The Chicago Bears have a tradition of defensive excellence. It started with the “Monsters of the Midway” and continues today with players like Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers.

These three players have earned Pro Bowl honors for their performances this season, but the defensive success is due to more than just them.

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Cleaning up after Peppers is nothing but rewarding for Anthony Adams. The benefits come in the form of tackles and big plays that might not have been there had Peppers not been wreaking havoc on the Bears’ opponents.

“He comes in and just makes a big mess, and then you just come in and, OK, the tackle just falls into your lap,” Adams said.

Quite a bit has dropped into place for the Bears this season, starting with the arrival of Peppers from Carolina in the offseason. Now they’re on a run to the playoffs that seemed like a longshot at best when they were struggling at midseason.

Yet, here they are, one win from the Super Bowl, with old rival Green Bay visiting for the NFC championship game on Sunday.

It’s quite a turnaround for a team that missed the playoffs the previous three years, then won seven of eight on its way to the NFC North championship and first-round bye.

One big reason for the turnaround was the signing of Peppers to a six-year deal worth potentially $91.5 million. The return to form of healthy Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher after he missed almost all of last year with a wrist injury provided a major boost, too.

Throw in another Pro Bowl season from Lance Briggs, and it’s not hard to see why the Bears’ defense ranked ninth this season. But it’s not all about the stars.

Packers center Scott Wells mentioned Adams and Israel Idonije, not exactly the first names that come to mind when you think “Monsters of the Midway.”

Then again, the Bears have never played that way under coach Lovie Smith. They’ve always been more about speed, technique and creating turnovers than bone-breaking hits, and they’re looking more like the defense that led the way to the playoffs in 2005 and ’06 than the one that struggled in recent seasons.

The stars, of course, did their part. So did the supporting players.

“Their starting four, they’re outstanding up front,” Wells said. “Anthony Adams, I think, is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. … The other guy, Idonije, does an excellent job on that side. He kind of gets overlooked because of Peppers.”

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Adams and Idonije aren’t exactly household names, but they’re two important pieces on a defense that ranked ninth overall and second against the run.

The same goes for D.J. Moore, who had two interceptions in an early win at Dallas and emerged as the Bears’ nickel back. That gave the secondary a boost, as did the return of safety Chris Harris after three years in Carolina. He had five interceptions and tied Charles Tillman for the team lead, but it all starts up front.

Specifically, with Peppers.

No one has a closer view than Adams. He sees the mayhem first hand. Even if Peppers’ eight sacks put him in single digits for just the third time in his nine seasons, he’s creating all sorts of problems, whether it’s drawing false starts or double and triple teams. That leads to openings for teammates when he’s not making the big plays himself.

Another beneficiary is Idonije.

He wound up with a career-high eight sacks, tying Peppers for the team lead, in his seventh season with the Bears – and his first as a starter.

“Izzy’s done a great job,” Briggs said. “You bring in Peppers and you get rid of Alex Brown and the whole locker room goes sour. Not because of Peppers, of course, because of Alex, somebody we’d been playing with for a long time. But when Izzy steps up and makes the plays that he’s been making this year, you start to understand why some of those decisions were made.”

Then there’s Adams, who does most of the dirty work inside.

He just has to know when to stay out of Peppers’ way.

“If I’m a nose guard and I get Pep to my side, I know I’ve got to be a little more cautious the way that I’m rushing because he wants to make an inside move, he has that privilege if he wants to,” Adams said. “He knows that I’m going to have his back if he wants to take a gamble. Just little things like that. It’s been awesome, man, to play with him.

“He can just take one whole side of the field when he wants to. That’s a good problem to have because we just overlap what he does sometimes. Sometimes, he just goes. We just react to what he does.”

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