Four Downs: Briggs now face of defense?

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:26
PM ET
Lance Briggs, Brian UrlacherAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackThe Bears' defense hasn't suffered with Brian Urlacher slowed by injury partly because of the play of Lance Briggs.
Brian Urlacher, still recovering from a knee injury, admittedly hasn't been himself this season, but the Bears' defense has still thrived, leading the NFL with 17 takeaways.

With his linebacking buddy not 100 percent, Lance Briggs has been his usual Pro Bowl self, teaming with Charles Tillman to make NFL history by returning an interception for a touchdown in two straight games.

Has Briggs replaced Urlacher as the face of the Bears' defense? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs has replaced Brian Urlacher as the face of the Bears' defense.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Urlacher will always be the face of the Bears' franchise until he retires or leaves town via free agency. Being the face of the franchise doesn't mean Urlacher is outperforming Briggs -- he's not -- but the middle linebacker continues to be the most recognizable person on the roster. That's not meant to diminish the accomplishment of Briggs, who's a great player and could end up one day in the Hall of Fame, but Urlacher is still the proverbial guy.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
Phil Sears/US PresswireLinebacker Lance Briggs leads the Bears with 29 tackles this season.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. No matter what Briggs does, Urlacher is the face of the defense as long as he remains a Bear. He's built up too much equity with all the things he's done in the past; the Pro Bowls, the big plays, etc. Besides that, Urlacher isn't washed up by any means. He's still struggling to return to form, and all signs indicate he'll be successful at that endeavor. That's not to take anything away from Briggs, who has been absolutely brilliant through five games and throughout his own storied career. In fact I'd venture to say Briggs has been a better player than Urlacher at least over the past three years. Briggs just had the misfortune of joining the team three years after Urlacher, who by then had established himself. Briggs' time will come, but I don't see it happening as long as Urlacher is still on the team.

Scott Powers: Fact. Urlacher just isn't the player he once was. He's still respected around the league, but opponents fear Briggs much more now. Briggs is arguably as good as he's ever despite being 31 and his 10th year in the league. He leads the team in tackles (29 with 26 solo tackles) and has one sack, six passes defended, two interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The term "face of franchise" is obviously ceremonial. When someone says "Bears defense," whom do you think of? Urlacher. Some would say that's just the curse of Briggs' career, and surely it's probably hampered his money-making potential, but Briggs will always be remembered as being Robin to Urlacher's Batman. Wait, Briggs is a comic book fan. How about Green Arrow to Urlacher's Green Lantern? Yeah, that's more legit. Briggs should know how respected he is around the NFL, Chicago and in his own locker room. He's always been Urlacher's equal, and now his superior, on the field. But the visage of the Bears is Urlacher's scowling mug. Life could be worse.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should use Devin Hester like the Vikings use Percy Harvin and line him up more in the backfield.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Finally, Hester has been cast in the proper role on offense. Throw him the ball 3-4 times per game and let him try to bait defensive backs with double moves. Hester's best plays have been on deep balls, not the bubble screens or end arounds we've seen over the last couple of seasons. Hester is not Percy Harvin. Don't ask him to be somebody he's not. Changing up Hester's role at this point would be taking a step backwards.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesDevin Hester hasn't had much success running in wildcat packages.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The only similarity between these two is the speed. Harvin is a much more powerful player, and he's not afraid to hit a run up inside, which is something we really haven't seen from Hester, who tends to try to do most of his work on the flanks. From a schematic perspective, maybe it makes some sense to line up Hester in the backfield. But I just don't see teams viewing Hester as much of a threat when he lines up in the backfield, because nine times out of 10, he'll be running outside.

Scott Powers: Fiction. It's best to keep Hester's role as is, and he isn't as versatile as Harvin. It might work to give Hester the occasional carry out of the backfield, but I'd prefer to keep it simple for him. Plus, Hester hasn't exactly shown his usual dynamic ability this year. His longest kickoff return is 38 yards, and he's averaging 26.9 yards per return. His longest punt return is 23 yards, and he's averaging 7.8 yards per return. At wide receiver, he has seven receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think that train has left the station. The Bears have tried to use Hester in a Wildcat-style role, often at odds times in the game, and it never seemed to work. While Hester's returns elicit gasps, his Wildcat plays were often groan-worthy. Hester certainly has the ability to run out of quarterback or running back positions, but let's just focus on getting him snaps at receiver. I think he's on the cusp of being a steady receiver and he needs all the game time he can get.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears are fattening up on lesser foes, but will be in trouble against elite opponents such as the 49ers and Texans.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. How do we know? The NFL is very week-to-week. The hot team in early October might be a non-factor in November. I give the Bears a chance every single week based on the fluid nature of the league. Plus, earlier wins over the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams look better in hindsight, right? And weren't the Dallas Cowboys 2-1 when the Bears knocked them off at home? To discount the Bears' 4-1 record would be unfair, regardless of how you feel about the level of their competition.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers, Jerron McMillian
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Bears will be put to the test when they play a 49ers defense holding opponents to an NFL-low 13.6 points a game.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. True, the Bears are definitely "fattening up on lesser foes" as indicated by the combined 10-13 record of the teams the club has played through the first five games. But the Bears can only play the schedule they're given, and all they did was make the best of the situation by getting off to a fast start. Nothing wrong with that. Looking at the next five games, the Bears play teams -- including San Francisco (4-1) and Houston (5-0) -- with a combined record of 12-12 at this point. So if they can come out of the two games against Houston and San Francisco with at least one victory, the Bears should be fine. I'm reluctant to say they'll "be in trouble" because against elite opponents because from what we've seen so far, Chicago is an elite team, too.

Scott Powers: Fiction. The Bears are crushing inferior opponents, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be handled by better teams. They appear as if they've taken steps forward, especially in their offensive line play, since the loss to the Packers. If the line can continue its progress, the Bears should be able to compete with anyone, including the likes of the 49ers and Texans. It also helps to have one of the NFL's best defenses.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. That's not to say I don't think the Bears have Super Bowl potential, but the upcoming games against Houston and at San Francisco are going to be very trying for different reasons. How will the defense, which has feasted on lightweights, handle the dynamic Texans offense? How will the Cutler offense do against the Niners' defense? To be fair, the Bears did just fine against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, but those back-to-back primetime games will give us a nice window into the true soul of this team..


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should be concerned about their slow offensive starts to games.


Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Don't be fooled into thinking everything is perfect on offense. The defense has been playing lights out, but there will be games when the Bears need the offense to shoulder the load. So far, when games have been close, the offense is having a tough time consistently moving the football. That needs to change. Eventually the Bears will catch the wrong team at the wrong time, and they'll need to score early to stay in games. Can they do it? That remains to be seen.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesPlaying with a lead is important for Jay Cutler, who is completing 71 percent of his passes with the Bears ahead and 36.7 percent when they trail.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. It's at least a little concerning, especially when you look at the team's output from the first half to the second. The fact is the Bears are 37-13 under Lovie Smith when they lead after the first quarter, 18-26 when they trail, and 20-19 when the score is tied. So it's clear a fast start is essential. At the same time, this year's team seems to be doing most of its damage in the third and fourth quarters. Through the first five games, they've outscored opponents 47-40 in the first half. In the second team, this team seems to drop the hammer, blasting teams 102-31 in the third and fourth quarters. So, sure it's imperative this team gets off to a faster start. Statistics indicate the team significantly increases its chances for victory when they lead in the first quarter. But based on what they've done through the first five games, maybe they've become more of a second half team.

Scott Powers: Fact. The Bears have scored a total of one touchdown and 13 first-quarter points in their first five games. They were also held to zero second-quarter points by the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bears can get by with slow starts against teams like Jaguars, but it'll come back to bite them eventually if they do so against the better teams. It did against the Packers in Week 2 as the Bears trailed 13-0 before the offense was able to get on the board.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. This is a bad precedent, because eventually the defense is going to give up points and the Bears are going to be stuck playing catch-up. Jay Cutler isn't a Brett-Favre-rally-the-troops quarterback, or at least, he hasn't been so far. The Bears need a better opening game plan, which seems to be a real weakness for Mike Tice in his first season as an offensive coordinator. Some growing pains are to be expected, but I'd like to see a better script to start games with some easy passes to get Cutler going.

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