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Brian Urlacher says Bears’ defense must step up

Brian Urlacher means no offense quarterback Caleb Hanie but he says Bears' defense must take another step its recovery from

Brian Urlacher means no offense to quarterback Caleb Hanie, but he says the Bears' defense must take another step in its recovery from a slow start. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 26, 2011 9:05AM

Two days after a 24-13 loss in Detroit on “Monday Night Football,” Bears defensive players trotted into a meeting room at Halas Hall.

Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, in an understated yet powerful voice, told his players, “Look at this.”

The lights dimmed, and onto a screen flashed some of the lowlights of the season, including the 79-yard catch-and-run by New Orleans Saints receiver Devery Henderson and the 88-yard scamper by Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best. They were among the handful of explosive plays the defense gave up during the Bears’ 2-3 start. Consequently, the unit dropped to fourth-worst in the league in yards allowed per game after five games.

“This is not good enough,” Marinelli said.

Then Marinelli showed them film from last season in which defenders were making routine plays and celebrating afterward. The sort of plays that helped the defense finish ninth in the NFL.

“It was bad football,” Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton said of the 2011 lowlights. “There was a dramatic difference [from the 2010 highlights], but it was the same players.”

Those defenders are turning back the clock.

The Bears are playing more disciplined defense, stopping the run, creating turnovers and providing timely takeaways. But with quarterback Jay Cutler sidelined with a broken thumb, the defense might have to wind back the clock even further, to a time when it was expected to carry the offense.

“Nothing against Caleb [Hanie], but we’re going to have to step up on defense and play better,” Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “He’ll do a good job. We just have to play better on defense.”

The first test, though, could be the toughest.

Of their next four opponents, only the Oakland Raiders have a winning record (6-4) and an offense not ranked in the bottom 10 (it’s No. 10). As if that weren’t daunting enough, the game is in Oakland.

After that, though, the Bears’ defense gets struggling offenses in the Kansas City Chiefs (26th), the Denver Broncos (27th) and the Seattle Seahawks (28th) before a Christmas Day showdown with the Green Bay Packers.

When he watched the film, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman accepted responsibility for his shortcomings, including some of the tackles he missed.

“You’ve got to be a man and look in the mirror and say, ‘I can do better. I made a mistake.’ And we all said that, and we all took a step back,” Tillman said. “We evaluated ourselves, and we corrected the problem.”

Ultimately, though, Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams said there was a greater motivation.

“We just wanted to stop embarrassing ourselves,” he said.

The three longest plays the defense has conceded this season occurred in the first five games. But the greater problem was an inability to accomplish the fundamental duty of a Lovie Smith- and Rod Marinelli-led defense: Stop the run.

Through the first five games, the Bears allowed an average of 135.6 rushing yards. In the five games since, they have allowed 66.8.

The Bears’ second priority is creating turnovers, and they’ve come in bunches. In the first five games, they forced seven turnovers. During the five-game winning streak, they’ve forced 15.

Thanks in part to the offense, the defense also isn’t on the field as much as it was earlier in the season, although it has helped its own cause.

“If you stop the run, you force them to be one-dimensional,” Adams said. “You have a lot of smart rushes, you create turnovers and you’ll get off the field.”

Marinelli stressed teamwork, with each player doing what they’re expected to.

“You have to wire them back in,” Marinelli said. “But it doesn’t click the next day.

“We had a tough road there for a while. The only way you get out of it is to stay positive, and you have to work at it.”

Melton, for one, admitted that he was pressing. He had two sacks in the season opener after being thrust into the starting lineup.

“There were times I was trying to do too much, and I got out of my gap sometimes,” Melton said. “You start off like that, then everyone expects it every game.

“I had to just relax and focus back in, and you have to think about the defense and everybody being where they’re supposed to be.”

The players had to stop trying to be, as Adams said, “the hero.”

“Make the plays that you’re supposed to make,” he said.

The exemplary plays often don’t show up on the stat sheets, either.

Marinelli, though, trumpets such unselfish plays, ones that empower others to make the big plays.

Defensive end Julius Peppers has had several of those, forcing passes that defensive backs have picked off. He did that Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, and cornerback Corey Graham was the beneficiary.

“That’s just good football,” Adams said.

Smith said the key to the turnaround is the belief in the system and the players.

“There’s no panic, and we believe in what we’re doing,” Smith said. “Sometimes you don’t play well. But you have to work hard on the practice field to correct those things.

“When we weren’t playing well, it was a few things here and there, and we’ve tightened up on those things.”

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