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Briggs: Age not to blame for Bears' struggles

Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best (44) breaks a tackle by Chicago Bears defensive back D.J. Moore (30) in the second quarter of an NFL football game in Detroit, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best (44) breaks a tackle by Chicago Bears defensive back D.J. Moore (30) in the second quarter of an NFL football game in Detroit, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
By Andrew Seligman
AP Sports Writer / October 13, 2011

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LAKE FOREST, Ill.—Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs isn't buying the idea that age is to blame for the Chicago Bears' struggles on defense.

He says the unit is close to dominating opponents the way many anticipated even though it ranks among the league's worst at the moment and is a big reason why the reigning NFC North champions are in a big early hole.

Chicago (2-3) hosts Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings (1-4) on Sunday night, and it sure would help if the defense returned to form.

Briggs said he saw some positive signs Monday in a 24-13 loss at Detroit, though they again got burned for big plays on touchdowns by Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.

"We did a lot of good things; a lot of good things," Briggs said. "A lot closer to playing the style of defense that we want to play. The big plays might have shown; we gave up a couple of big plays that cost us the game. But looking over film we did a lot of good things."

And he dismisses the idea that age is at the root of their struggles. Brings, along with Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman, are all 30 or older.

"Ahh, I don't know," Briggs said. "I don't really have a comment for that. Call it want you want to. We've got a lot of young guys out there, too. We're not as old as we've been. We've got guys that are old, guys that are young, you mix it all together and you make it happen."

So far, what's transpired isn't good.

That they've struggled on offense this year hasn't been much of a surprise given the issues they had last season, but the way the defense has played is a bit stunning. With Pro Bowlers like Peppers, Urlacher and Briggs, the Bears were counting on an elite defense to help build on a run to the division championship and conference title game, but that's just not happening.

They're not getting the pressure up front. They're struggling in the secondary, with safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather expected to be benched in favor of Chris Conte and Major Wright, and it all adds up to some ugly numbers. The defense ranks 29th overall, 28th against the run and 27th against the pass.

Peppers isn't creating his usual problems, and he is now hobbled after spraining his left knee in Monday's loss.

"Julius will play," fellow defensive end Idonije said. "Whenever he's on the field, he's going to give 100 percent and contribute."

The defense struggled against Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers while losing to New Orleans and Green Bay, got picked apart by Cam Newton and gave up 543 yards in a win over Carolina, and continued to get burned by the big play in Detroit.

They gave up 395 yards to the Lions, including a 73-yard touchdown catch by Johnson in which Tillman failed to jam him at the line and Chris Harris got beat. They also let Best run 88 yards untouched on the way to the end zone.

"Sometimes it's alignment, maybe assignment or technique," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "Those things right there. Right now, there's two-three plays a game that are hurting us. Part of our system, that's the one thing you really should eliminate, make people grind the ball out. We're failing on that right now."

Like general manager Jerry Angelo said in an interview with the team's website this week, Briggs insisted the issue is discipline. It's players missing assignments and failing to pressure the quarterback.

Urlacher said it's something else, too -- trust.

"If you run through your gap, you're expecting the other guy to run through his gap," Urlacher said. "Now it's getting to the point where you run `to' your gap and you're getting hedgy, looking around, seeing where the ball carrier is, and he cuts back through your gap. It's a trust issue with us, being disciplined and trusting that the other guy is going to be in his gap. That's what it comes down to for us."

Notes: Besides Harris and Meriweather, RT Frank Omiyale is not expected to start after being lifted the past two games. ... WR Earl Bennett practiced on a limited basis for the first time since he suffered a chest injury against New Orleans in the second game.

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