Bears Defense: New, Definitely Not Improved

Rodgers (Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images)

It will be a new challenge, with Mel Tucker calling the defensive shots instead of longtime nemesis Lovie Smith. Chicago's defense, however, is bad by historic proportions. Going without Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Henry Melton certainly hasn't helped.

It's been a different Bears Week for Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and the rest of the team's offensive assistants.

Since McCarthy arrived in 2006, the twice-a-year battles against the Bears have been about matching wits with defense-minded Bears coach Lovie Smith. Smith, of course, was fired in the offseason. He was replaced by offense-minded Marc Trestman, and Trestman hired Mel Tucker as his defensive coordinator.

"The only thing different was, especially in the offseason, you study your opponents and we didn't know for sure what they were going to do (though) you have an idea," Clements said on Friday. "So we just based it off of the films thus far. There's some similarities, some differences. It's a new team, a new defensive coordinator. A lot of the same guys but they do some of the same things but they do some different things, as well."

The guys on the sideline aren't the only new faces. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher retired. Outside linebacker Lance Briggs will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Top interior rusher Henry Melton, who ranked second among NFL defensive tackles with 13 sacks since 2011, is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Change has not done the Bears well. Chicago ranks 29th with 29.4 points allowed per game. In seven games, the Bears have allowed 206 points. They allowed 202 in all of 2005 and 277 last season. Chicago is on pace to allow 471 points. The Bears have allowed more than 380 just once — 421 points in 1997 — so this is bad by historic proportions.

Still, the Packers are wary, mostly due to a turnover-producing secondary.

"A lot of good tape," McCarthy said. "They're going through an injury phase right now. I can't say enough about Lance Briggs. He's got to be the most productive linebacker in the league over the last how-many years. He's a tackling machine. He's done it there for so long.

"I just see change in their front seven. I think they're secondary is playing extremely well. I think Charles Tillman is off to another great year. Tim Jennings, obviously another Pro-Bowl-type year, and Major (Wright) and Chris Conte are playing very well (at safety). I think they're going through what we're going through a little bit with some injuries in their front seven, but they still do a great job of taking that football away, and once they do they know what to do with it. Dangerous defense."

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who powers the NFL's third-ranked scoring offense at 30.3 points per game, has many of the same concerns. It starts with Julius Peppers, who has 7.5 sacks in 11 career games against Green Bay. He'll battle rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari but also test right tackle Don Barclay.

"Any time you can play a defense that can get after you with their front four, that's a challenge," Rodgers said. "They still have, obviously with Julius, a premier pass rusher. They've had a very good secondary, one of the top secondaries as far as getting turnovers. Those guys are smart. They're Pro Bowl players. They understand the system. They understand the timing and when the ball's got to come out. You're seeing them at times drop receivers and making picks for touchdowns because they understand the timing of their blitz calls. They're obviously coached up well, but they have great instincts. I've played against those guys for a number of years now and always appreciate the way they play and I have a lot of respect for them."

According to Clements, not a whole lot has changed under Tucker. Tucker was Jacksonville's defensive coordinator last season, with the Jaguars holding the Packers to a season-low 238 yards in Green Bay's 24-15 victory. Tucker's game plan wasn't anything unusual: He dropped players into coverage to take away the downfield passing game and didn't give a rip about Green Bay's running game.

"It's a different year," Clements said. "He's obviously coaching a different team (and) we're a different team offensively. That's his background but that's as much as you can go. They're going to have a plan for us. They're coming off a bye week so we're going to have to determine once we get into the game what they're doing and try to combat it."

The Bears were renowned for their Cover-2 scheme under Smith — even though that wasn't always their bread-and-butter scheme against the Packers. It's the same story under Tucker. Against Washington before the bye, Clements said, the Bears ran mostly one-high safety. Smith rarely dialed up a blitz and Clements said "they're probably roughly the same percentage so far" under Tucker.

Rodgers is 8-2 against the Bears, with 69.0 percent accuracy for 2,486 yards, 19 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 102.7 rating.

This, however, will be a different challenge.

"Coach Tucker is a great coordinator," Rodgers said. "He has a scheme for every opponent and he's going to try to get after whatever weakness he sees in your offense. A lot of respect for him and the job he's done in this league, and it'll be a tough test."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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