When Lance Briggs went down with his fractured shoulder during the Oct. 20 game against the Washington Redskins, the Bears were allowing 117 rushing yards per game. Going into the Cleveland game the defense was allowing 157.
Losing Briggs was hardly the reason a traditionally good run defense deteriorated into one of the NFL’s worst. The Bears also lost veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams the previous week (vs. NY Giants) and Charles Tillman two weeks later.
And “one of the things you’ve got to remember is that each week, or most of these weeks this year, we’ve had a new starting front four or a different rotating front four,” Briggs pointed out. “And a lot of young guys, and a lot of guys learning on the run.
“So there’s a lot of things that we had planned coming into the season that we kind of had to scale back. We had to throw out. We had guys that were actually learning how to play the base stuff. It just takes time.”
The defense is out of time now. And Briggs’ return was not fully assured as of Friday, although he had practiced all three days this week.
But two things are in place to materially enhance the linebacker play vs. Philadelphia. One is the emerging presence of Jeremiah Ratliff at both defensive tackle positions. The second is Briggs, whose return places not just him in the defense, but also flanks rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic with two solid veterans in Briggs and James Anderson.
“Lance Briggs is probably one of the best linebackers that I’ve faced and I’m actually saying that in an honest way,” said Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy. “He’s one of the best. Him actually being out there and been banged up and having rookie guys have to step in and have to play at a role like that, it’s tough for them.”
What to look for: How much will the Bears get out of Briggs? He was unable to do weightlifting because of his shoulder and his running/conditioning work was necessarily curtailed because of the strain and bouncing involved in running.
Rookie Khaseem Greene is expected to see spot duty in relief of Briggs, likely earlier rather than later in order to have Briggs available for the fourth quarter.