NFL Nation: Brian Urlacher

Over the span of a decorated 13-year NFL career, former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher forged a reputation of a player willing to do almost anything to stay on the football field.

Urlacher started all 16 regular-season games in 10 of his 13 years in Chicago, despite the taxing physical demands of being the captain of the Chicago defense from his middle linebacker position.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesFormer Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher says players should understand the risks they're taking when they take up playing football.

In a recent interview with ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Urlacher said he never contemplated early retirement because of long-term health concerns, a hot-button issue in the NFL in the wake of 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland's decision to walk away from the game after just one season.

"It did surprise me because that kid [Borland] is a really good player," Urlacher said. "But I don't think football is headed in a bad direction because a few guys ... there might be some guys that think the long-term effects outweigh the gratification you get from playing football. There's always going to be one of those guys.

"I thought about the long-term effects, but I never thought about retiring because of it. I love football too much."

Urlacher feels fortunate to have suffered only one documented concussion in 182 regular-season games from 2000-12, but understands that many other players are not so lucky. Borland cited concerns over long-term head trauma when he announced his retirement on March 16.

"I don't know [Borland's] situation. I don't know if he's had a few concussions. I had one major concussion. It's different for each guy. For me, it was never an issue because I didn't have an issue with concussions.

"My lone concussion occurred in 2003 against Denver. I was spinning off block and right when I spun, I hit Clinton Portis with my head turned sideways. I hit him and I hit the ground. That was first big one where I was like 'Whoa.' Back then, it was no big deal. You'd just go back in."

The NFL has made considerable strides in concussion treatment and awareness in recent years, however, Urlacher thinks football carries with it a certain inherent risk that players need to accept before pursuing a career in professional football.

"You know, there are a lot of things that I really enjoy doing that you can get hurt doing," Urlacher said. "Driving a car, you can get into a wreck. I love to fly. You get on an airplane and you could die, too. When you step on a plane, it's your option to step on that plane because it could crash. There's risk in everything that you do. It's up to you to measure those risks and do what you want to do.

"Obviously the risk of playing football wasn't worth it to Borland. And that's his decision, just like it's everybody else's decision to play football."

Urlacher feels strongly enough about the game's safety that he plans to allow his nine-year-old son to one day graduate from flag football to tackle football.

"As safe as they try to make the game now with monitoring practices and the collisions they have in practices, I'm not worried about it," Urlacher said. "If he wants to play tackle football, I'll encourage him to play. I think football is a great game. And if you play it the right way and tackle the right the way ... there's always a chance you can get hurt. But that's just with everything you do.

"I want to let him play flag football as long as he can and as long as he wants to. I'm not going to rush him into tackle football. I started it when I was like 12 or 13. I turned out OK. I would say about the same time for him, seventh or eighth grade."

In the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, some current and former Chicago Bears made the rounds for interviews, discussing subjects ranging from the actual game to junior-high crushes.

“Mike & Mike” caught up with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to discuss Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, among other subjects, while tight end Martellus Bennett appeared on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” where he reminisced about playing the clarinet in junior high.

Urlacher, who faced Lynch four times -- including the postseason -- from 2010-12 compared the Seahawks running back to Ricky Williams. Lynch averaged 3.4 yards per attempt in those four matchups against Urlacher, and he never rushed for more than 87 yards in a game.

“Ricky Williams, in my opinion, was one of the better guys in the league,” Urlacher said. “He didn’t have the balance that Marshawn has. Marshawn, he’s hard to tackle. I only played against him a couple of times. We did OK against him in Chicago when I was there. But he’s a different guy now. He’s not the same player he was back then. He’s clicking on all cylinders.”

Lynch
What makes Lynch such a dominant player?

“Obviously, you look at how strong he is. He doesn’t put the ball on the ground, No. 1. He takes care of the football; catches it well,” Urlacher said. “He does everything you want a guy to do. That offense, they want to run the football, which is good because he’s a powerful guy. With that little zone-read, man, it’s hard because if you get him one-on-one, he’s gonna make a guy miss.”

Shifting to the New England Patriots, Urlacher called Gronkowski “a terrible matchup problem.”

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
“He’s physical. The one game I played against him I think he pushed off on me for a touchdown. Offensive guys can get away with that. But he’s so good at using his body. He’s got great hands,” Urlacher said. “That catch he made against the Colts with a deflated football. ... I think it was in the second half. It was a full football. But the guy’s got great hands; big, physical guy, fast. You watch him catch the ball and guys can’t tackle him. The run he had against, I want to say Indy the first time they played, when he jumped over the guy in the end zone, he has no regard for his body. He’s a matchup problem for any defensive coordinator. Who do you put on him? Do you put a linebacker [on him]? No, he’s not gonna run on him. Do you put a safety [on him]? Probably undersized, unless it’s Kam Chancellor, then you have a little bit better chance.”

Urlacher also dished on Seattle’s defense and where it stands among some of the other great defensive units in NFL history.

“I think they’re already in that breath,” Urlacher said. “When you look at what they’ve done statistically over the last couple of years, and it’s rarely been done in the NFL. So I think they’re already in that category. If they beat [Tom] Brady, they solidify it, in my opinion.”

Bennett
Bennett, meanwhile, discussed more lighthearted topics during his time on the interview circuit. Bennett divulged that as an eighth-grader growing up in Texas, he was a member of his school’s band.

“So I learned to play the clarinet because they had this one pretty girl named Amanda,” Bennett said. “She was pretty good. But she ended up being second chair to me because I was first chair, which is big-time in band. If you’re first chair, that means like being first team. Second chair is like being almost as good as the first chair.”

So what happened with Amanda?

“We didn’t have a relationship. It was one of those things,” Bennett said. “She was Korean, and I was a 6-7 black guy in eighth grade. I don’t think her parents liked me as much.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs considers current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith one of the greatest coaches in Chicago Bears franchise history, on par with team founder George Halas and the iconic Mike Ditka.

Smith
Briggs
“Lovie should be remembered as one of the great coaches of Chicago,” Briggs said Wednesday. “You have George Halas, you have Mike Ditka, and then Lovie Smith comes next.”

Factually speaking, Briggs is correct.

Smith’s 84 wins in nine seasons (84-66) ranks third in Bears history behind only Halas (324-151-31) and Ditka (112-68). Smith led the Bears to three division titles and the 2006 NFC championship, falling to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.

“We continued [the Bears] tradition of great defense throughout Lovie’s years,” Briggs said. “Now looking back, defense and special teams, it was a special time.

In particular, Briggs flourished under Smith, earning seven straight Pro Bowl selections (2005-11) from his customary weakside linebacker spot.

However, the relationship took time to develop.

“When he was hired I started doing a little research [about Smith],” Briggs said. “One of the guys that stuck out was [former Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker] Derrick Brooks. I remember when he got hired a lot of people were saying Brian [Urlacher] should play [weakside linebacker] and Lance should play [middle linebacker]. I remember him saying no. Brian is my middle linebacker and Lance is my weakside linebacker. It worked out. We bought in. All I remember doing that first year was run. We would run, run, run. We didn’t even know where we were running to, but we had to run.

"It was fun to be around Lovie, especially when you got to understand his personality. I remember back in 2004 [Smith’s first season in Chicago], he challenged me all the time. It would be like, ‘Lance, you’re not going to make that play, or he’s not going to make that play.’ Or he’d talk to Brian or some of the other players and say, ‘Lance can’t make that play. Derrick Brooks can make that play. The real No. 55 can make that play.’ As I started making more and more plays and the years went on, his tune really changed. That was earned. To me, that respect he showed me was earned. That goes for all the guys in the room.”

For all of Briggs’ fond memories of the Smith era, the 12-year NFL veteran still wants to win on Sunday. Briggs does not expect there to be a conflict of interest.

“I’m a Chicago Bear,” Briggs said.


Have you ever wanted to get tackled by an NFL linebacker?

Yeah, me neither.

But at least one person did, and A.J. Hawk was happy to deliver.

The Green Bay Packers veteran inside linebacker granted a fan his request, and Hawk leveled him. Not on a football field but on a golf course.

Hawk, who is about to begin his ninth season with the Green Bay Packers, is one of several NFL players competing this week in the American Century Championship, a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

During a practice round, Hawk got an unusual request from a fan. He wanted to be tackled by the 6-foot-1, 242-pound linebacker.

So Hawk, the Packers' leading tackler in seven of his first eight NFL seasons, obliged. With a running start, he lowered his right shoulder into the willing spectator, who then popped up and embraced Hawk with a hug.

Of course, there's video of the tackle, courtesy of American Century Investments' Instagram account (see above).

If you want to see Hawk do what most people do on a golf course, you watch see him and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers compete in the tournament, which begins today and is televised on NBC Sports Network and NBC.

Hawk is paired with former NFL safety Rodney Harrison and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Rodgers is playing with former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and NBA standout Stephen Curry.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
GRAPEVINE, Texas -- You can most likely scratch free agent linebacker Brian Urlacher off the Cowboys’ list of potential players to replace Sean Lee.

“No,” was Jerry Jones’ response Tuesday afternoon when asked if the Cowboys are working on a deal for Urlacher.

Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL and team officials are still determining when surgery will occur.

“We’re working through it,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president. “I mean obviously we’re not playing football games tomorrow and we’re not going to training camp tomorrow. We’re just taking a long hard look at anything.”

Replacing Lee will be difficult.

Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens, DeVonte Holloman (a 2013 sixth-round pick), and eight-year veteran Justin Durant are the in-house candidates to replace Lee.

The Cowboys are working with their current roster first to see if a starter can emerge for the 2014 season. If not, then signing a free agent is a possibility.

Linebacker Ernie Sims, who played with the Cowboys last season and is another possible replacement, signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday.

“Until we decide one way or the other what we’re going to do with players that are on our team we really hate to comment on things like that,” Stephen Jones said.

Urlacher, a 13-year veteran with the Chicago Bears, didn’t play last season but is open to returning for the right opportunity. Urlacher knows the 4-3 scheme because he played under it in Chicago with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

“Someone actually tweeted me something about it,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said when asked about his former teammate with the Bears. “I haven’t heard any truth behind (Urlacher playing) it but 'Lach' knows the defense and he would be a good replacement, I feel like he would fit in.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 31, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:



IRVING, Texas -- While the Dallas Cowboys have not officially said so, Sean Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday, according to sources, and the defense will be without its best player.

The Cowboys have yet to use the bat signal to call all unemployed middle linebackers.

The current plan is to go with what is on the roster.

They have DeVonte Holloman, who started the final two games of last season at middle linebacker after Lee suffered a neck injury. They have Justin Durant, who started one game in Lee's absence last season. They have rookie Anthony Hitchens, their fourth-round pick.

With eight more organized team activities, followed by six practices during a three-day minicamp next month, the Cowboys will soon have a better idea about where they stand regarding a replacement for Lee.

After that, perhaps they will look off campus for help.

Veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Erin Henderson and Pat Angerer have been mentioned. Even Brian Urlacher's name has come up.

Urlacher's connection to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli makes it interesting, but would it be appetizing? Urlacher did not play last year. He turned 36 this week. His knee gave him issues in his final seasons with the Bears.

Last year the Cowboys signed guard Brian Waters before the season started. He did not play in 2012 but managed to play in seven games and start five before a torn biceps ended his season. He was 36 then.

Often, past success outweighs present ability when fans yearn for a player to be signed. Urlacher is not the same player who dominated the NFL for years, just as Waters was not the same player last year that he was earlier in his career. He was solid and he helped Dallas, but he was not the same Pro Bowl player.

Vilma and Angerer have health issues. The Minnesota Vikings released Henderson in January after a DUI arrest.

At the end of May, there are no magic solutions to replace Lee.

The Cowboys will see if they can get by with Holloman, Hitchens or Durant, who did not take part in Tuesday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury. They will study the rosters of the other teams hard over the course of the summer to see if they can find (or need) an upgrade.

The players mentioned today -- Urlacher, Angerer, Henderson and Vilma -- are likely to be available when training camp begins or even later.

If the Cowboys need them in July or August or September, they can make the call.

Cowboys offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Dallas Cowboys' offseason moves.

Best move: The Cowboys could not make big splashes in free agency and their 8-8 record kept them in the middle of the pack in the draft as well, so the best move was not one regarding personnel. It was coaching. Elevating Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator after the Cowboys finished last in the league in 2013 was their best move. With the Chicago Bears, Marinelli had a difference-making defense that could create turnovers at will. He also had Pro Bowl-quality players such as Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. He does not have that in bountiful supply in Dallas, unless Sean Lee can stay healthy or Henry Melton returns to form from injury.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellWill the Dallas Cowboys regret not re-signing DeMarcus Ware?
Riskiest move: DeMarcus Ware put up 119 sacks with the Cowboys from 2005-13, but the club believed it was time to move on after Ware had just six in 2013. A quadriceps injury forced Ware to miss the first three games of his career in 2013 and he was slowed by other maladies. The Cowboys did not make an attempt to offer Ware a reduced contract and simply cut him. Within 24 hours he was signed to a three-year deal by the Denver Broncos with $20 million guaranteed. For this 4-3 scheme to work, there must be an accomplished right defensive end. The Cowboys believed Ware’s time as a dominant pass-rusher was over but did not pick up his replacement until the second round of the draft, selecting DeMarcus Lawrence.

Most surprising move: With the 16th pick in the first round, the Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel to be Tony Romo’s eventual successor. It seemed to be a perfect marriage of the attention Jerry Jones seeks and the spotlight Johnny Football enjoys. Jones passed on Manziel, recommitting his faith in Romo, who signed a six-year, $108 million extension last season, and making a smart move in picking up Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He will be a Day 1 starter and give the Cowboys three first-round picks on their offensive line, which will help Romo and potentially help a defense if the Cowboys can control the clock.

Numbers game: The emphasis of the Cowboys’ offseason has been about the defense, but they have taken a quantity-over-quality look. They had some interest in Peppers and Jared Allen after releasing Ware, but only at a reduced rate. The Cowboys signed Melton, who is coming off an ACL injury, to a one-year deal with an option for three more years if he plays at a high level. They signed Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to low-risk deals. They kept Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, on a one-year deal. They even signed Amobi Okoye, who did not play last season due to personal medical issues, in hopes a reunion with Marinelli will rejuvenate him. The flashiest addition might be Lawrence, and it is difficult to expect rookies to hit the league running.

A look at Rod Marinelli's scheme

February, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Since Rod Marinelli was named the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator, I've been asked more than a few times if the defense will look different in 2014.

Since Marinelli worked with Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay for so long, the easy answer is no, it won't.

From 2010-12, Marinelli served as coordinator for the Chicago Bears after his stint as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He had incredibly successful defenses. They forced a ton of turnovers (59 fumbles, 65 interceptions), scored 13 touchdowns and, most importantly, allowed the fourth-fewest points (904).

In 2012, the Bears had four Pro Bowl players in cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton. They had a league-high 44 takeaways and finished in the top 10 in rush defense, pass defense and points allowed.

I wanted to get a feel for a Marinelli defense versus a Kiffin defense, so I watched two Bears games from 2012 against the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. The Bears intercepted Tony Romo five times and forced a sixth turnover in their 34-18 win at AT&T Stadium in Week 4. The Packers game came in Week 15 and Chicago did not have Brian Urlacher. The Packers won, 21-13.

[+] EnlargeRod Marinelli
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys' defense under Rod Marinelli shouldn't differ much schematically from the one the Cowboys ran under Monte Kiffin.
Like Kiffin, Marinelli did not employ a dime defense (six defensive backs) in either game. He played a nickel defense when faced with three-wide-receiver sets or empty packages. He brought five or more on a pass rush just 17 times in 98 pass plays.

Here's the breakdown:

Green Bay

Three-man pressure: None.
Four-man pressure: 34
Five-man or more pressure: 9

Dallas

Three-man pressure: 1
Four-man pressure: 44
Five-man or more pressure: 8

The Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers three times. They got Tony Romo once. While the Bears showed A-gap pressures with Urlacher and Lance Briggs against the Cowboys, they never brought both of them up the middle. Twice they brought the cornerback off the slot for a blitz. Most of the time Briggs was the extra rusher. The only time the Bears brought six rushers in the game came on Tillman's pick-six of Romo after a miscommunication with Dez Bryant.

Against the Packers, Marinelli used some zone blitzes, dropping Peppers into coverage with the slot corner and Briggs or Nick Roach bringing the pressure. He was more willing to bring both linebackers on blitzes up the middle against the Packers. Most of the pressure packages came on third-and-long, however the one time he brought seven rushers against Rodgers came on third-and-5 and the Bears got a stop.

Chicago played mostly zone in the two games I watched, which might not make guys like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne happy. Kiffin was reluctant to play man coverage at times and Carr and Claiborne never really earned trust to play it more.

Against the Cowboys, Marinelli allowed his cornerbacks to press more (12 times, including eight in the first half). He did not want Bryant and/or Miles Austin to get a head of steam going off the line of scrimmage, which helped put pressure on Romo almost from the outset.

Against the Packers, the Bears played only four snaps of press coverage, two in each half.

The key to the defense was the line play. That's nothing new. That's what helped the Seattle Seahawks win a Super Bowl. That's what helped the Bears lead the league in takeaways in 2012. For this defense to work, the front four must get pressure, as witnessed by the low total of blitzes.

The Bears could get pressure with or without playing games up front with twists and stunts. It wasn't necessarily sacks. Remember, Romo was sacked just once in the game, but the Bears took it to the Cowboys' offensive line by just being active. Rodgers also felt pressure, although not as much.

So I'll go back to the original question: Will the Cowboys' defense look different in 2014? Schematically, I'd say not so much. And that's OK. The key, as it always is, will be the players playing it better.

“There's a certain philosophy, a certain defense they believe in,” linebacker Sean Lee said, “but we obviously have to get great at that base [defense] if we want to be able to build off that. I think Coach Marinelli has had a ton of success in the past. He's a great coordinator and we're going to have to find a way to improve individually if we want to play well within this defense.”

How the Packers handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn't a fan of trash talking by his players, especially when it involves his team's biggest rival.

So when Packers tight end Jermichael Finley criticized Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in 2012, it didn't sit well with McCarthy.

At the time, Urlacher had a hamstring injury and appeared unlikely to play against the Packers. Finley responded by saying he didn't think the Bears were losing too much without the aging Urlacher and added that "putting another guy in might help them a little."

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't take too kindly to that comment and called Finley "an idiot."

None of it rose to the level of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who ripped San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game, but nevertheless the war of words between Finley and the Bears didn't sit well with McCarthy at the time.

"I'm not a proponent of that," McCarthy said during his weekly radio appearance on WMTJ Milwaukee in advance of that Packers-Bears game in 2012. "I would prefer it doesn't go that way.

"The game is about on the field. I understand the job of the media, the energy, the marketing aspect of making the game more interesting than it may be perceived to be, but this game has such great history, great players who have played in this game. That's what it's all about at the end of the day. That's what I want the game to be known for."
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys made the switch to the 4-3 scheme last year, they thought they had the pieces in place to make a smooth transition.

Nobody could have seen what happened to the defense in 2013, finishing last in the NFL.

Carr
Revis
But when Monte Kiffin was hired last January, we all tried to make the pieces fit, comparing the Cowboys players to what Kiffin had during his run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or what Rod Marinelli had with the Chicago Bears. DeMarcus Ware would be Simeon Rice. Jay Ratliff would be Warren Sapp. Bruce Carter would be Derrick Brooks. Sean Lee would be Brian Urlacher.

The secondary was an issue. The Cowboys had man-to-man corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and they didn’t really have a John Lynch at safety, but they liked Barry Church.

Kiffin told his guys to study up on what the Seattle Seahawks did defensively as a sign that they would not be a traditional Tampa 2 team.

Now that Lovie Smith has taken over the Buccaneers, the same comparisons are being made. Gerald McCoy will be Sapp. Lavonte David will be Brooks.

So who’s Darrelle Revis?

“We're a 4-3 team,” Smith said in his introductory news conference. “There's a reason why we have Tampa-2 associated to one of our coverages, but I just want you to know, especially [in reference to cornerback] Darrelle Revis, we don't play Cover-2 every snap. We have a place for a great cover corner that's physical and can do all things.”

Now Revis is better than Carr and Claiborne. I’m not making the player-for-player comparison. If he’s not the NFL's best corner, he is at least in the conversation, and he was coming off a knee injury. I’m making the style of play comparison.

But there was a frustration from Carr and Claiborne about the lack of man coverage the Cowboys were playing, especially early in the season. Players want to do what they do best, and too often they felt like they had to play off and soft in zone coverage.

So Smith might be able to promise Revis that he will be able to man his own island, but the proof will be when the games count, because coaches want to do what they know best.

That was part of the Cowboys’ growing pains in 2013.

Decision for Sunday in Briggs' hands

December, 20, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Much like the Chicago Bears' path to the NFC North title, Lance Briggs controls his own destiny.

The decision to play Briggs on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles now rests solely in the hands of the seven-time Pro Bowler, after head coach Marc Trestman announced on Friday that Briggs has received the necessary medical clearance from team doctors to return to action for the first time since he fractured his shoulder on Oct. 10.

Trestman has been quoted on the record multiple times in the past couple of days saying he is “optimistic” that Briggs will be active against the Eagles, especially after the veteran linebacker had full participation in Friday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLinebacker Lance Briggs, who last played Oct. 20 at Washington, has medical clearance to test his injured shoulder Sunday night against Philadelphia.
But Trestman stopped short of guaranteeing that Briggs will take the field against Chip Kelly's high-powered offense.

Why?

Though the odds seem favorable that Briggs will test out the shoulder Sunday night, likely on a limited snap count, it’s hardly a slam dunk.

The average NFL fracture takes six weeks to heal. Briggs himself originally declared that he would miss only three-to-four around the time the injury occurred. But three-to-four weeks turned into eight weeks and seven missed games as Briggs experienced unexpected complications with the shoulder.

“Initially (I thought I’d be back sooner),” Briggs said on Thursday. “And then you get to the point where you get tested and your strength and everything isn’t where it’s supposed to be, or my bone is not healing the way it’s supposed to. There was some talk of going on IR, but that didn’t happen, and I’m here now. Now, I just want to play football.”

Whenever a player contemplates going on injured reserve, that means the injury, in his mind, is serious enough to where it affects his ability to perform up to par on the football field. The fact Briggs strongly considered shutting it down for the season should not be overlooked.

Then there is the fear of re-injuring the shoulder.

Let’s not be na´ve. Briggs is a business man. His contractual spats with the Bears have been highly publicized over the years. We all see the writing on the wall: the Bears are about to overhaul the defense in the offseason. Briggs, 33, is under contract with the Bears in 2014 for a total salary of $5.5 million, but the last thing any older veteran player wants is to enter an offseason hurt or in need of surgery.

The Bears aren’t exactly sentimental when it pertains to contract negotiations or shaping the future roster -- see Brian Urlacher.

So Briggs has plenty of motivation to ensure that his shoulder is completely healed when the offseason rolls around.

However, it’s obviously in the best interest of the Bears if Briggs plays on Sunday.

In the end, Briggs probably opts to knock off the rust and play a certain amount of snaps in Week 16.

But that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Don’t think for a second Briggs is blind to that.

Welcome to Soldier Field

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
4:46
PM ET
CHICAGO -- Welcome to Soldier Field where the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to maintain pace with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East with a win against the Chicago Bears.

On Sunday, the Eagles beat the Detroit Lions in a snowstorm, forcing the Cowboys to beat the Bears to maintain first place -- albeit via tiebreaker -- in the NFC East with three games to play.

Attacking on offense: The conditions could play a factor in Monday night's game with the cold, wind and field conditions. Does that mean the Cowboys will run the ball more?

“I think you go in saying you want to do both,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “You always want to run the ball, be balanced and attack when you can. We'll take that approach.”

The Cowboys have run the ball better in the past three games, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. DeMarco Murray has an outside shot at 1,000 yards despite missing two games, but the Cowboys will miss Lance Dunbar. He suffered a season-ending knee injury on Thanksgiving after finally showing the change of pace the Cowboys thought they would have all season.

Now the running game will be Murray's. Can he handle the load?

The return of the quarterback: No, not Romo. We're talking defense and the return of Sean Lee.

The middle linebacker missed two games with a hamstring injury and the Cowboys were able to win both games. But Lee is their best play maker. He is the team leader in tackles and interceptions. He is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss.

Against a team where middle linebackers have dominated for years -- Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher -- Lee will get his chance to show his worth to the Cowboys.

He will be a three-down linebacker and he said the hamstring feels fine. The cold weather will force him to do some extra warming up, but he does not expect it to be an issue.

“I thought we did a great job adapting, guys coming in and playing unbelievably,” Lee said. “Hopefully we can build on the success and continue to go forward.”

Former teammate, now enemy: Say hello to Jay Ratliff. Oop. Jeremiah Ratliff.

Released by the Cowboys in October, Ratliff signed a one-year deal with the Bears in November and will play in his second game of the season. This has not gone over well with owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

The Cowboys did not believe Ratliff would play this year based on what Ratliff told them. And here he is on the field against the Cowboys in a pivotal December game. Ratliff was a declining player with the Cowboys and was barely a factor last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

But you know he will want to be a difference maker tonight.

QB Watch: Packers' Aaron Rodgers

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback play.

Rodgers
Rewind: In his most efficient performance of the season, Aaron Rodgers completed a season-high 82.8 percent of his passes (24-of-29) in Sunday’s 44-31 win over the Minnesota Vikings. At least two of his incompletions were throwaways and there was one drop. He had his second straight interception-free game, and his QBR of 98.6 was the highest since he became a starter in 2008. He threw both of his touchdown passes to receiver Jordy Nelson, and both came with Nelson lined up in the slot position.

Fast-forward: Rodgers has won his last six starts against the Chicago Bears, including the 2010 NFC Championship Game. The Bears come to Lambeau Field on Monday night. His last loss to the Bears came on Monday Night Football on Sept. 27, 2010.

New targets: A week after getting second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin more involved against the Cleveland Browns with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, Rodgers targeted rookie Myles White seven times, and White caught five of them for 35 yards against the Vikings.

Prediction: Rodgers doesn't have Brian Urlacher to worry about anymore. The former Bears linebacker had three career interceptions against Rodgers, including one in the NFC title game. Without Urlacher to bother him, look for Rodgers to continue his interception-free streak.

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