Friday, Jan. 21, 2011
Posted: 12:47 p.m. Updated: 5:08 p.m.
By John Mullin
Former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, the team's all-time sack leader, MVP of Super Bowl XX and Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011 finalist, will serve as the team's honorary captain for Sunday's NFC Championship at Soldier Field.
In two stints spanning 12 years with the Bears, Dent recorded a franchise record 124.5 sacks. He recorded a Chicago single-season record and career-high 17.5 sacks in 1984. Dent totaled eight double-digit sack seasons as a Bear while leading the team in sacks eight times.
Dent played professional football for a total of 15 years, also earning a Super Bowl ring with San Francisco in 1994, finishing with 137.5 career sacks, tied for sixth all-time in the NFL.
He may not be taking all the practice reps yet but safety Chris Harris was firm Friday: He is playing against the Green Bay Packers Sunday.
Harris hip pointer kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday but I feel a lot better than I did previous days, Harris said after practice Friday. Im playing. Im definitely playing.
A hip pointer can be painful and coaches may face a decision on whether he at his current level or Craig Steltz, on the inactive list seven games this season, makes more sense against a Green Bay offense that averages 24.3 points per game (10th in the NFL).
The Bears defense, whether in Cover-2 mode or other, requires strong safety play and decision-making and Harris is not going to create a problem just so he can be on the field.
If it happens to bother me, I will definitely come out of the game, Harris said.
Love the matchup classic vs. classic
Lovie Smith has had to defend (well, not really defend) his Cover-2 defensive scheme from critics who havent always had a real grasp of what he and coordinator Rod Marinelli actually do run and when.
The unit has been a top-10 defense in myriad areas in multiple years and with different personnel. Which makes you wonder Does Mike McCarthy up in Green Bay have to keep defending use of the West Coast offense?
Obvious answer: no. The reality is that the reason the West Coast system has worked well and for a long, long time by NFL standards is because it has been adapted by its various practitioners. Just as Smith has created his own version of the defense he learned under Tony Dungy.
You do have to love this matchup within the matchup: West Coast system vs. Cover-2.
For the record, the Bears handled Andy Reids version of the West Coast in their win over the Philadelphia Eagles. They allowed no more than 17 points in the Green Bay games (17 and 10) and Mike Shanahans Washington version only put up 17 and that was with one of DeAngelo Halls four interceptions going 92 yards the other way for 7 points.
Matt Hasselbeck is pure West Coast from his years with Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and Seattle. The Seahawks nicked the Bears in their regular-season meeting with help from the old Mike Martz offense calling 47 pass plays, 12 runs and controlling the ball less than 26 minutes.
Well throw out the divisional game just because of the injury to tight end John Carlson, a big part of Hasselbecks West Coast base. But the Seahawks did only total 96 yards and zero points in the first half before the Bears took their feet off the gas defensively.
Sometimes ya gotta love the classics.
Green Bay lost its running game opening day when tailback Ryan Grant was lost to an ankle injury for the year. It seemed to get it back when James Starks came of the physically unable to perform list, got in several late-season games, including one against the Bears, and then stunned the Philadelphia Eagles with 123 yards on 23 carries in the wild-card game.
The Bears rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 90 yards per game. The Giants Ahmad Bradshaw (129) and Washingtons Ryan Torain (125) have been the only backs to gain 100 yards on the Bears this season and they dont exactly expect Starks to become the third.
As far as what makes Starks tough to bring down, linebacker Brian Urlacher wasnt sure the question even pertained to the Bears.
Tough, for other teams? Urlacher said. The point isnt Starks; its the Bears. We run to the football. Thats what we do really well. We get a lot of guys to the football. We havent missed a lot of tackles this year, but when we do we have guys running to the football to get him down so well keep doing that.
The Bear-Packer rivalry is certainly a competition of long standing. But it rarely has extended into the postseason.
Not only is this just the second time the two teams have faced each other in the playoffs. It also is only the fourth time the two teams have even been in the playoffs in the same year. Its difficult to have a true rivalry when one side of the situation is good and the other is bad, which was the case for too many seasons.
Besides the 1941 one-game playoff to decide the Western Conference, both reached the 1994 playoffs as wild cards. Both won in that round but lost big to other opponents in the divisional round.
The Bears won the division in 2001, Green Bay qualified and won a round as a wild card, but both lost big again in the divisional round.
This year, things were different.
For many Bears the single most important aspect of Sundays game is not that its against Green Bay. Its that the game is the final step to the Super Bowl.
Same in Green Bay. As far as added significance to the game, For me personally, not really, said linebacker Clay Matthews. Obviously you want to beat them with everything that goes on between Chicago and Green Bay and the historic organizations that we both have.
I think the fans, Chicago would like to beat Green Bay that much more and Green Bay to Chicago, so like Urlacher said, its an NFC Championship game. You have to understand that no matter who youre playing, you better bring youre A-game because youre one game away from making the Super Bowl. You need to show up, and you wouldnt be in the position you are if you hadnt been.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.