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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Brian Urlacher praises Bears' defense

ESPNChicago.com

The whispers are growing louder with each victory. A comparison that seemed ludicrous after Week 7 -- when the Bears were 4-3 -- now has legs and is starting to stand up to the analysis.

Is this Bears team as good as the '06 squad that advanced to Super Bowl XLI?

"I think [this defense is] better," Brian Urlacher said recently. "Position by position, I think we match up with that team."

One of the safeties isn't ready to back up that proclamation.

"I don't think I'll be able to make that synopsis until we get to the Super Bowl," Chris Harris said Monday. "It's hard to say."

Harris, appearing on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000, said the sample size is too small.

"We're still only 11 games into the season, so it's hard to say," Harris said. " [This defense] has similarities. Yeah, we're playing pretty good third-down defense. We're playing pretty good red-zone defense. And holding opponents from scoring.

"That has similarities, but I don't know if I could assess that until the season is over."

The 2006 Bears finished the regular season 13-3 and ultimately lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. The current club is 8-3 and is riding its first four-game win streak since '06.

Most fans would say the most obvious advantage for the current team is at quarterback. Jay Cutler is considered much more talented than Rex Grossman, and the stats back up the perception. Cutler's passer rating is 90.4 while Grossman's was 77.6 through 11 games.

"Jay Cutler has this team in his hands," ESPN NFL analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said on Monday Night Football. "This is a defense that can go the distance. We've seen what Chicago has done in the past. They can take a team to the Super Bowl.

"This team is ready to go to the Super Bowl. They proved it [with Sunday's 31-26 win over the Philadelphia Eagles] in my mind."

Mike Ditka also said the Bears are currently the best team in the NFC, and he praised this season's defense.

"We're older, but that doesn't mean we're slower," Urlacher said after the Bears' 16-0 shutout in Miami on Nov. 18. "We're wiser now. We're athletic, and we're disciplined. We believe in the system.

"This is the best defense I've been on. I've got to say that. This is definitely the most talented from top to bottom: our defensive line, our safeties, our corners, our linebackers."

But the only category this year's defense has the advantage in is rushing yards per game. The Bears rank second in the NFL this year, yielding an average of 80.5 rushing yards per game. The '06 squad was yielding 98.0 rushing yards per game through 11 contests.

And this year's team has had an easier schedule. Through 11 games, the 2010 Bears' opponents have a 49-72 record for a winning percentage of .405, which ranks 30th of 32 teams. Through 11 games in '06, the Bears faced team with a combined 55-66 record (.454), including four teams that would reach the playoffs.

The debate won't be decided until the postseason, and the current Bears face an uphill battle with opponents that have a 31-21 record (.564).

Still, it's a better debate for the Bears than the one raging after Week 7.

ESPN Stats and Information contributed information to this story.