anderson was so effective last year as a rookie when he was just a situational substitution on passing downs.

MIDSEASON GRADE: Holding down reigning MVP LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers in Week 1 and Larry Johnson of the Chiefs in Week 2 keeps this mark from being much worse ... C-minus

PASSING DEFENSE
Raw Numbers:
227.5 yards per game (24th), 67.1 completion percentage (29th), 9 touchdowns allowed (T-15th), 5 interceptions (T-25th), 25 sacks (2nd)

The Skinny: There is a reason why the organization locked up both starting cornerbacks, Charles Tillman on the left side and Nathan Vasher on the right, to lucrative contract extensions before the season started. They make up one of the better corner combinations in the entire NFL, a fact that has only been highlighted after Vasher went down with a groin injury during the Dallas game in Week 3 – he hasn't played since but could be ready for the Raiders in Week 10 after the bye. Safety-turned-corner-turned-safety-again Danieal Manning is getting worse instead of better because the coaching staff can't figure out what to do with him, and although the pass rush up front has been pretty good most of the season, both safety positions are a liability in coverage right now should the enemy quarterback be given reasonable time to throw.


DT Tommie Harris
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thumbs Up: Tommie Harris is arguably the best defensive tackle in the business and was missed last season after tearing a hamstring in Week 13, and even though he's battled problems with that hammy in addition to a knee sprain thus far, he's already racked up a career-high 7.0 sacks and appears to be borderline unblockable at times. Even though he's started next to three different nose tackles this year – Dvoracek, Darwin Walker, and Anthony Adams – he makes a living in the opponent's backfield and allows the likes of Anderson and Adewale Ogunleye to see one-on-one blocking off the edge more often than not. He's a free agent after the 2008 season, and Angelo simply must give Harris a blank check right now.

Thumbs Down: Adam Archuleta was benched last season by the Redskins shortly after signing the richest contract in history for a safety, and now Bears fans understand why. Archuleta was a pretty good player for Smith back when the two of them were together in St. Louis, so their reunion in Chicago made a lot of sense because of his previous success in the Cover-2 system. However, he's been dealing with a broken right hand that makes it hard for him to tackle and does not have the speed necessary to be effective in coverage.

MIDSEASON GRADE: The Monsters of the Midway have allowed a passer rating of 93.7 through eight games – 25th in the league – and 26 plays of 20-plus yards through the air ... D-plus

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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