I've heard a lot of talk this season about how Urlacher can't move anymore. Understand something. He has 88 tackles, more than any other defender on the team. He also has seven passes defended, two forced fumbles and an interception. His production didn't happen just by getting in the way of ball carriers. Urlacher does not have the change of direction and short area quickness he once had. But he still has straight-line speed. He is probably playing with more instinct than ever. And he is the leader of the defense. A number of teams in the NFL are playing with middle linebackers who couldn't carry his jock today, in 2013. The Bears are going to miss him, of this I have no doubt. They may miss him Sunday against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings more than ever. Urlacher is a big, physical presence in the middle of the field. He is the primary reason Peterson has not had great success against the Bears in recent meetings between the teams.
I don't believe you will find anyone who will tell you they expect Roach to be the long-term answer at the position. I think the Bears like Roach just where he has been, at strong side linebacker. It is possible, however, that Roach will have to be the middle linebacker next season, assuming Urlacher says adios. It depends on if the Bears can find somebody better.
What is your assessment of Julius Peppers' play this season? While I would not say he has played poorly, I have not noticed him making as much of an impact as the All-Pro player we are used to seeing. Am I off base? Is his plantar fasciitis limiting him at all? -- Joe C., Chicago
Good question. Peppers has had too many stretches where he just disappears. He has been very good at times, and very inconspicuous at times. I would say he has been a real problem for opponents in six of the Bears' 12 games. But he hasn't had one of those performances in his last three games, which makes you wonder if he is wearing down, or if his foot injury is limiting him. I would say he has played well below his ability level in four games. The Bears need more out of Peppers to finish strong.
Dan, I was watching Sunday's game with several other Bears fans; we were all stunned by the defensive collapse. When was the last time the Bears defense came apart like that, late in a close, important game? Were they playing their regular defense, or did they switch to a prevent at the end? -- Mark Early, Arlington, Va.
It's been awhile since the Bears had that kind of complete collapse defensively late in a game in which they had been in control. In the opener at Green Bay in 2009, they held a 12-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, but lost the game on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings with 1:11 remaining. But that was only one drive. You have to go back to September of 2008 to find a similar circumstance, with former Bear Brian Griese playing the role of Russell Wilson. Bears led the Bucs by 10 with 6:38 remaining. After a field goal and a costly unnecessary roughness penalty against Charles Tillman for shoving Donald Penn, the Bucs tied it on a one-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Jerramy Stevens. They won it on a field goal in their second overtime possession. At the end of the Seattle loss, the Bears did not play a prevent defense. In fact, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was trying different coverages to stop the Seahawks. Nothing worked.
I'd like to get your opinion on what I think was the biggest blunder/misfire in the loss to the Seahawks. I'm in Scottsdale, Ariz., but I try to read as much as I can and I haven't seen it mentioned so far. I thought the Bears ultra-conservative, lackluster play-calling with eight-plus minutes left in the fourth quarter was a huge mistake! They ran the ball on every down and were acting as if they were running out the clock and had plenty of points on the board! I don't get it. Is it Mike Tice? When you have Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall and everyone else, why be so predictable? Our running game wasn't doing much all day (except when Jay scrambled for a couple first downs). Your thoughts? -- Louis Previtera
I thought it made sense to try to burn the clock at that point of the game. The thing you didn't want to have happen is an interception or sack/fumble. The Bears wanted to reduce their chance of a turnover by running the ball. And the strategy probably would have worked if, on consecutive plays, J'Marcus Webb had not jumped offsides and Evan Rodriguez had not run into the football when Cutler was trying to hand off to Matt Forte, causing a fumble and a loss of 12. But I did think the Bears should have been throwing on second and 14 (that was the Cutler fumble) and on third and 21 (that was a Forte run for 7). They didn't even need a first down. They were at their own 45 on third down. If they could have gotten 18 yards, they could have attempted a 55-yard field goal. Robbie Gould was hitting from that distance in warm-ups.
In the 49ers game, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, and seemingly their whole o-line were downright vicious in punishing the Bears. And this week the Redskins O-line was pretty brutal on the Giants. The Bears have a lot of solid tacklers, but the closest I see to maulers are probably Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis, and occasionally Major Wright if he takes a good angle. Maybe Brandon Marshall if a WR can be a mauler. I for one would love to see a whole team of punishers. Are they that hard to find or are the Bears not interested in that type player? What are your thoughts? -- John, Ann Arbor
I don't think the Bears under Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery ever have set out to find "maulers" as much as they have set out to find good football players. There are a lot of qualities that make a good football player. They have looked for players who are athletic, fast, smart, instinctive, high character, tough and physical. The players who have every quality are far and few between. So you can't always get what you want. I will say Lovie Smith's defense probably prioritizes speed over physicality, and I think that's what you are getting at. But you won't find a more physical cornerback than Charles Tillman.
Since 2004, only about 31 percent of the Bears' offensive selections have been o-lineman, and most of these were taken in the lower rounds. Is this wise considering you're talking about positions that occupy almost half the offensive personnel? Some say that o-lineman are easy to find in later rounds, but how can that be said when even high-round picks like Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams haven't lived up to their draft hype? Long story short, why do the Bears dismiss the importance of offensive lineman? Haven't the problems of the last five plus years taught them anything? -- Kellen, Gaha, Ohio
The Bears have approached the offensive line with a philosophy that they can fill in some spots with players who have less than stellar pedigrees. It is a philosophy most teams use with their offensive lines because there aren't enough blue chip offensive linemen to go around. But in order for that to work, they need some anchors at a couple of positions. That's where the problem has been. They used two first round picks on offensive linemen over a four year period between 2008 and 2011. If those two players turned out to be Jimbo Covert and Keith Van Horne, their offensive line would not be an issue. At least they are not alone. Teams all across the league, even good ones, are struggling with their pass protection and run blocking. But here is the thing -- if you really want to prioritize acquiring offensive linemen, you can. It just means you take the priority away from another area. And which area would you like for that to be? That's the real question.
James Brown looked like the best tackle on the team during the preseason, I know it was against backups but he played well, I was surprised he didn't make the roster. Now that he has been activated from the practice squad do you think he'll get a chance to play or will it take another injury for him to get a chance? -- Brian Dwyer
I don't think Lovie Smith and Phil Emery want to see Brown playing this year if they can help it. He came to the Bears as a raw prospect and is a developmental player who is learning to play in the NFL. He also is learning a position that was foreign to him, guard. So unless there is more misfortune on the line, Brown will likely only play on special teams or as a tight end in heavy packages.
Can Todd Heap help the Bears at TE? -- @porkchopBrian, from Twitter
He couldn't help the Cardinals this year. He hasn't played since the second game of the season. And he couldn't help them much last year, either, when he had only 24 catches for 283 yards. He is 32 and has had a hard time staying healthy. Last year, it was a hamstring pull. This year, it was a knee injury. Even after Heap was apparently fully healthy this season, the Cardinals did not put him on the active game day roster. Heap was a two-time Pro Bowler. Key word in that sentence: was. Even if Heap still could play at a fairly high level, it would be difficult to carve out a role for him at this late stage of the season. He is a completely different type of tight end than the Bears have, so they would need to adjust their playbook to compensate for the differences between him and their other tight ends.
What has D.J. Moore done to be demoted by the coaching staff? He's only the best nickelback we've ever had. I like Kelvin Hayden, but I'll take Moore over him any day considering that Moore is younger, has played the nickel much more than Hayden, and is much more of a ballhawk than Hayden. The Bears really can't be thinking that Moore is expendable and let him go in the off-season, can they? -- Frank Truffaut, St. Elmo, Ill.
There is a good chance Moore will be resurrected this week with Tim Jennings being injured. So he will likely have more chances to convince the coaching staff and Emery that he belongs on the roster next year. But if the season ended today, I wouldn't bet on Moore being back in 2013. He has been a healthy scratch for three of the last four games. Moore has excellent ball awareness and ball skills for a corner. But I think coaches were disappointed in the fact that he was not playing more physically. Hayden is a bigger, stronger defender and better tackler.
For how many more years do the Bears have Nate Collins under control? I don't know the rules when it comes to undrafted free agents, but he looks like a keeper in the tackle rotation. -- Alex Korda, London, England
Collins will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, as his contract is up. But because he is restricted, chances are very good the Bears will be able to retain him if they choose.
Who is the last team that started 7-1 to miss the playoffs? How many times has it happened? -- @benthebear61, from Twitter
The most recent team to start 7-1 and miss the playoffs was the 1996 Redskins, who lost six of their last eight to finish 9-7. Four other teams started out 7-1 and missed the playoffs. So if the Bears miss the playoffs, they will at least have company.