"The players themselves look a lot faster," Packers tight end Jermichael Finley said. "Everybody looks like they're flying around. I give them an A-plus on the 'D' right now. They're looking pretty good."
A glance at Chicago's starting lineup against the Packers last December at Soldier Field and the one expected to open Week 3's Monday night contest shows no less than six different defensive starters for the Bears. The wholesale turnover has been generated from a combination of players returning from injury and newcomers to the team.
Here's the rundown compared to Chicago's defensive lineup for Week 14 last season:
--Up front, defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown are gone and have been replaced by free-agent prize Julius Peppers and a combination of former backups Israel Idonije and Mark Anderson.
--At linebacker, Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa have returned from season-ending injuries in '09 to reclaim the jobs that were filled by Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach.
--And at safety, '09 starters Kevin Payne and Al Afalava have been replaced by Danieal Manning and Chris Harris, a former Bear re-acquired this past offseason.
Throw in that Anthony Adams will probably start at defensive tackle over Marcus Harrison, who started against the Packers last December, and that's seven new starters, though to be fair Adams was as much a regular at that position as Harrison a year ago.
Nonetheless, it's a whole different cast of characters running Chicago's "Tampa-2" scheme than the one the Packers saw the last time they watched film of the Bears.
"It's definitely a different defense," receiver Greg Jennings said. "They've got a lot of veterans out there, a lot of smart guys, savvy guys, guys that can make plays, and that's what they've been doing.
"They've been beating teams to the punch, down after down, and we definitely have to punch them in the mouth before they hit us. We can't counterpunch these guys, because they're definitely coming with all kinds of uppercuts and haymakers."
The Bears' biggest strengths so far have been defending the run and taking the ball away. Chicago ranks first in the league against the run, having allowed just 56 yards and a measly 1.4 yards per rush through the first two games. The Bears are also tied for first in the NFC and tied for second in the NFL with six takeaways.
Don't look now, but stopping the run and getting turnovers was precisely the defensive formula the Packers used a year ago, when they led the league in run defense and takeaways, to get to the playoffs.
"When you get off to a good start, confidence can build and things like that happen," Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.
The most dramatic difference, personnel-wise, was the addition of Peppers, a ninth-year veteran with six double-digit sack seasons in his eight years with the Carolina Panthers. With Chicago's Cover-2 scheme predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback with the front four, and not having to rely on blitzes, a rusher of Peppers' caliber carries tremendous value.
But the most valuable change could be the return of Urlacher, who broke his wrist in the season opener at Lambeau Field last year. The six-time Pro Bowler not only possesses a unique set of skills as a run stopper, blitzer and pass defender dropping into coverage, he also brings the type of leadership that gives the entire unit a different attitude and elevated confidence when he's in there.
"Brian's the face of the franchise and guys have heard his voice starting every defensive play around here," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "When you lose that leader, that quarterback of the defense, that is tough. We never really completely recovered (last year) without Brian being there."
Still, the Bears did a respectable job against the Packers even with last year's banged-up group. When the Packers got hot the second half of the season, they were held under 27 points only once over the final seven regular-season games plus the playoff contest.
The opponent who accomplished that was the Bears in Week 14, holding the Packers to just 21 points, including a touchdown that required only an 11-yard drive after an interception deep in Chicago territory. Even in the season opener, the Bears held the Packers to just 21 points, again with one of the scores a short drive after a turnover. Green Bay was held under 23 points only three times all of 2009, and Chicago was the opponent twice.
The Bears no doubt are counting on their revamped personnel to perform even better against the Packers this year, and in reviewing Chicago's first two games of 2010, the Packers have seen a more aggressive approach on that side of the ball.
Urlacher already has piled up 20 tackles (10 solo) and a sack, Peppers knocked Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford out with a Week 1 sack/fumble, new nickel cornerback D.J. Moore leads the team with two interceptions, and linebacker Lance Briggs made an eye-popping strip and recovery while the Lions were trying to execute a simple handoff in the backfield inside the Detroit 5-yard line.
As Jennings said, the Packers have to be ready to throw the first punch, because this Bears team will be as different on defense as it is on offense compared to a year ago.
"That's the first thing I noticed on film, and I think I made mention of it in our meeting (Wednesday)," Jennings said. "They're playing like, 'Look, the next man is going to take my job,' and all 11 of them on defense are playing like that, which is what you want. They are flying around to the ball.
"They don't have that bend-but-don't-break attitude, where you see in the past it was like, 'We're going to Cover-2 you to death and then we're going to stop you when it really counts.' They don't have that attitude. Their attitude is, 'We're going to stop you, period,' and it definitely shows in the defense on film." Additional coverage – Sept. 25