Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera watches a play against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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In 2006, then-Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera led a unit that ranked third in points and fifth in yards allowed.
The defense, of course, was a key in the Bears advancing to the Super Bowl.
But Rivera, now coach of the Carolina Panthers, thinks the Bears’ defense this season is even better than the 2006 version.
“Compared to the 2006 one that we went to the Super Bowl with, I think this group can be better,” Rivera said. “Because the front four is probably better [than 2006], and it really begins with those guys up front.
“I think their front four can rush as well as anyone in the league. They can get after the quarterback with just the four guys.”
Rivera added that the linebackers play downhill football and the defensive backs are opportunistic.
“You look at what Charles Tillman does and the way he’s redefining stripping and knocking the football out,” Rivera said. “It’s really a true testament to that defensive philosophy that’s been there for quite some time.’’
Continuity also is a key to the success of the unit, Rivera said.
“They’ve been doing it a long time,” he said, pointing to veterans Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije and Tillman.
“The rest of the guys pick up off their lead. It’s an exciting bunch to watch. I enjoy watching tape as we break it down against these guys.”
Hayden gets more reps
Veteran Kelvin Hayden played nickel cornerback against the Detroit Lions, primarily based on matchups.
“It was kind of a personnel thing, but it was just trying to get guys more reps,” said Hayden, who had one tackle.
D.J. Moore , who has been a playmaker as the nickelback, has been indispensable in that role. Hayden provides a capable backup, someone who has manned the position before.
Moore intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass on fourth down late in the third quarter.
“I thought I played well, and D.J. went out and played well, as usual, and we came out with a win,” Hayden said.
The Bears didn’t practice Wednesday but if they had, cornerback Sherrick McManis would’ve returned to practice in full. McManis, a key special-teams player, missed the Lions game with a hip injury. Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery already has been ruled out for Sunday.
For the Panthers, tight end Ben Hartsock was limited in practice, and defensive ends Antwan Applewhite and Thomas Keiser didn’t participate.