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updated: 9/12/2011 6:55 AM

Bears' defense showing no sign of age

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  • Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) celebrates his fumble recovery and touchdown with teammate Julius Peppers and head coach Lovie Smith, left, in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.

      Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) celebrates his fumble recovery and touchdown with teammate Julius Peppers and head coach Lovie Smith, left, in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.
    Associated Press

 
 

In a matchup of the Bears' thirty-something defense vs. the Atlanta Falcons' young, up and coming offense Sunday, it was no contest.

The Bears' "old-timers" surrendered some yardage, but the defense took the ball away three times and scored once.

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And it was the most experienced defenders who had the most to do with forcing the turnovers.

The old men of the Bears' defense played as if they were in their primes, and maybe they still are. The NFL's fifth-highest-scoring offense of 2010 was no match for the Bears.

That bodes well for a team that hopes to advance further than last season, when it lost in the NFC title game.

For that to happen, the offense will have to be better than it was last season, but it will still be the defense that carries this team.

Their 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception left the Bears plus-2 in the turnover department, something that has been a staple of defenses under Lovie Smith.

Since he took over in 2004, the Bears have taken the ball away an NFL-best 235 times, 12 more than the next best team.

"It's not a good defensive game for us unless we can take the ball away," Smith said. "Normally if you have a plus-2 on the turnover ratio, you're going to win 90 percent of your games.

"Our players understand that. We just have to keep that going. It's what we do every day in practice."

The Bears weren't even favored in their home opener, but they proved, at least Sunday, that experience counts for more than potential in a one-sided, 30-12 victory in which the outcome was rarely in doubt.

Thirty-three-year-old middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the oldest position player on a team that normally starts six players 30 or older, turned the momentum permanently in the Bears' favor with a diving interception late in the first quarter that set up Matt Forte's 56-yard TD scamper on a screen pass.

Asked to describe the play, Urlacher joked: "Oh, it was crazy, man, he threw it and then I caught it."

Later Urlacher capped the Bears' scoring when he scooped up a Matt Ryan fumble caused by pressure from 31-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers, who had 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble.

The fumble that Peppers recovered was forced by 30-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman, who also broke up 2 passes and had a tackle for loss.

"How about that old guy? Huh?" Tillman said when asked about Urlacher's 19th career interception. "He's still making athletic plays, he still has it.

"Ray Lewis has still got it; I think Lack's still got it, as we saw. He's a great player, not just on this team but in this league. He's an impact player.

"Age isn't a problem on this team. As long as you can go out there and play, nothing else matters."

Because the Bears' older guys still can play, a game that was almost dead-even in yardage had a lopsided result. Urlacher led the Bears with 10 tackles and Tillman was third with 7.

But it's not as if the seasoned veterans didn't have help from some of the younger players who are being blended into the defense, which is more cause for optimism.

First-time starter Henry Melton, the 24-year-old replacement for Tommie Harris at the 3-technique tackle, had 2 sacks and an almost-unheard-of 7 QB hurries.

The bulked-up 6-foot-3, 295-pound Melton was so close so many time that he was left to lament the sacks that he didn't get.

"I'm going to look back at the tape and think, 'Oh, man, I could have had 3 or 4,' " he said.

If he continues to get to the quarterback with such frequency, Melton may have to put some thought into how he's going to celebrate his sacks.

"I didn't have anything prepared," he said. "I just started skipping with excitement at one point. I need to start with a dance and then I'll name it; it's going to be funny."

The Bears' fifth sack came from Melton's backup, 24-year-old Amobi Okoye, who led the team with 3 sacks in the preseason.

"We have a lot of guys that can run and rush," Peppers said. "We have guys who are interchangeable; they can go to end and to 3 (technique).

"We have guys that didn't get sacks today that can rush. We still have a lot more to work on, but hopefully we can be the driving force for the team this year."

That's the way Smith and coordinator Rod Marinelli's defense is designed.

"It starts with that for us, as far as getting pressure," Smith said. "We don't get off the bus blitzing. We feel like we can get pressure with (just) our four-man rush. That sets everything up, being able to get that pressure and being able to play a little bit more coverage."

It's only one game, but the Bears' defense doesn't look like it's getting older, just better.

•Follow Bob's Bears reports via Twitter @BobLeGere and check out our Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com.

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