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Bears Tue Oct 16 2012
When Brian Urlacher was asked earlier this week on the Waddle and Silvy Show whether or not this year's defense is the best he's ever played on, he replied, "I've said it all season, the talent on this defense is better than any team I have been on from position to position."
In the political landscape were in right now, let's fact check the Bears legend on his claim. Since it would be unfair to evaluate defenses with different philosophies, we'll keep the comparison with another top defense in the Lovie Smith era: the 2006 Super Bowl team.
Defensive End - Then: Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown. Now: Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
If the Bears lined me up opposite of Peppers, the defensive ends now would beat out the Ogunleye/Brown combo in 2006. That's not a knock on those guys either. Both were above average NFL players, but Peppers will probably be Canton-bound one day. Watch a Bears game today, and you'll witness an incredible amount of scheming that offensive coordinators go through just to account for number 90.
Don't forget that the 2006 team had a 12 sack season from Mark Anderson. Despite that, the depth advantage also goes to the current Bears squad. Corey Wooten and rookie Shea McClellin have been getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis - a major necessity in the Lovie Smith scheme. Advantage: 2012 Bears
Defensive Tackle - Then: Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson. Now: Henry Melton and Stephen Paea.
The argument that I made for Peppers and the current Bears when discussing the defensive ends can be reversed when it comes to the interior linemen. Stick anybody next to Tommie Harris back in those days, and there's little doubt that player makes an impact. Harris was an absolutely dominant player before off-the-field issues sent his career into a spiral. The way Peppers is praised now is incredibly similar to Harris then. Advantage: 2006 Bears
Outside Linebackers - Then: Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Now: Lance Briggs and Nick Roach.
The 2006 version of Briggs was incredible, but so is the 2012 version. Even though he's much older, Briggs hasn't lost a step, and is far more instinctive with age. It's fair to call it a toss-up between the two. When it comes to the strong-side linebacker though, Roach is unquestionably better than Hillenmeyer. Their cover skills are nearly equal, but Roach is helpful in the run game and can make tackles when plays are presented to him. Hillenmeyer simply could not. Roach can also fake the middle linebacker spot in a pinch, and despite being listed as the backup there as well, Hillenmeyer playing the middle would've seriously diminished the effectiveness of that defense. Advantage: 2012 Bears
Middle Linebacker - Then: Brian Urlacher. Now: Brian Urlacher.
When he said that this defense was the most talented he's been on, I sure hope he meant everyone but himself. It's obvious that father time has caught up to Urlacher, and the knee injury he suffered at the end of last year hasn't helped. He was the number two tackler on the 2006 squad, and he might not finish in the top five for the Bears this season. He might be able to read plays better than anyone out there, but his body just isn't reacting the way it used to. The edge here is pretty clear. Advantage: 2006 Bears
Cornerbacks - Then: Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. Now: Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
Nathan Vasher was coming off a Pro-Bowl selection, and Tillman was still talking about those games where he shut down Randy Moss in previous seasons. The problem is that Vasher's 2005 season ended up being a fluke, and Tillman had a lot of problems covering anybody not named Moss. At the time, I added the word 'roasted' in front of his 'Peanut' nickname to more accurately describe his play..
Now, Tillman has turned himself into an adequate cover corner, but his largest gains have come in the turnover department. He's forced three or more fumbles each of the past five seasons, but had only done it once prior to the 2006 campaign in three tries. It's a skill he's honed over the years, and is the best in the NFL at punching the football out.
Tim Jennings isn't a pushover either. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September by picking off four passes, and leading the team in passes defended. A few of those balls ended up in the hands of teammates as well. Advantage: 2012 Bears
Safeties - Then: Chris Harris and Danieal Manning. Now: Chris Conte and Major Wright.
This position is by far the toughest to judge in the Cover-2, since the main job of the safeties is mostly not to get beat deep. The strong safety comes up and helps out the run a bit as well, but unless you have a supremely talented player in the group, the positions are often overlooked in the grand scheme.
Both Harris and Manning are still playing in the NFL, but not with the Bears because they had the propensity to give up big plays. Manning had the most glaring mistake in the 2006 season, blowing a coverage on Colts receiver Reggie Wayne in Super Bowl XLI.
Conte and Wright are both finally getting an opportunity to start on a weekly basis after years of injuries, poor play, and overall turmoil plagued the position group. So far in 2012, they've both done well. They've combined for four interceptions (three and a touchdown by Wright), and are second and third on the team in tackles behind Briggs. But if the only thing we're knocking the 2006 crew for is how they played after that season and a blown coverage in the Super Bowl, it may seem like nitpicking. Advantage: Tie
OK, Brian. I'll go with you on the fact that the 2012 Bears are the best defense you've played on, but certainly not at every position. Just look in the mirror.