The Bears' No. 2 run defense will be tested Thursday night by Dolphins running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, who have both trampled them in the past.
In the Bears' 2006 Super Bowl season ,they opened with seven straight wins before the Dolphins came to Soldier Field and shocked them 31-13, forcing six turnovers and getting 157 rushing yards from Brown on 29 carries.
"Yeah, they pounded us last time," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "They beat us pretty good. We haven't had a good history with them."
Four years earlier, the Dolphins trounced the Bears 27-9 on Monday night in South Florida, and Williams rolled for 216 yards on 31 carries, including touchdowns of 63 and 15 yards. In three career games vs. the Bears, Williams has rushed for 428 yards on 82 carries for a 5.2-yard average and three touchdowns.
Brown and Williams have been even more dangerous operating out of the Dolphins' Wildcat formation, with Brown taking a direct snap from center. Since the formation was unveiled early in the '08 season, Brown has run 118 times for 640 yards, a 5.4-yard average, and seven touchdowns. He has also completed 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards and two more touchdowns.
"The Dolphins can pose some problems for you with their Wildcat formation and running the football," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It's always tough when you go down there. We're expecting another physical football game."
But the novelty of the Wildcat seems to be wearing off. On 16 runs this season, Brown has just 36 yards for a 2.3-yard average and no touchdowns.
The effectiveness of the gimmick has diminished each season. In '08, 85 run plays from Wildcat generated 516 yards for a 6.1-yard average and six touchdowns. The next season, 84 runs produced 439 yards, a 5.2-yard average and seven scores. On 25 Wildcat runs this season, the Dolphins have just 79 yards, a 3.2-yard average and no touchdowns.
Teams have figured out how to better defend the trick play, but the Dolphins might be inclined to serve the Bears a bigger dose with third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen forced into service. If that's the case, the Bears are ready.
"The key to stopping them is tackling the guy with the football," Urlacher said, not entirely in jest. "Figure out where he's going and go get it. The thing about it is, if you read your keys, they'll take you to the football in our defense.
"A lot of people see the Wildcat and they freeze. We don't. We get downhill. If we do that, we'll be OK. They do a lot of different formations from the Wildcat, motioning, and they'll put three or four running backs in there, so it's just reading our keys. We have a key on every play."
Brown is also capable of throwing the ball, but that aspect of the formation also seems to have outlived its usefulness.
In the first year of its use, the Dolphins scored two touchdowns on just four passes from the Wildcat formation, and last year they scored once on seven passes. Both pass attempts this year have been incomplete.
"I hope he throws it," Urlacher said. "We'll let the DBs worry about that. We'll worry about him running the ball and all that stuff. If he's throwing to the quarterback, we'll probably be in good shape. I know he's thrown some touchdowns, but our guys read their keys pretty good back there."
WR Devin Hester
NOTES AND QUOTES
Devin Hester came close, but he wasn't able to establish the NFL career record for kick-return touchdowns Sunday at Soldier Field.
Doing it in South Florida Thursday night against the Dolphins might be even more rewarding, since Hester is from nearby Riviera Beach and will have around 40 friends and family members watching.
"I'm hoping to put on a show for my family," said Hester, who took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI the last time he played in what is now called Sun Life Stadium.
Because it was the postseason, that one didn't count among his 13 kick-return TDs, which leaves him tied with Brian Mitchell for the career record. But returning to the scene of maybe his most memorable touchdown isn't as important to Hester as getting to play in front of his people.
"It's just being able to be back at home with my family and those people other than my mom and my dad and my brother, who don't get a chance to get out and watch me play, like my aunt, cousins and stuff like that. They'll get an opportunity to see me, too."
Hester, who seems to have an incredible flair for the dramatic, admits it's different playing to a captive audience.
"I don't get as fatigued," he said. I'm just playing. It's going to be very exciting. "I couldn't do it last week, so I [thought], If it's not in Chicago, it might be a good idea to do it down there."
Hester has scored his 13 TDs in just 69 games and on 268 total chances. Mitchell played 223 games and had 1,070 chances. ...
In addition to keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright, the improved protection by the offensive line in the past two games is allowing the quarterback to scramble for important yardage.
"The guys are protecting up front and they're giving me some time back there, so some lanes are opening up," said Cutler, who has bolted the pocket six times in the past two weeks for 68 yards. "If no one's open, I'm probably going to take off and try to make something happen, either through the ground or move the pocket and throw it. The longer you're back there and creating opportunities for the guys, the better off you're going to be."
Cutler said knowing when to take off and when not to takes time to learn.
"You can't practice that," he said. "That's just got to come with experience with the same guys in game situations. We're starting to build that, and they're starting to get more of a feel for what I'm going to do and I'm getting a feel for what they're going to do." ...
The Bears have a short turnaround this week before a Thursday night game in South Florida against the Dolphins, who lost their top two quarterbacks in a 29-17 victory over the Titans.
"It's just playing football," said nickel back D.J. Moore, who had one of the Bears' three interceptions. "It's very easy after a win, and we get to go down to Miami anyway, so I'm excited. I like playing football, but I like Miami, too."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"When you have a short week like we do to get ready for a game, I guess it can cause problems for some people, but not really for us. We played pretty good Sunday, so we're anxious to get back out on the football field and play again." – Bears coach Lovie Smith
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