Defenders OK with Carrying the Load

LB Brian Urlacher (Al Pereira/Getty)

The Chicago Bears have been solid on D for most of the Lovie Smith regime, and although the offense is better now than it's been in the past, Brian Urlacher and Co. don't mind tugging the extra weight.

A repeat of the tackle-breaking, 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch that clinched the Seahawks' upset of the Saints last week isn't likely to happen against the Bears.

"The thing is, we run to the football," said leading tackler and seven-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. "If there are missed tackles, there are [other] guys coming to hopefully tackle him. That was a good run, but a lot of missed tackles on that play."

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli considers Lynch a talented runner but not someone who can't be handled.

"He's a good back," Marinelli. "We play good backs every week. But it comes down to us. We've got to tackle well. We've got to play our gaps. We have got to work as a team. We've got to have great teamwork together. We've got to swarm to the ball. Any great back we play, nothing changes."

Only the Steelers allowed fewer rushing yards this season than the Bears, who limited Lynch to 44 yards on 17 carries for a 2.6-yard average in Week 6. The Bears' defense was also No. 4 in points allowed and No. 6 in third-down efficiency.

So, as much buzz as the late-season improvement of the offense created, the Bears' postseason success will be linked to the performance of the defense.

That's where most of the team's playoff experience can be found. 10 defensive starters have played in the postseason before, eight of them with the Bears. Just four offensive starters have been to the playoffs. While only three offensive starters have played at least seven years in the league, eight of the defensive starters have played at least that long.

"That's big," Marinelli said. "The intensity picks up. More important than that is every detail matters, and they understand it."

With experience come expectations, and the defense welcomes the role of big brother.

CB Charles Tillman
Tom Dahlin/Getty

"It's nice because we don't ever get too rattled," Urlacher said. "Plus our coaching staff's been around for a while as well. There are some exciting times, but we stay pretty even-keeled most of the time."

Because Bears coach Lovie Smith is a defensive coach by nature, he tends to lean on that side of the ball, according to cornerback Charles Tillman, who's been a starter since the Bears drafted him in the second round in 2003.

When the Bears dropped roughly $90 million on six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers in the offseason, it raised defensive expectations even higher, but that's fine with the group.

"We take on the responsibility," Tillman said. "It also helps that Coach Smith is a defensive head coach. Every game, no matter what the offense does, he's always going to put the game on the defense's shoulders. That's just the kind of guy he is. If they can't score points, we win the game. That's his motto. We welcome the responsibility."

While Smith believes "burden" is too strong a word to describe the role of the defense, he does have high expectations for that side of the ball.

"I do expect a lot from the defense," he said. "There are more veteran players that have been in the playoffs for us on that side of the ball."

Urlacher, Tillman, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije and Tommie Harris have gone to battle together for seven years and they know what to expect from each other, and from more recent additions who have quickly blended in.

"I know what I'm going to get out of 'Peanut' (Tillman)," Briggs said. "I know what I'm going to get out of Brian, I know what I'm going to get out of Peppers. I know what I'm going to get out of 'Double A' (Anthony Adams). That's what confidence means to us. We know what we're going to get out of every one of these players."

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