In the past two weeks at Halas Hall, much talk has centered on whether this Bears defense trumps the defense that led the 2006 team to the Super Bowl XLI.
The 2006 defense did hold the Patriots to 17 points in New England in a four point loss, and this year's team gets the chance Sunday at Soldier Field to prove they are better.
"We’re two different defenses," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We’ve played a lot of cover-two this year, we get pressure with four, we get after the quarterback, we have different players, so I don’t know, we’re a different team.
I think we’re better than that defense is right now at this point, but we’re different."
The easy out is to point at the 2006 Bears defense that actually made a Super Bowl and call it better. That defense had speed like this one, but the players were at or approaching their prime.
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was an inside force with the pass rush. They had the brains of the operation, Mike Brown at safety.
Then again, that defense had Harris only for 11 games due to his hamstring tear; Brown played only in six games.
This year's defense has many of the same players, but they're closer to retirement than to their rookie seasons: Urlacher is 32 years old; Lance Briggs and Israel Idonije just turned 30; Julius Peppers and Anthony Adams are 30.
Nevertheless, players who are 30 aren't decrepit—Urlacher looks better than he has since 2006.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz last week said it looks like Urlacher has gone through a "time machine."
As for the rest, 30 is hardly ancient by today's NFL standards. It is for a running back, but not for players at other positions.
Statistically, this year's defense is almost deadlocked with the defense of 2006.
They are currently third in scoring defense at 16 points a game and finished third in 2006 at 15.9 points per game.
The 2006 team allowed passers a rating of 72.3, while this year's team is giving up a passer rating of 69.5.
The run defense this year ranks second at 84 yards a carry and in 2006 was sixth at 99.4. Against the pass, they're 13th this year and were 11th in 2006.
Although Peppers has helped the pass rush this year immensely, they have 25 sacks for 15th in the league. In 2006, they had 40 sacks and finished tied for eighth.
They are better taking fumbles away this year, but were better making interceptions in 2006.
With Rod Marinelli as coordinator and with Peppers leading a four-man pass rush, they're able to blitz less this year than when Ron Rivera was coordinator in 2006.
"There's no bells and whistles to it," general manager Jerry Angelo said about the defense this year. "It's pretty vanilla, standard."
Added safety Chris Harris: "We might be the only team in the league that really runs the cover-two. Other teams run modifications of it. Some critics like it, some don't. We've proven that it works."
Peppers might make this defense better, especially when the playoffs begin. The Bears had to get through the 2006 playoffs without Harris and had to rely on rookie Mark Anderson, Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown to supply pass rush pressure.
Tank Johnson was also applying some pressure, but the lack of any pressure from the tackles caught up to the team in the Super Bowl that year.
The 2006 defense also had more help over the course of the season because the running game finished 15th behind Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, while the Bears tied for second overall in scoring.
This year's running attack is just now budding and starting to take some of the load away from the defense in terms of possession time.
Still, at this point there is one big edge the 2006 defense has over this year's defense.
"I don't know if I can compare that team to this team right now; that team went to the Super Bowl," Chris Harris said. "We're playing pretty good defense, kind of similar to the 06 team."
Every team takes on a different identity but I like the direction we're going in right now.