Pick A Defense
This defense not better -- yet
Five games into the season, and all around the NFL, defenses limited offenses to fewer than 200 net yards on just seven occasions, with the Chicago Bears taking part in two of those contests in the past three weeks.
So Chicago's defense is good, scary good. But the first five words of this piece -- "five games into the season" -- make me hesitant to declare the Bears' defense as powerful as the unit that steamrolled to Super Bowl XLI, despite linebacker Brian Urlacher saying recently that this defense is the best he's ever been a part of.
That's not to say the Bears won't eventually make a believer of me; subconsciously, maybe I already am, but I can't get past the fact we're just five games into the 2012 season. Looking at what the team has already accomplished, it's certainly trending toward the suffocating unit the Bears put on the field in 2006.
The Bears already have scored five touchdowns on interception returns, while allowing just five TDs, including only one with the ground game. Two more TDs given up by the team had zero to do with this defense (a fake field goal against Green Bay and an INT return in the opener against Indianapolis).
The ramped-up pass rush has accounted for 18 sacks through five games, but will the group reach the 40 sacks it collected in 2006? With an NFL-high 17 takeaways, will the defense match the 44 it gobbled up on the way to Super Bowl XLI?
Those are difficult questions to answer just five games into the season because turnovers, by nature, dry up at some point. So do sacks, as teams start to put stronger emphasis on protecting the quarterback while figuring out their own potential weaknesses as well as those in a defense.
At this point, I can't definitively call the 2012 version of Chicago's defense better than the one from Super Bowl XLI. Instead, I'll just kick back and enjoy the show.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
Peppers, depth give '12 edge
It's early. As Lovie Smith would say, the Chicago Bears are barely into the second quarter of the season at 4-1. But so far, it's not heresy to say this defense could be better than the 2006 Super Bowl version.
For one thing, the Super Bowl Bears didn't have Julius Peppers. The returners from that team bring continuity and a doctoral student understanding of Smith's defensive schemes. Lance Briggs and Charles "Peanut" Tillman certainly looked comfortable scoring on interceptions in consecutive games. There is a confidence in this unit that can't be understated.
And with a nice mix of young players, from surprisingly solid safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte to nickelback D.J. Moore to defensive linemen Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton, the Bears have some depth. Cornerback Tim Jennings, who won that 2006 Super Bowl with Indianapolis, has been nasty opposite Tillman. The defensive line is scary.
"We've been doing the same things since Coach Smith got here," Tillman said after the 41-3 pasting of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. "The same defense, the same [core] players mixed in with a couple new players. We don't change. Everyone knows what we do, but I think what we do, we do it well."
Don't believe the anecdotal evidence. The numbers show the comparisons are apt. Through five games, the Bears are giving up virtually the same amount of yards per game (294.1 in 2006, 291.2 in 2012), while giving up slightly more yards passing (194.8, 225.4) and much fewer rushing (99.4, 65.8). The 2006 Bears gave up 15.9 points per game, while the 2012 ones have given up 14.2.
Smith's defense requires takeaways, and both teams were great at creating them. The 2006 Bears got 2.69 takeaways per game, while this team has excelled in that department with 3.4.
Obviously the caveat is this Bears team has played only five games, and of their opponents so far, only the St. Louis Rams (3-2) are above .500. The Indianapolis Colts and the Dallas Cowboys are 2-2. The Green Bay Packers, while at 2-3, are probably the only team with serious playoff potential, and they waxed the Bears.
The Bears have time to prove this year's defense is no fluke.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.