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Xs AND O's

It's not 1985 for Bears

January 19, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

There are plenty of similarities between the Chicago Bears of this season and the franchise's 1985 team that won Super Bowl XX. What's odd is, most of them are on offense.

With running back Walter Payton and quarterback Jim McMahon, the champion Bears relied on a strong running game and looked to beat defenses with play-action pass plays.

This season's Chicago offense counts on Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to lead a ground attack that sets the table for play-action passes from Rex Grossman.

Jones, Benson and Grossman are not in the class of McMahon, Payton & Co., but the offense they generate similarly does just enough to complement another strong defense.

That said, there's not much of a comparison between the defenses.

Using coordinator Buddy Ryan's 4-6 zone schemes, the '85 Bears not only dominated offenses, they intimidated them.

Led by linebackers Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall, end Richard Dent and cornerback Leslie Frazier, that Chicago defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the regular season in fewest points allowed (198), total yards allowed (4,135), rushing yards allowed (1,319) and most interceptions (34).

Those Bears gave up one touchdown or fewer in six games and recorded four shutouts -- two during the regular season and two in the postseason when, in victories over the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, Chicago became the first team in league history to go through the conference playoffs without allowing a point.

This season, the Bears held opponents to seven points or fewer five times, including two shutouts. But overall, they do not stack up to the '85 team. These Bears ranked third in fewest points allowed (255), fifth in total yards allowed (4,706), sixth in rushing yards allowed (1,590), and second in interceptions (24).

The Bears held their first five opponents to averages of 234.6 yards and 7.2 points but, after the unit sustained some key injuries, those averages ballooned to 376.6 yards and 23.6 points in the final five regular-season games. Then, in last week's overtime playoff victory against Seattle, Chicago gave up 306 yards and 24 points.

Far from being as domineering as their Super Bowl champion predecessors, these Bears still usually manage to take away some element of the opposing offense. However, doing that against New Orleans in the NFC championship game Sunday at Soldier Field will be an especially daunting challenge.

The Saints' balanced ball-control offense, featuring quarterback Drew Brees and running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, can hurt a defense with the run and pass -- and several variations of each.

During the regular season, the Saints averaged 391.5 total yards and 281.4 passing yards, both best in the league. But New Orleans defeated Philadelphia, 27-24, last Saturday because of its ability to run the ball. In 72 plays, the Saints gained 435 yards, with powerful McAllister rushing mostly between tackles for 143 yards and two touchdowns and fast and elusive Bush adding 52 yards and a touchdown.

Expect New Orleans to concentrate on the run again -- but more from spread formations in an attempt to coax the Bears to replace renowned run-stoppers in linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and tackle Ian Scott.

Summary: Since the Bears lost safety Mike Brown and tackle Tommy Harris to injuries, they haven't been the same. Both players are among the best in the league at their positions and are difficult to replace, but safety Chris Harris and tackle Tank Johnson played well against Seattle. With a repeat performance, the Bears might be able to at least slow down Brees, the ringleader of the Saints' big-play offense.


Ring it up

The city of Chicago has won its share of championships. New Orleans, which only recently added a second pro sports team (the NBA's Hornets), can't say the same. Major sports championships won, 1985-2007:


* CHICAGO: 8 (Bulls 6, Bears 1, White Sox 1).

Note: Beginning with the Bears' win, Chicago has not gone as long as eight years without a title.


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