It’s strange to study this Chicago Bears defense and not see Brian Urlacher playing Mike linebacker. This current group could use that version of Urlacher from a few seasons ago to help with what is going on with this team now.
It’s not the same defense we’ve seen from this team over the years. There still are some pieces in place like Julius Peppers and Tim Jennings, but injuries have robbed Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Henry Melton of games where they needed to be on the field.
The defensive line, which was the strength of the team, has had its share of problems trying to replace Melton with a host of guys at the three-technique. Corey Wootton is the now the starter there with Christian Tuppou and Jay Ratliff as the backups. Ratliff last week against the Vikings saw his first game action in more than a year and appeared to be moving around well.
There were so many questions earlier this year when Ratliff was with the Cowboys -- whether he would play at all this season. It would not surprise me one bit from what I observed of Ratliff in that Minnesota game that he gets more of an opportunity to play against his old teammates Monday night.
Next to Ratliff is Stephen Paea, who is a load at the one-technique. With Paea, you are going to get a guy who is very active but also very hard to move at the point of attack. I was impressed with Paea and his ability to chase the ball, so he will need to be accounted for in the running game.
In this matchup, you will also see former Cowboys defensive tackle Landon Cohen, who has continued his play from what he did in Dallas earlier this season. Has the initial quickness, but he tends to get stuck on blocks far too much and that causes problems for the defense.
The strength of this defensive line is at their ends. Julius Peppers has played at a high level for the majority of his career and continues to do so. If there has ever been a knock on Peppers, it is that he can be one of the league’s best off the edge when he wants to but there are times where his motor doesn’t always run high.
On the other side of Peppers is one of my favorite players in the 2012 NFL Draft, Shea McClellin out of Boise State. The Bears play McClellin at end, but he might be better suited as a 3-4 outside linebacker. What I like about his game is the way that he is always trying to attack the ball. He plays with a relentless passion and effort.
As I mentioned before, there was a time where the strength of this defense was the linebackers. With no Urlacher, and with Lance Briggs struggling with a shoulder problem, rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene have had to fill with James Anderson. Urlacher might have been the glue that held this group together, but it was Briggs that gave it, its punch.
Without him in the lineup, it has been difficult for them to make consistent plays to get the defense off the field. Bostic and Greene have not been bad, but Briggs was that player that was always around the ball and in the middle of the play. There have been too many times this season where this group has struggled to get off blocks in the running game and opponents have taken advantage of that.
Anderson has been the most consistent when it comes to getting off blocks and making plays. There have even been some snaps where he has provided some pressure as a pass rusher with two sacks.
Greene was one of those players, while at Rutgers, who was always around the ball and in on tackles. His best trait is if he is left unblocked, he is going to run to the ball with a nice burst. He can really cover some ground when he has the opportunity.
When this defense was really going, the defensive backs were a key to how they played. Like the linebackers, they too have struggled with injuries.
Tim Jennings is still the starter at left cornerback but his longtime partner, Charles Tillman, was placed on injured reserve for return after suffering a triceps injury. In Tillman’s place, the Bears have gone with Zack Bowman, and he has not done a bad job.
Like Tillman, he has good size and is physical when he has to come forward and make plays in the running game. When the Bears go to the nickel, Isaiah Frey comes into the game and plays out of the slot. At the safety, Major Wright and Chris Conte are the starters but Wright has been banged up as well and is questionable for the game on Monday night with a hamstring injury.
If Wright cannot go, then Craig Steltz will get the start and that is a big step down for the level of play they get from that position. Steltz is one of those guys that tends to go with the big hit instead of the sure tackle, thus he will miss in space.
The Bears play their secondary similarly to how the Cowboys do with the corners and the safeties. In the Minnesota game, they played a great deal of single-high to try and get a safety down in the box to help with the run against Adrian Peterson. The loss of Tillman has really hurt this group but they are still getting nice play from Jennings, who is a steady performer and ball hawk.