For Urlacher, sacks hold key

Thriving in the Bears' scheme, he's tied for third in NFL with six

Pro Football

October 20, 2005|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher can't quite figure it out, but he'll gladly take the results.

The four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker is tied for third in the NFL with six sacks in five games, and so far they've come easy.

"I get blocked on running plays," said Urlacher, whose Bears (2-3) play the Ravens (2-3) at Soldier Field on Sunday.

"But when I blitz or when I've gotten my sacks, I really haven't gotten touched. The linemen have done a good job of flushing [the quarterback] to me and the [defensive backs] have covered for five or six seconds at a time to allow me to get there."

Since coach Lovie Smith took over last season, Urlacher has thrived in a defensive scheme that, in its base mode, attempts to funnel the offensive flow to the middle of the field, allowing him and weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs to be focal points.

In the first five games this year, Urlacher has 52 tackles, two for losses, and a forced fumble to go along with the sacks. Briggs is a close second with 51 tackles, including four for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Last season, Urlacher had similar success with 5 1/2 sacks in nine games, but hamstring injuries and leg surgery forced him to miss nearly half the season.

That followed a mini-slump in 2003 - the last season for former Bears coach Dick Jauron - when the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder had just 2 1/2 sacks and no turnovers.

"I don't know what happened [in 2003]," Urlacher said. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what my stats were. I don't pay attention to that stuff. I just try to go out there and play hard and help my team win, which we really haven't done a whole bunch of."

The Bears have had just one winning season since 1996, and Smith is hoping to return the team to its hard-nosed tradition. In the coach's mind, that means tough defense and a solid running game.

"When you see Chicago football, that's what you think of," Smith said. "We play in the elements and you have to be able to run the football."

Defensively, Smith's team at least isn't an embarrassment to the former Monsters of the Midway. This season, the Bears are ranked No. 3 in the NFL in total defense; the Ravens are No. 2.

Smith pointed out the obvious - that his four-man front defense is centered around the middle linebacker. The Bears blitz about a third of the time, and that's where Urlacher is a threat.

"Blitz pickups are going to be big this week," Ravens running back Jamal Lewis said. "I think I'll probably be a guard or a tackle this week. That's going to be key because they're going to put the pressure on; that's what they do well. If we pick it up, we'll be all right. ... We've gotten better at it since the first game. We've gotten much better at it."

The Ravens have allowed just two sacks in the past three games, but this will be a much sterner test.

"They don't have to rely on just [Urlacher]," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They've got great pressure on the outside. That whole linebacking corps is very athletic. This is a very athletic defense.

"I'm very impressed with the front seven ... It's those two big outside linebackers [Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer]. It's [Mike] Brown the [strong] safety, they bring him a great deal. You've got to be careful about focusing on one guy when it comes to pressure."

Since coming into the league in 2000, Urlacher has faced some heat himself, occasionally straying from the sports pages and into gossip columns.

After legal action earlier this year, DNA testing indicated that he fathered a child with a former stripper. And two years ago, he was spotted in Las Vegas socializing with Paris Hilton.

Yesterday, Urlacher was unwilling to discuss the brief fling with publicity magnet Hilton. Asked which of them, when they hung out together, people most recognized, the middle linebacker, whose No. 54 replica jersey is one of the best-selling among NFL players, replied, "Next question."

Regardless of how it worked out in Vegas, he'll get plenty of attention from the Ravens on Sunday.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

Ravens@Bears Sunday, 4:15 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bears by 1

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