As always, defense's No. 1 priority remains stopping run
By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 11/17/2010 1:48 PM
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – With third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen expected to start Thursday night’s game in Miami, the Dolphins likely will rely even more than usual on their running game.
But that won’t change the defensive approach for the Bears, whose No. 1 priority is always to stop the run regardless of who they’re facing across the line of scrimmage.
“It doesn’t matter who’s the quarterback,” said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. “We try to stop the run if we can and then put them in third-and-long if possible.”
“You’ve got to go out and try to make a team one-dimensional,” added defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “It doesn’t change much. You have to go out and try to do that.”
The Dolphins lost their top two quarterbacks to injuries in last Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. Chad Pennington (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve, while Chad Henne (knee) was listed as doubtful on the injury report Wednesday after missing practice for the second straight day.
That leaves Thigpen, who completed 4 of 6 passes for 64 yards and one touchdown in relief of Pennington and Henne against the Titans. A four-year veteran from Coastal Carolina, Thigpen was traded to the Dolphins from the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 29, 2009.
Although Thigpen went 1-10 in the only starts of his NFL career with the Chiefs in 2008, he performed fairly well, throwing for 2,608 yards with 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 76.0 passer rating, and running for three TDs as well.
“He played well when he was in Kansas City and played well last week when he got in the game,” Urlacher said. “He can move around a little bit. They’re athletic all over the place on offense. It’s a big challenge for us. Our defensive ends have to get up the field and keep him in the pocket.”
Urlacher doesn’t have very fond memories of playing the Dolphins. In fact, Miami is one of only two NFL teams the Bears have not defeated since he entered the league in 2000. (The Texans are the other).
The Dolphins are 2-0 in that span, thanks in part to a dominant running game. Ricky Williams set a record that has since been broken for the most yards rushing by a Bears opponent when he gained 216 in a Monday night victory in Miami in 2002. Then in 2006, Ronnie Brown ran for 157 yards at Soldier Field as the Dolphins gave the Bears their first loss after a 6-0 start.
“They pounded us last time,” Urlacher said. “[Brown] had a lot of yards and they beat us pretty good. We haven’t had a good history with them. We also played them on a Monday night and Ricky Williams rushed for 200-and-something yards. So we haven’t had good games against them in the past.”
The Bears feel that they’ll have to contain the same two backs to win Thursday night. Brown (113 carries for 444 yards) and Williams (89-400) have combined to rush for 844 yards on 202 attempts this season.
“Those guys can definitely run downhill,” said safety Danieal Manning. “This is going to be a very physical game.”
With Thigpen expected to start, the Dolphins could operate quite a bit out of the Wildcat formation. In 29 regular-season games dating back to 2008, Brown has rushed for 640 yards and seven touchdowns on 118 carries out of the Wildcat. He has also completed 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards and two TDs.
“The key to stopping them is tackling the guy with the football,” Urlacher said. “Figure out where he’s going and go get it. If you read your keys, they’ll take you to the football in our defense. A lot of people see the Wildcat and freeze. We don’t; we get downhill. If we do that, we’ll be OK.
“They do a lot of different formations from the Wildcat, motioning, and they’ll put three or four running backs in there. So it’s just [about] reading our keys. We have a key on every play. If we read that key, we’ll get to the football.”
The Bears have performed exceptionally well on defense this season. They lead the NFL in takeaways and opponent passer rating and have permitted the second-fewest points in the league. The defense is tied for second in interceptions and ranks fourth in total yards, second in rushing yards and fourth in third-down efficiency.
“We’re playing fast,” Urlacher said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We are getting to the football. You watch film, and there are nine or 10 guys at the football every play. That’s what you want to see as a defensive player.
“We are missing some tackles, but they get paid too. We’re going to miss tackles. We’re not getting a lot of sacks. But we are getting pressure on the quarterback, and we’re getting takeaways. Those are huge for us. If we keep getting those, we’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games.”
Late injury: Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa on Wednesday was ruled out of Thursday night's game with a knee injury, Tinoisamoa, who was limited to two games last season due to knee problems, has registered 46 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, one sack and one forced fumble this season.