Bears' stingy defense faces challenge in Saints
Chicago's defenders have not been overpowering opponents of late.
CHICAGO (AP) -- He is the poster boy for the mean, stingy and overpowering Chicago defense. The only problem is Brian Urlacher and his fellow Bears haven't been all that mean, stingy or overpowering lately.
To get the franchise to its first Super Bowl in 21 years, Urlacher and his teammates will need to slow the league's top-ranked offense that New Orleans brings to Sunday's NFC championship game.
There's no question the All-Pro middle linebacker and successor to Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary as the monster in the middle can handle the task -- at least not in his mind or the minds of the other Bears.
"This is new waters for us as a team," the seven-year veteran and 2005 Defensive Player of the Year said. "We finally got over that hump last week in winning our first-round playoff game. That was exciting, but this is a bigger challenge for us now.
"The No. 1 thing that we have to do is concentrate and get to work every week, and coach Smith has done a god job with that with us, in getting us back in to work and doing the same routine that we've been doing all season long. It's still a game on Sunday. It is a big game, but we have to stay in our routine and stay grounded."
Defense of record
And will they?
"What's our record, 14-3 right now? Look at that," he said, somewhat indignantly. "That is all that I have to say. There have been questions all year long about every position on our team: quarterback, defense, defensive line, safeties. All we do is go out there and play and try to win. That is all we can do."
While Urlacher is the marquee guy on Chicago's defense, the unit severely has missed two other important performers, tackle Tommie Harris and strong safety Mike Brown. Since Harris went out, Chicago has yielded 25.8 points a game. Before that, it allowed 150 points in 12 games, a 12.5 average, nearly half.
Now come the Saints, with a multidimensional offense led by All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees; 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister coming off a spectacular game against Philadelphia; dynamic rookies Reggie Bush and Marques Colston; and a scheme created by Coach of the Year Sean Payton.
Of course, the Bears look inside their huddle and see some big-time playmakers, too. Particularly No. 54 in the middle.
"We have some pretty good players on the defensive side of the ball. We have some guys that can run to the ball," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "We've got Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, All-Pro linebackers, guys who can run with any of their running backs or tight ends.
None more than Urlacher, a former safety at New Mexico whose athleticism is unequaled on the Bears, if not in the entire league. And Urlacher must be a force Sunday, whether it's against the powerful rushes of McAllister or the darting runs of Bush. Whether it's dropping back in coverage against New Orleans' tall and talented wideouts, or blitzing Brees.
"Obviously the Bears' defense in general is a great defense," Bush said.
"They've been playing great football all year. They're almost all like an offense because they score points. They put points on the board and they get turnovers for their offense, which allows the offense to score touchdowns, so really you've got to be fundamentally sound. Obviously they do have key players like Brian Urlacher and Briggs and their defensive end, Alex Brown, and those guys."
For the key guy, Urlacher, thinking beyond the game plan and defensive signals and the myriad tasks at hand is fruitless. Sure, a Super Bowl berth is at stake. But once the game begins Sunday, he claims Miami will be a distant shore far from his mind.
"I'm thinking about this game and, personally, I want to win, No. 1," he said. "Whatever happens with me, if I can help our team win, that's a plus. I want to win this game and that is what I am looking at. Afterwards, maybe if we get to where we want to go, we can talk about all that good stuff."
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