Welcome to part two of this short series comparing the 2012 Bears, which many say is the most talented and best all-around team of the Lovie Smith era, against the standing best team of said era, the 2006 Bears which made the Super Bowl. On Friday, I compared the two offenses and since this is only really a comparison on paper (we might be able to come back after the season and do a better comparison) I think the 2012 team holds much promise of living up to the billing of the best team in the Lovie years. But how will the defenses compare?
So with many of the same faces and names as that 2006 squad, just a little bit older and a fair induction of youth, who is the better squad?
Back in 2006 the Bears racked up 40 sacks, led by rookie sensation Mark Anderson with 12, then Alex Brown with 7, Adewale Ogunleye with 6.5 and Tommie Harris with 5. No one else had more than 3.5, which came from Tank Johnson and then Alfonso Boone added 2. The rest were LBs and DBs. The Bears' D-line was deep in '06, Anderson led the squad coming off the bench. This was a solid group.
The '12 Bears had Julius Peppers, who is a legitimate HOF candidate and a havoc wrecker but who else is there that is a legitimate threat for double digit sacks? Isreal Idonije is a nice complimentary, all-around guy but he is more like an Alex Brown: solid, good production and can do it all but isn't a game-changer. They have rookie Shea McClellin but he's unproven at this point. I think if he gets more than 5 sacks as a rookie anyone would consider that a success. Inside there are even far more questions: What's Stephen Paea going to be in year two? Henry Melton started hot last year but can he stay consistent? At the end of the day this group has more questions than the '06 team.
Edge: 2006 Team. The 2012 squad just has too many young guys to know, that said I think that Melton can play like Tommie Harris of '06 and that Shea can make enough of an impact in year one to help the line improve. The Bears had 33 sacks in '11 so asking for seven more and spreading those seven among the whole squad isn't out of the question.
This is where it gets tricky, most other positions have had almost full turnover since '06 but LB has two of the same guys manning the field, which is good but also not as good. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are very obviously two of the best in the league at their positions, that's not up for debate, however, would you rather have 28-year-old Urlacher and 26-year-old Briggs or 34-year-old Urlacher and 31-year-old Briiggs? Both are obviously still in Pro-Bowl form and haven't lost anything, but in football, these two were in their prime in 2006. Urlacher was coming off his Defensive Player of the Year Award from a season earlier.
The other main deciding factor is the guy playing next to them. Hunter Hillenmeyer is a better player than Nick Roach. Both have such good players next to them, but Hillenmeyer was a guy who could have started on maybe half the teams in the league in his own right, even if that''s far-fetched, my point is he was a good player, Roach is serviceable but I'm not sure he'd be starting for a whole lot of other teams.
Edge: '06 Bears
Another position with a familiar face: Charles Tillman. Tillman is another guy who has been a lock at his position for the better part of the last decade. He almost seems to get better with age, last year he was finally voted to a Pro-Bowl, but most fans think he should have been to two or three others (and they're probably right). Tillman, like Urlacher and Briggs, is essentially the same player he was in '06, so now, same as before: Who were they playing with?
In '06 the top three were Tillman, Nathan Vasher and Ricky Manning Jr. Now it's Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore. There are some challengers from Jonathan Wilhite and Kelvin Hayden too so it's hard to know how that will shake out, but at this point I feel like Jennings, Wilhite and Hayden are all about even. Vasher and Tillman, for two or three years, were one of the better CB tandems in the league. Those two were turnover machines. Jennings doesn't generate turnovers like Vasher did though. Moore is almost even with RMJ at this point in his career, although Moore has more potential. This position might be the closest to a push as there is, but one has to have an advantage.
This position has been a revolving door forever, this year's safeties will no doubt be different from last year and different from the 2013 Bears too, but this one is just too easy to call.
We don't know what the Bears have in Major Wright, he's been hurt a lot and inconsistent when he's on the field. Chris Conte showed promise but so have so many before him. Brandon Hardin hasn't even played a down in the NFL yet so the team doesn't know what they have in him either.
The 2006 team featured four starters due to injuries and performance as well; Mike Brown, Chris Harris, Danieal Manning and Todd Johnson. Even throwing in Craig Steltz, would you really take the 2012 squad over the 2006 group? No way.
Edge: 2006 Bears
There is only one difference here. Patrick Mannelly will be back snapping this year after last season's injury and Robbie Gould is still kicking and seems to be getting even better. Maynard was a favorite around here, and remains popular, but I think most would agree that Podlesh is better, he certainly has a stronger leg. Gould has only gotten better since '06.
As far as returners go, one is still the same, Mr. Devin Hester. He set the world on fire in '06 and despite a two-season drought, is still the best at what he does. The Bears in '12 will in all likelihood miss Johnny Knox but Eric Weems is better than the 2006 kick returner, Rashied Davis (Davis returned 32 KOs in '06 to Hester's 20).
Edge: 2012 Bears; Gould's leg is stronger, Hester is Hester and Weems is better than Davis, Podlesh give the Bears a good punting leg too.
So while the 2012 Bears have the 2006 team beat on offense, the '06 team has an advantage on defense. That '06 defense was one of the best in team history (which says something) but the '12 squad is no slouch and the improved offense should help the older defense overcome any shortcomings by hopefully not having to bail out the offense as much. If the Bears offense can reach it's potential, a dominant Bears D and STs giving them lots of short field has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
What says you?