|A swarming Bears defense is taking pride in shutting down opponents and helping pile up wins. (US Presswire)|
The Chicago Bears' defense is more interested in beating up opponents than beating their own chests.
When the Bears' defense first came to prominence in 2004 under then new coach Lovie Smith, getting recognition from the rest of the league, media and country meant a lot to them. In fact, former DT Tommie Harris quickly called the Bears the "best defense in the league," a week before Peyton Manning and the Colts handed the "best defense in the league" a 41-10 loss at Soldier Field.
Side shows mean little now to a veteran bunch, and it appears to be a factor in the unit being so consistently dominant. Even the Bears' only loss, 23-10 at Green Bay, the defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and held him to an 85.3 passer rating.
So are they getting the respect usually reserved for defenses like Baltimore, the Giants, Houston and San Francisco?
"I think we are getting a lot of respect," CB Charles Tillman said. "No. I don't think we care about what other people say because it is really about what we think about in our defensive (meeting) room."
LB Brian Urlacher, the elder statesman, doesn't care about the defense being ranked sixth overall and second against the run.
“It doesn’t matter," he said. "The pride is winning games. Just go out there every week and playing hard and getting 11 guys to the football and getting takeaways.
"We’re not even No. 1 in the NFL on defense because it goes by yards, which doesn’t mean a lot to us. Points and takeaways mean a lot to us (they're No. 1 in both, 21 turnovers, 13 points per game). It doesn’t matter if we’re getting recognition because of all the big plays we’ve had.
That’s good, that’s the way it should happen."
Having five starters 30 or older looked like a death warrant for the defense to some in the offseason and preseason. Instead, the blend of 30-somethings with young players like S Chris Conte, S Major Wright, DT Stephen Paea, DT Henry Melton, DE Corey Wootton and DE Shea McClellin has set up a healthy teacher-student relationship.
Conte spoke of it when he talked about Tillman's success Thursday.
"I think just his effort, the way he shows up every day, the way he practices, most importantly I think, is something that I can as a young player look to and take things from," Conte said.
Tillman punches the ball out in practices as often as possible, then does it in games.
"It's something that doesn't just happen in the game," Conte said. "He's doing it every day in practice. I think he's a testament to the way we practice, the way we play."
Like Urlacher, Tillman admits he may have lost a half-step, from "4.43 to 4.5" in the 40, he said, but knowledge of Smith's system has helped them play mistake-free.
"The more you see plays, the more you’re in a system, you’re going to get better and know what’s going on," Urlacher said. "It always helps the longer you play, the more you see things, and this is our ninth year in the system now, so we should all be pretty smart and know what to do.”
What they do is stay focused on the task at hand, avoid worry about recognition and create turnovers. So far, it's a successful formula.
"They're a veteran defense and they get it," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said.
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.