Was Finley Right? Are The Bears Better Without Urlacher?

US PRESSWIRE

I think when people speak about a certain player being the heart and soul of a team, they are referring more to their presence than how they influence the outcome of the game. Analysts and fans alike probably feel that the Bears have a better chance of winning games when Urlacher is playing than when he's not. But how true is that?

Well, not according to Bears linebacker, Lance Briggs he isn't. Packers tight end, Jermichael Finley recently said:

"Urlacher is at the end of his career right now; he's playing a little slow out there. I don't think they're losing too much if he's out. Putting another guy in might help them a little."

Briggs responded with:

"He's an idiot, just suit up and play ball. His comments aren't going to change the outcome of the game. They aren't going to help him or anybody play better. It doesn't really matter."

Urlacher will not be playing this week against Green Bay and it remains to be seen whether he will see the field at all for the Bears remaining games. I am in no way doubting the ability of Urlacher. He is a multi time pro-bowler who looks set to make it to the hall of fame when his career does draw to a close. But like I have mentioned before in previous columns, does one man really make a team?

I was recently listening to the Double Coverage podcast which is hosted by Steve Wyche and Mark Kriegel. There were talking about the immenint rerturn of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and the injury to Brian Urlacher. And once again the vomit-inducing term 'heart and soul of the defense' reared its ugly head. Yes, I know I deliberately pretend to not understand what this actually means, but it still stinks. Football is the ultimate team game, and one player, especially on defense, cannot consistently influence the outcome of a game. Can they?

Which got me to thinking; (which hurt a little) - is there any statistical evidence that shows the Bears are more successful when Urlacher plays? And here's what I found out:

Apart from 2004 and 2009, Brian Urlacher has played every game for the Bears, which is pretty amazing, considering his career began back in 2000. If that makes you feel old, or you just want a trip down memory lane, have a look at the billboard number ones for that year.

Now, believe it or not out of Urlacher's 12 seasons, the Bears have only finished with a winning record four times. Let's start by taking a look at the 2004 season, in which Urlacher played just nine games.

The games that Urlacher missed were against Minnesota, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Dallas and Houston. The Bears lost all five of those games. So perhaps at first glance there is some supporting evidence that Urlacher makes the Bears better. For the other games that he did play in, Chicago won five and lost four. They finished that season with a disappointing 5-11 record, which might well have been different if number 54 hadn't missed the games he did. Who knows.

Let's fast forward to 2009 which was the year when Urlacher played the first game of the year against Green Bay, and then missed the rest due to a wrist injury. To start with, the Bears lost that first game against the Packers, so Urlachers presence alone was not enough on that day. Chicago ended that season with a 7-9 record, which in itself doesn't really tell us much about the significance of Urlacher's absence.

I think when people speak about a certain player being the heart and soul of a team, they are referring more to their presence than how they influence the outcome of the game. Analysts and fans alike probably feel that the Bears have a better chance of winning games when Urlacher is playing than when he's not. But I just don't share that feeling. I must point out that I do feel that way if a quarterback or star running back misses lots of games. The absence of players at those positions is felt much more than the absence of a middle linebacker. Am I wrong?

The Bears worst record during the Urlacher years was back in 2002 when they ended up 4-12. Guess how many games he played that year? That's right - all 16 of them. So he wasn't much help then, was he? But this pretty much backs up my gut feeling on the matter; one man cannot do it all alone.

We are getting another glimpse this season of what life will be like when Urlacher finally hangs up his boots. He missed last week's game against the Vikings and the Bears got beaten, with Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson running all over the Bears defense. Would Urlacher have been able to plug the gaps and stop Peterson from having the game that he did? We'll never know, but I am sure many of you out there think he would.

Urlacher is good. He used to be great, but now, as he approaches the end of his career, he has lost a step or two. He no longer has that sideline to sideline speed that he once possessed, but he is still capable of playing at a high level. We just need to get away from this reliance (real or imagined) on any one player. Looking at the stats, you can make strong points on both sides of the argument. Some will say it makes a huge difference when he plays, while others will claim the difference is negligible.

My final thoughts on it? I would much rather prefer that Urlacher played, but I still expect the Bears to win the games they should win - with or without him.

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