The Monsters of the Midway have earned a reputation around the National Football League as a perennial powerhouse on the defensive side of the ball for quite some time, but the numbers say otherwise this season.
The 5-5 Bears are ranked just 19th in total defense, surrendering 336.7 yards per game. Coverage in the secondary has been particularly porous since this D is 30th in passing yards allowed (249.3), although a good amount of the blame must be shared by the defensive line – Chicago's 17 quarterback sacks are tied for just 23rd in the league. And even though this unit had been very strong against the run most of the season, the rival Packers marched up and down the field on the ground to the tune of 200 yards and 5.3 yards per carry this past Sunday.
After a 37-3 beatdown at the hands of Green Bay at noisy Lambeau Field, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs admits that it's getting a little tense these days.
"There's a lot of pressure on us to perform," Briggs said before practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. "There's a lot of pressure on ourselves to stop playing the way that we've played the last couple weeks. But I guess the best thing about it is right now we're tied for first, and it really is a six-game season. Our hopes are going to fall on how we play from here on out."
The Midway Monsters could have taken control of the NFC North with a victory and potentially killed the Packers' playoff chances at the same time, but they were totally outmatched in every phase of the game. Running back Ryan Grant ran for a season-high 145 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a 105.8 passer rating and looked awfully comfortable in the pocket completing 23 of 30 passes. When all was said and done, Green Bay racked up 427 total yards, converted 50 percent of its third-down opportunities, and held a 14:56 advantage in time of possession.
But instead of dwelling on Week 11's embarrassing effort, Briggs and Co. have put that loss in the rearview mirror and turned their focus to Week 12 at St. Louis.
"You've got to have a short memory in football," he said. "There's no such thing as a perfect game. You make a mistake during a game. No matter how well you play, there's a mistake that's going to happen. You have to forget that play. You don't dwell on stuff like that. You have to focus on the task at hand, and by doing that you have to forget the past."
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's gone wrong with the Chicago defense in 2008, but there is no shortage of potentially guilty candidates. The front four isn't generating any push at the line of scrimmage, the linebackers aren't making as many big plays, and the secondary can't keep enemy receivers under wraps. While defensive coordinator Bob Babich might be fighting for his job, head coach Lovie Smith maintains his stance that there's nothing inherently wrong with his Cover-2 scheme – the players, including six current or former Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup, simply have to play better.
Briggs raised some eyebrows last week by saying the Bears will be great again on defense as soon as they decide to be great, and he reiterated that comment despite laying an egg in Titletown.
"I've been saying it for a long time," said Briggs. "I said this defense will play great football when we decide, and our problems are not from our coaching. It's not from the technique. It's not from the defense. It is within ourselves, and that's something we have to solve within our own selves [and] within our group."
A cynic might say that the motor stopped running for many of these big-name defenders once they were given millions of dollars in contract extensions. From face-of-the-franchise linebacker Brian Urlacher to no-longer-a-factor D-tackle Tommie Harris to soon-to-be-benched corner Nathan Vasher, the lure of the colossal payday rewarding maximum production is no longer there. To Briggs' credit, he looks to be in line for his fourth straight trip to Hawaii after signing a $36 million deal back in March.
Briggs believes that some players in the NFL do sit back on their laurels once they've become financially set for life, although he doesn't see that developing in his own locker room.
"I've heard it happens," he said. "I can only speak for myself. I've always played the game the same way. [There has] been no changes. There's never going to be a change, and I've played with the guys here for a long time. There's no way you can convince me that these guys are playing satisfied. Until I believe it with my own eyes, there's no way that I would say that."
The Bears will likely kiss their postseason aspirations goodbye if they find a way to lose Sunday to a terrible Rams team currently sporting a 2-8 record – whether that proves to be the motivation Chicago apparently needs remains to be seen.
"I honestly believe if we want it bad enough," Briggs said, "then people won't be scoring 37 points on us. It's a stick right into your pride. It's a stick right into my pride, I know that much, when teams run the ball at will [and] when they throw the ball all over us. It's not cute. It's not fun to see yourself on somebody else's highlight film. So at some point we're going to have to grab ourselves and do something about it, or continue to be on other people's highlights."
The Rams haven't delivered many highlights – at least not their own – this season, having scored only 32 points combined in their last three games.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
Flip the Switch Already, Mr. Briggs
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