Bears Plan a Little Keep-Away

By Jack McCarthy
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 19, 2007

LAKE FOREST, Ill., Jan. 18 -- For a change, the most important part of the Chicago Bears' game plan might concern their offense rather than their defense.

For a team that has forged its reputation -- and its historic identity -- on defense, keeping the offense on the field for extended periods may be the way to beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears' defense was dominant early in the season and evoked comparisons to the 1985 Bears, but the loss of safety Mike Brown in October and defensive tackle Tommie Harris in December has forced continued personnel shuffles.

"Our defense is predicated on speed," defensive tackle Tank Johnson said. "Any time you lose the caliber of talent of a guy like Tommie as well as Mike Brown, it definitely takes away from the strength of our defense.

"But the organization does a great job of keeping guys around to fill in who are able to get the job done."

Bears Coach Lovie Smith has been preaching continued defensive intensity this week.

"To me, that is getting after them from start to finish," Smith said. "We want them to play on an emotional high. We want them to try to make a big play on every down.

"We want them to play on that fourth-and-one level, overtime, the last two minutes of the game [right] from the start of the game."

It's one thing to contain the likes of Saints running backs Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush and quarterback Drew Brees, and it's even better to keep them on the sideline for extended periods of time.

"They've got tremendous football players," Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "Their receiving corps is a dynamic group of guys that have the ability to make plays. Bush is everything he's cracked up to be, and McAllister is a fine inside runner. And with the ability to run [with] the power they do, can give you a lot of trouble.

"But the guy who gets everything going is Drew Brees. He's having a tremendous year."

Brees was the NFC's leading passer (356 of 554 for 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns). His quarterback rating of 96.2 also topped the conference.

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