By Dan Bernstein–
One year ago today, the leaders of the Bears held one of the worst press conferences in Chicago sports history.
In speeches that seemed prepared by some collaboration of George Orwell and the Marx Brothers, the troika of Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith told us that “massive change” was needed, but the most important thing they had going was “continuity.”
Phillips then did the spinning-bow-tie bit, Angelo rode a unicycle while juggling bowling pins, and Smith flung pies, sprayed seltzer and dropped his pants, if I’m remembering correctly.
Amazing that this same group can sit proudly as the team awaits a playoff opponent. They are 11-5, and the NFC’s second seed.
And the reason they can do so is Julius Peppers.
All it took was $90 million or so (we can stop the whole Cheap McCaskeys thing), and splashy free agent signings don’t often equate to team success as directly in the NFL as elsewhere, but they went and did it, and it worked.
Credit Brian Urlacher, sure, but his absences in the past were magnified by the lack of such a dominant presence on the line. Credit Mike Martz, but realize the team has been better when he has been anything but what they thought they were hiring. Credit Mike Tice, but notice that the blocking still isn’t very good. Credit Jay Cutler, but he’s still the same guy, for better or worse. Credit Smith or Angelo if you can do so without breaking out in hives.
Understand that Peppers is a brute squad – a freakish package of strength, smarts and athleticism. He’s a Hall-of-Famer at the peak of his abilities who has elevated a defensive scheme that apparently needed only him to function properly. He’s the focus of blocking attention on every play, as he makes zone drops like a safety, chases downfield like a linebacker, caves in the line on run plays, sets the edge and contains, pursues quarterbacks relentlessly, and blocks kicks.
He’s the best defensive lineman on the Bears since Dan Hampton.
Smith’s one-gap scheme works when the need for blitzing is obviated by front-four pressure. Chicago fans enamored with other approaches fail to understand the philosophy of seven sets of eyes seeing the play, and defenders swarming to the ball to limit gains and increase opportunities to cause turnovers.
I’m also convinced that North Carolinians need a remedial course in how to watch NFL football. Panthers observers asked about Peppers repeated the memes of him “taking plays off,” or “disappearing in some games” because they can’t see further than a stat sheet.
This ain’t baseball, gomer. It’s a true team game, and you have to actually watch line play. Stick to your car racin’ and professional bass fishing.
We admit we scoffed and chuckled a bit during training camp, when Urlacher, Charles Tillman and others casually described Peppers as the best individual football player each had ever seen. It sounded like the inflated rhetoric that accompanies the outsized expectations of a team trying a last-ditch stimulus spree before it all comes crashing down.
Several months later, and a year after that strange, uncomfortable day at Halas Hall, we’re not laughing.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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