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20 Sep 2005

Every Play Counts: Brian Urlacher

by Michael David Smith

Brian Urlacher burst onto the pro football scene in 2000 like few rookies ever have, almost immediately drawing comparisons to the great middle linebackers of the Bears' past: the Canton-enshrined Bill George, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary.

Players who receive that kind of public praise as rookies often experience a fall, when it becomes fashionable to label them "overrated." With Urlacher, that fall has been particularly hard, and it culminated last season when The Sporting News polled eight scouts and two TV analysts and asked them to name the most overrated player in the league. Urlacher came in first.

Dealing with a label like "overrated" presents challenges because it balances both a player's quality and his public perception. A player could be really, really good -- one of the best at his position -- and still be overrated if the media label him as the best ever.

Since his rookie year, I haven't heard many fans or members of the media calling Urlacher the best at his position. But he's generally named as one of the top few linebackers in football. Is that an accurate perception?

I watched Urlacher on every play of the Bears' 38-6 shellacking of the Lions to find out. And what I saw was, I feel confident in saying, one of the best games any linebacker will have this year.

It started on the very first play, when the Lions' Roy Williams had a 17-yard gain. It was lousy coverage in the Bears' secondary, but a truly inspired play by Urlacher, who lined up as a middle linebacker but sprinted downfield when Joey Harrington released his pass. Urlacher got to the sideline in time to assist on the tackle. I don't know if there's a single other middle linebacker who would be able to get to a receiver on the sideline 17 yards downfield. Urlacher is as fast as advertised.

But with the exception of part of the 2004 season, when a hamstring injury slowed him down, speed has never been the question when it comes to assessing Urlacher's play. The real question is whether Urlacher can stop the run, and in the past he's had some criticism for hesitating instead of taking on blocks at the point of attack.

Is he capable of shoving aside a fullback and stuffing a running back on third-and-one? In 2002 Paul Zimmerman picked Urlacher as the middle linebacker on his all-pro team, but he sounded about as enthusiastic about it as he'd feel about a Sunday afternoon dental appointment: "by process of elimination, I was left with Urlacher, who continues to bother me by his failure to take on blockers, even in short-yardage situations."

I don't necessarily think it's Urlacher's fault that he hasn't been taking on blocks. When Urlacher was a rookie, he often lined up near the line of scrimmage, ready to stop a fullback dead in his tracks. But in recent years Urlacher has lined up farther from the line of scrimmage, as Lovie Smith attempts to take advantage of his coverage skills. This means less of the great run-stuffing that you see with linebackers like Mike Peterson of the Jaguars and Jeremiah Trotter of the Eagles.

I saw no evidence of a deficiency in run-stopping ability on Urlacher's part on Sunday. The Lions opened their third drive with a Kevin Jones run, and when Jones got past the line of scrimmage he shifted direction in an attempt to cut back inside. Urlacher was right there waiting for him, making a beautiful form tackle. The Lions couldn't get much going on the ground against the Bears, and I think the combination of Urlacher, second-year defensive tackle Tommie Harris, and underrated nose man Ian Scott makes it likely that many teams will have the same struggles.

Many linebackers specialize, either in short-yardage downs or in obvious passing situations. The rest of the time they're on the sidelines. Urlacher almost always stays on the field, and what makes him especially dangerous against the pass is that he's not just capable of covering receivers, but he also rushes the quarterback.

Urlacher had two sacks against the Lions, but even when he didn't reach Harrington in time he made an impact on his blitzes. On one blitz he came to the inside, crossing the face of Lions right tackle Kelly Butler and forcing Butler to commit to picking up the inside blitz. That left the outside wide open, and cornerback Jerry Azumah leveled Harrington.

What's most impressive about Urlacher's speed isn't how quickly he can move in a straight line, but the way he can get to full speed almost instantly. On his second sack, Harrington was flushed from the pocket and tried to run to his left. Urlacher was several yards away when Harrington first made his move, but he pursued almost instantly and brought Harrington down before he had a chance to get beyond the pocket. Urlacher is, simply, the best pass-rushing middle linebacker in football. Now in his sixth year, Urlacher has 29.5 career sacks. No one else at his position is close. In the last six years, here are the sack numbers some of the league's other top inside linebackers have accumulated:

Player Sacks
Al Wilson 16.5
Tedy Bruschi 13
Ray Lewis 9
Jeremiah Trotter 9
Zach Thomas 8
Mike Peterson 7.5
James Farrior 5
Donnie Edwards 4.5*
Dan Morgan 4
*Note: 3 of Edwards's 4.5 sacks
came as an outside linebacker
in his last two years with Kansas City.

So, to answer the question, Is Urlacher overrated? No. He might have been a few years ago, when sportswriters proclaimed him ready for Canton before he had completely proven himself, but right now he's one of the league's best linebackers.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing mike-at-footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 20 Sep 2005

44 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2005, 4:41am by dead meadow

Comments

1
by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 8:29pm

good article, but i would have prefered to hear about more games in which Urlacher played, maybe like the first week.

Anyone can look like an All-Pro in one game.

2
by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2005 - 9:54pm

I'm pretty sure you can look at any game of his and notice his true ability. The easiest stat, the Bears were 0-7 without him last year, and were 4-5 with him in there. Besides, he already showed you the sacks total, and we know he averages over 100 tackles a year, even with his 7 games missed last year.
By the way, I'm a Lions fan, so I'm not playing favorites here.

3
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:17am

Nathan:

MDS looks at one game in great detail (every play) and analyzes it. That's what he does. It's pretty darned good, by the way. Normally there's a disclaimer at the top or bottom of Every Play Counts.

4
by DavidH (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:22am

To be fair, this one really doesn't seem as detailed as some of the past ones. I only see 4 plays mentioned (5 if you count "2 sacks" as a mention of the first sack). Still good stuff though.

5
by Brandon (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:59am

Urlacher was never overrated; the fans, and the media in particular, just became familiar to seeing his name in lights, and when he finally had an "off" year, i.e., a year 97% of the NFL's linebackers would love to own, he was suddenly overrated. Right. The sack totals alone are more than sufficient proof that he is easily one of the top three linebackers in the NFL.

Great piece, Michael.

6
by james (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:48am

Urlacher overrated?

Anyone who says that doesn't know anything about football.

This is one of the question you can ask to get a bead on how much person X knows about football.

If they say yes then they don't know anything.

7
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 4:44am

So... what I took from this is that Urlacher is really really fast and good at rushing the QB. I knew all of that. I'm curious, did you see Urlacher take on or shed any blocks during the game? I mean, you acknowledge that that's the biggest knock against him, and then don't even address it.

8
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 9:59am

I didn't see this particular game but the contents of this article do not surprise me - nicely done. The backlash against Urlacher was as overdone as his initial hype. It irritates me that pseudo-analysts like Zimmerman try to cement their non-orthodoxy reputations with incorrect, probably years-out-of-date spin. Urlacher is a special player and the key cog in the Bears defence. I said before that all it takes is some team success (in lieu of, you know, noticing the player's actual play) for general NFL journalism to start changing their views, and it looks like that might come this season.

9
by El Angelo (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 10:00am

Frankly, it's almost easy to argue that Urlacher has become *underrated* at this point. He's almost never brought up in the discussions of best defensive player, and yet is miles ahead of Ray Lewis at this point in his career.

10
by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 10:17am

Dealing with a label like “overrated� presents challenges because it balances both a player’s quality and his public perception. A player could be really, really good – one of the best at his position – and still be overrated if the media label him as the best ever.

I think that paragraph is the crux of the argument here. Urlacher is no doubt one of the best MLBs in the game; how do we quantify the level of 'hype'? Two years ago, I would have agreed that he was overrated - not because he wasn't a great linebacker, but because the Chicago sports media was so starved for a new star to cover that they started treating him like Michael Jordan in shoulder pads. Now that the hype has faded, he's being recognized for what he is - one of the best MLBs in the game.

11
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 10:17am

The thing about "shedding blocks" and "taking on tacklers" is bull, Kibbles. It's a label thats been hung on Urlacher by talking heads. Urlacher has improved year-on-year in that department to the point where he is just fine at it. His forte has always been range, pusuit and blitzing ability. But Urlacher is simply not in any way a liability in going head up and playing thug backer. No he isn't as good at it as a Levon Kirkland, but neither was Ray Lewis (ever). Its like saying Kevin Williams is overrated as a DT because he can't defend the run as well as Ted Washington, even though he's an infinitely superior pass rusher and more than adequate against the run. It's facile to say Urlacher is overrated because he can't shed blocks as well as he can pursue, because no linebacker in history that I can remember,not even LT, was universally the best in the league at every facet of linebacker play. The simple fact is that Urlacher is as complete a package at MLB as I can currently see in the NFL.

12
by Moses (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 10:37am

Well, in my book, "over-rated" and "under-rated" are the product of the media hype, not the player. The player doesn't go out there and rate himself, the idiot talking heads and the sheep-like fans that perform this function.

So any "over-rated" and "under-rated" talk is because the media are generally fools and can't really aren't very good at evaluating talent and people buy into the hype.

However, Urlacher does have weaknesses, despite the appologists who want to ridicule/minimize the issue. Urlacher's problem is that he's weak against the between that tackles run because he's got poor leg strength and unless he can remain free in traffic/space, he's more ineffective than average. And we're talking TE/FB free, not just linemen with whom he struggles to disengage. Appolgists who want to see only what they want to see be ****ed.

That's not to say Urlacher's bad. There are lots of linebackers that get really hyped for the plays in space that are weak in-line. Lots and lots of people prop Julian Peterson of the 49ers, who has the same problem, weak legs. Sure, Peterson can cover better than a lot of safeties, run like the wind for a lb, and explosively blitz. But if you run AT him, he has to run-around the block or he gets bulldozed off the play.

But this isn't about Peterson, it's about Urlacher. And while Urlacher is one of the best MLBs in the game he has exploitable flaws, and his (as a MLB) flaw happens to be a little more critical than an OLB who is weak against the run.

13
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:03am

So there you have it. 280lb Levon Kirkland and 262lb Jeremiah Trotter owe their great in-line run stuffing ability to leg strength. I disagree that he's "weak" and more "ineffective than average", Moses. Not that it's the focal point of his game, but I think he's good at disengaging blocks, and moving blockers, based on what I've seen. That relies on more than leg strength - body positioning and leverage, hand placement and fighting technique, agility all play a part. But I'm not claiming to know Urlacher's abilities on all those issues, as I'm not a scout. I just go on what I see, and I see him perform just fine in between the tackles. Sorry if that makes me an apologist keen to minimize the issue and seeing only what I want to see.

p.s. I'd be interested to hear of a LB you consider to be a fantastic pursuit type who was also superb at standing up blocks inside.

14
by Ned (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:04am

Given the Bears lack of relevancy I haven't seen Urlacher a bunch the last few years. I did see him last year and was fairly impressed. I also trust MDS in his analysis of the Lions game.

My question for Bears fans out there is what happened against the Redskins? They gave up 164 rushing yards against a team with no threat of the pass (or at least that's what we thought until the 4th quarter on Monday) Were they running at Urlacher or to the outside?

15
by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 11:31am

"Appolgists who want to see only what they want to see be ****ed."
Funniest sentence I've read all day.

16
by TomC (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:10pm

My question for Bears fans out there is what happened against the Redskins? They gave up 164 rushing yards against a team with no threat of the pass (or at least that’s what we thought until the 4th quarter on Monday) Were they running at Urlacher or to the outside?

They weren't doing either of those exactly. They ran a bunch of traps and counters, which is an excellent strategy aginst a defense built on speed and pursuit. The most telling play was the 40-yard run by Portis from inside the Skins' 10: the entire Bears D-line and all the 'backers pursued hard to the (defense's) left, then Portis cut it back and there was only Mike Brown left at home, and Brown missed the tackle. This exact play happened in the pre-season game against the Rams, and Brown also missed that tackle, resulting in a 35-yard run for Steven Jackson. (Film study props to the Washington coaches, if that's actually why they ran the play.)

All of this is to say that Washington's success running the ball was less attributable to Urlacher's difficulty in taking on blockers and had more to do with his (and the entire defense's) aggressiveness to the point of losing gap discipline.

(And it also brings up another interesting over-/underrated question: Peter King has now anointed Mike Brown the best safety in football -- or at least close to it. Was Brown underrated for 5 years until this Monday, when he suddenly became overrated?)

17
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:15pm

It's also important to note that the Redskins had 40 running plays. A lot of blame for the Bears poor run defense has to be attributed to the Bears offense's inability to sustain a drive.

18
by Ted Max (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 12:19pm

I remember a column that Joel Achenbach once wrote about William Shakespeare where he said, "You can be the best ever, and still be overrated." That always made me think about Michael Jordan, but it's true in any sport. Hype increases at a rate far exceeding any increase in performance or talent, you'll never catch up.

19
by Domer (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:19pm

Shakespeare had great leg strength. His hip swivel was questionable, though.

20
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:47pm

I haven't seen the Bears much in recent years (thank God!), so I can't claim to know Urlacher's game incredibly well. From what I've heard I've developed a little theory (one of those amazing 'Trogdor facts' that could be complete crap but sometimes turn out to be true) about his strengths and weaknesses.

Supposed strengths: Speed. Pursuit. Speed. Sure tackling in space. Speed. Coverage ability. Speed.

Supposed weaknesses: Taking on or shedding blockers. Plugging holes in short yardage. Overpursuit or lack of gap discipline.

Now, looking at these completely handpicked attributes, what do we notice? The strengths are roughly what we would expect from a good safety - fast, able to cover and tackle in space, and really fast. The weaknesses are about what we'd expect from a safety playing linebacker - not strong enough, not used to being blocked by guards and bigger, not instinctive in interior line play.

What do we know about Urlacher? Through college he was a safety, and when he got to the NFL they made him bulk up and move to linebacker. Now, should it really surprise us if an oversized safety plays linebacker like he's an oversized safety? That going from making tackles unblocked to shedding 315-pound linemen is a difficult adjustment, even after several years? That the way a safety reads and reacts is different from how a MLB does?

Urlacher is what he is. The Bears should be congratulated for finding a role that fits his strengths and his considerable talents. But is stout run-stuffer one of those? Probably not. And I'm not sure it can ever be, without him losing what makes him so special (speed). I don't think the Bears are complaining too loud about what they have.

21
by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:49pm

Re: 16

Mike Brown started to make outstanding plays in 2001, when he won 2 games with defensive touchdowns, but he really has suffered from 2 bad injuries that shortened his last 2 seasons. He is, I would say, the number 2 person on that defense. Part of the problem the Bears had last year was that they lost BOTH Brown and Urlacher. The other thing that people should remember about Urlacher when talking about shedding the big blockers is that he is a converted safety, so I don't think he saw as many of the really big men in college.

22
by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 1:51pm

Trogdor beat me to the punch on Urlachers safety history. Curse you Trogdor!!! (angrily shaking his fist)

23
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:29pm

Trogdor: all very true about Urlacher's college safety days. Urlacher is actually supposed to be more of a weakside OLB than anything else, and he was initially pencilled in there when the Bears drafted him. However, for whatever reason he sucked at that position in TC, and was moved to MLB and henceforth blossomed. Love Smith's scheme now has him operating as a hybrid OLB/MLB. His evolution is kinda curious given his skill-set.

24
by JonL (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:42pm

My impression was that Urlacher was considered overrated because of deficiencies in his pass coverage, not his ability to sack quarterbacks. Is there any evidence to prove/disprove this? Any numbers, perhaps?

25
by Ted Max (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 2:56pm

Although it was at my expense, Domer's comment cracked me up.

26
by TomC (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 3:19pm

In response to dead meadow:

Actually, the genius team of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache originally tabbed Urlacher as a strong-side backer. Is anyone out there surprised that: A) Urlacher did not fare particularly well playing over the tight end, and B) The 1999-2003 Bears were not known for player development?

In response to JonL:

The only evidence I have is my own memory, but I can't recall Urlacher ever having been criticized for his pass coverage skills. In fact, he intercepts a ball or two every year by reading the QB, racing back into the passing lane just as the QB starts to throw, and leaping to pick off the ball in front of the WR or TE.

27
by Jerry Garcia (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 3:49pm

Well, how good of a run stopper was lawrence taylor? I know he could come in and rush the QB - blitz like mad, but how well rounded was LT?

28
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 4:00pm

I know he could come in and rush the QB - blitz like mad, but how well rounded was LT?

I know he could use both nostrils

and speaking of college safeties being moved to pro LB (rare), another older Jints player who did that was Brad Van Pelt.

29
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 4:13pm

TomC: I stand corrected, you're right.

princeton73: lol. Taylor was a very good runstopper, better in pursuit but strong at the point. Curiously (and the reason I asked about any other LB earlier), the book on him was that he had weak legs as well and in theory could be roadgraded. Didn't help that his idea of offseason workouts was playing golf. But it never seemed to matter.

30
by mitch (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 6:04pm

Why was this painful for MDS to write?

31
by Independent George (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 6:07pm

LT also used to sleep through film sessions (kinda tough, coming down from coke), but somehow always knew exactly where to go in pass coverage. The last play of his career was him leaping into the air to bat down a pass on an out route. He was like a football version of Rainman.

32
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 6:10pm

Re #11: Relax, no need to crucify me, I wasn't calling Urlacher overrated, I was simply pointing out that MDS acknowledged the shedding blockers issue and then never addressed it. I don't watch many Bears games, so I have no idea if Urlacher is great or horrible at shedding blockers. That's why I was asking. From the sound of it, he's not that good at shedding blockers. At least, that's the impression that I get from the comments.

Also, Al Wilson might take exception to the "Urlacher is as complete a package at MLB as I can currently see in the NFL" comment. He's just as fast, good in coverage, and is good at shedding blockers, too. If you want to talk about underrated MLBs, I think the conversation has to begin and end with Wilson. For all the disrespect Urlacher gets, if you ask the average fan to name the top 5 MLBs in the league, Urlacher will usually make the list and Wilson will usually not- despite the fact that Wilson is, indeed, one of the top 5 MLBs in the league.

33
by Nate (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 7:14pm

As a Bears fan, I don't really notice any glaring deficiencies in his game. He doesn't get blown up by blockers like he used to, and he doesn't overrun plays like he used to. I really think he's playing his best ball of his career right now.

Also, I'm surprised noone mentioned it, but I think Lovie Smith's defense really hides any deficiencies Urlacher may have in getting off blocks. The defense basically just requires players to shoot their assigned gaps. As a result, noone really has to "take on" a blocker.

As far as the Washington game, I don't know. We shut them down pretty well in the first half. In the second half, they started running a bunch of counters and traps, and we ran ourselves out of a lot of plays. It's a weakness of our defense. Also, our defense was on the field an assload. Still, Washington only averaged about 4 yards a carry. Total yardage can be kind of misleading sometimes. Cincy is 9th in the league in rush defense, but averages 5.4 yards a carry.

34
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 8:44pm

mitch, MDS is a Lions fan. Most of us would rather pretend that game never happened.

35
by Frankie (not verified) :: Wed, 09/21/2005 - 10:01pm

Re #6: If you think Urlacher is overrated, then you don't know anything about football? Well, genius, I'm no fan of Paul Zimmerman, who as mentioned in the article is a chief critic of Urlacher, but I'd wager a hefty sum he knows more about football than you (or me).
Try to rein in your love.

36
by JACO (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 5:25am

Re: 16

In regards to TomC's comments, Mike Brown has definitely flown under most people's radar. As AaronBoden alluded to in post 21, Brown spent the greater part of the past 2 years on the bench with serious injuries. Brown is definitely an impact player who makes big plays, and I would argue that Brown means just as much to the Bears defense as Urlacher does.

If you take a look at some of the better defenses in the NFL, you'll notice that on many of them, there are often 2 main leaders. The leader of the secondary (Mike Brown, in this case), and the leader of the front seven (Urlacher, in this case). On the field, each of these guys are the ones responsible for audibiling the defensive plays/stunts/coverages for their 4 or 7 guys, so they are usually forced to be somewhat intelligent, as they are essentially the 'Generals' for their part of the defensive unit. The better defenses seem to usually have 2 strong personalities. For example, Philadelphia has Trotter and Dawkins, Chicago has Urlacher and Brown, Baltimore has Lewis and Reed, New England had Bruschi and Harrison, and so on.

Forget Rex Grossman, and whatever he could/would mean to the Bears offense. That offense is going to be boring and unimaginative no matter who the quarterback is, and who the offensive coordinator is. Urlacher and Brown are what makes the Chicago Bears tick, and when they both went down last season very early, the combination of them being gone at the same time is what sank their season. Provided those guys stay healthy, they will be the reason why the Bears are going to win at least 8 or 9 games this season without Grossman (that and the fact that Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, and whatever other meatballs won't be starting this year).

37
by Nathan (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 12:09pm

Same thing as 32:

I felt the article didn't go into enough depth. That's it.

I’m pretty sure you can look at any game of his and notice his true ability.

There are a lot of teams in the league. When you live in different regions you don't end up seeing several teams play often if they don't get to the playoffs.

Every game I've seen Urlacher in he's been exactly like Rob Morris on the Colts. Non existant, but making a few tackles around him.

I see his stats. He's look unimpressive to me the few times I've watched him. That's why I wanted to hear more about his game.

Which is why I felt the article could have used another 2 pages on themes in his game.

Like addressing shedding blockers.

38
by Russell (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 3:23pm

Excellent points about Urlacher's safety background. I don't know of another middle 'backer with a safety background, but I know of a pretty darn good outside LB who played a lot of safety in college: Derrick Brooks.

39
by deadteddy8 (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 7:14pm

Adding to the list of safety-to-LB converts, Lee Woodall played safety and returned punts in college.

40
by Chris I. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 8:00pm

Re: #39 -- Urlacher also returned punts in college.

I'm a Bears fan, so I've seen every game Urlacher has played, and I have never seen a faster linebacker in the NFL. His closing speed is ridiculous. Sometimes it seems he is moving in "fast-forward" while everyone is playing in real-time. He is impossible to turn the corner against.

The one thing I think he has lacked is a sense of viciousness that all the truly great LBs have had. Dick Butkus has even commented on this.

But this season he seems to be playing with more of that attitude. In a preseason game against the Colts, he absolutely destroyed a tight end (Dallas Clark?) over the middle after the pass was incomplete. It was a borderline cheap shot, but I took it as a sign that he was going to take no prisoners this year. Maybe missing much of last season has made him really focus on taking his career to the next level. I hope so. I love watching him play.

41
by Moses (not verified) :: Thu, 09/22/2005 - 9:26pm

Well, how good of a run stopper was lawrence taylor? I know he could come in and rush the QB - blitz like mad, but how well rounded was LT?

LT was a great linebacker and intercepted more than one Joe Montana pass in his days. As a player, I think the 49ers were the only team in the NFL to be successful more times than not against LT. But that's because they have a very, very, very good pulling guards in John Ayers and Randy Cross who could take LT on. Plus, the 49ers routinely attacked LT with the TE or fullback depending on his rush side.

But most teams didn't do as well against LT. In the run, in the pass (he could drop in zone well), or against his pass rush.

If LT had a weakness in run defense, it was against athletic linement that could pull and meet him in space. But even then, lines were getting bigger and less athletic so...

42
by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 11:09pm

As a Bears who saw Butkus play in person multiple times as a grown-up (Yes, I am really old compared to most of you), I am fairly confident in writing that Brian's ONLY flaw is directly at the point of attack.

Easiest example? When the Packers HAD (boy it's fun writing THAT) the killer offensive line Mike Wahle would come out and just clean Brian's clock. Sometimes Rivera. Or some combo of center/guard. Urlacher would get stomped and the Packers would run right over the Bears.

Keep him on his feet and the guy is outstanding.

I am not going to pretend to know WHY this happens. I just know that without tackles to take up blockers Brian can get shoved around. The Bears D-line is pretty solid these days so no wonder he's dashing around causing misery for the opposition.

But to throw back someone else's comment Dick Butkus took on everyone AND ran folks down. So by that standard Brian Urlacher falls short.

By any other standard in the NFL he's a great linebacker.

43
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Tue, 10/04/2005 - 4:34am

Just out of interest, I watched the short cut version of the Bengals-Bears game. Although he wasn't particularly active apart from one forced fumble, Urlacher didn't get his ass handed to him once on a running play. In fact, he blew up the pulling LG Eric Steinbach a total of three times, once on the goal line in the first quarter. He also took out the FB (Johnson?) twice. He does spin out of a block sometimes which I suppose you could criticise but it did get him into the play on each occasion.

44
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Tue, 10/04/2005 - 4:41am

Forgot to mention - he was playing Will a fair portion of the time as well