Bears benefiting from experience on defense
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is stopped by Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) and veteran DE Julius Peppers Sunday.
Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli are blessed with several "coaches on the field," since Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman have all been starters in the system since the day Smith arrived in 2004.
"If the headphones went out, all three of them probably could call most of the game and we'd be on the same page," Smith said. "We know what those guys bring to the table. We're talking a lot about (Texans defensive end) J.J. Watt and what he does. We have some of the same type guys that show up every day, play hard and they're good football players."
Defensive end Israel Idonije was a backup and special teams standout in 2004 and has missed just 10 games in nine seasons. Linebacker Nick Roach has been a starter since 2008. That number of experienced players is rare.
"It doesn't happen a lot, and I can't tell you how much it means for the team," Smith said. "We haven't changed systems. The guys have been doing the same thing from Day One. They know what we're going to call most of the time."
This year's defense is No. 2 in yards allowed and interceptions, No. 4 in third-down efficiency and No. 6 in total yards and rushing yards allowed.
Earl Bennett has 10 catches for 96 yards in the three games since he returned from a hand injury that sidelined him for two games.
That makes him the Bears' No. 2 receiver behind Brandon Marshall — way behind Marshall, who has 24 catches in the past three games for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns. The consensus is that someone has to step up and provide Jay Cutler with another threat in the passing game.
"We have to take some pressure off Brandon and make plays so they can't double-team him," Bennett said. "That's where we have to do our job. And Jay knows he's just got to do what he's got to do, go through his reads and make the right throw."
But coach Lovie Smith still expects Marshall to be the go-to guy, even if teams continue to double-team him.
"They know that we throw it to him most of the time," Smith said. "He's our No. 1 receiver so, no matter what they do, we still have to try to get the ball to him. But that will open up other things, not just for other receivers but for our running game also."
Defensive end Israel Idonije (ankle) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (back) were full participants in Friday's practice and are probable for Sunday night.
Nose tackle Matt Toeaina (calf) and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) are listed as "doubtful" but will not play. Jeffery practiced Friday for the first time since he was injured on Oct. 7 but was limited. Toeaina did not practice.
For the Texans, nose tackle Shaun Cody (ribs) and backup running back Ben Tate (hamstring) are out. Tight end and Naperville native Owen Daniels (back) is questionable after a limited practice.
By the numbers:
Jay Cutler's 138.1 rating last Sunday was his second highest of the season following the 140.3 rating he had vs. Dallas in Week Four. Cutler's teams are now 26-0 when he has a passer rating of more than 100, including 16-0 with the Bears, counting the divisional-round playoff game vs. the Seahawks after the 2010 season. … The Bears last week became the first team in NFL history to score touchdowns by rushing, passing, interception return and blocked punt return in the same quarter Sunday in the opening 15 minutes against the Titans. The 28 first-quarter points were a franchise record. … This is the seventh time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that the Bears have started a season 7-1 or better. They made the playoffs in each of the six previous seasons (1985-88, '90 and 2006).
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