(In the last Bears game, you talked about how the offense had a hard time getting into a rhythm. Were there some things that the Bears were doing defensively that were out of character for them and testing you in some ways you hadn't seen?)**
Not necessarily. We struggled catching the football particularly in that game. I think we had four drops. We had some penalties there that slowed us down and got us into long‑yardage situations. We've spent a lot of time crunching the numbers of the Bears from a statistical standpoint in terms of their tendencies. We've looked at the last couple of years, the last four games, in particular, against them. We've looked at just our two games against them this year, and we've combined those two games with four or five other games. When you crunch all the numbers, they kind of stay true to their philosophy defensively of how they like to call a game and what percentage of three‑deep or two‑deep, and what percentage of pressure there is. I mean, there are some slight differences, but I think overall from a schematic standpoint, there were a lot of similarities in the way they played us before.
(What is it about their front seven? Are they strong? Are they quick?)**
I think the one thing that impresses anybody when you watch the film of the Bears, when you first started playing football in grade school or Pop Warner or high school, your coaches probably talked to you about defensive football, about pursuit and tackling. That is the thing that impresses me the most when you watch these guys on film. They get 11 guys to the ball, they hustle to the football like you should if you're going to play good defense, and they don't miss a lot of tackles. So that's, I think, their starting point in terms of why they're so good. They have, obviously, a very good scheme. It's time-tested, it's been successful in this league for a long time. They know it very well, they execute it well. But I think the thing they do best is they get 11 guys to the ball and they tackle.
(Mike said he was happy with the attempts you had rushing against Atlanta in this last game. What did you think about the production?)**
We'd like it to be a little bit better. I don't have it ‑‑ 3.1 a carry or less than that or something like that?
(Starks was like 2.6, 25 for 66.)
Thank you for the correction (smiling). I would like to get a little more production. We had a couple of negative runs there early. We had some penetration, and that is a good, sound run defense that we played against. But hopefully we'll be able to move the ball a little more effectively on the ground from a productivity standpoint.
(Did that help you in the passing game though, because after that slow start, you at least consistently got something? Did that eventually help in the passing game, taking some starch out of their rush?)**
Well, I think any time you can have balance, and any time you can lineup in a formation and present to the defense, whether we're in the shotgun formation and we've got three wide receivers and we can stick the ball in the back's hand every now and then, I think that's good because they can't just "T" up. Conversely, when you're at two backs and two tight ends, every once in a while if you can throw the ball and mix it in when you're heavy run in that personnel group and that formation, any time you can have some balance and have a little diversity within those formations and those personnel groups, I think it's going to help whatever phase statistically it says you're heavy on.
(This is the seventh time Aaron's faced this defense. I think Urlacher missed the second game last year. How much of a cat‑and‑mouse game or whatever it might be is going on between the quarterback and the middle linebacker back there?)**
That's a good question. I'm not really in tune to all that stuff. It might be better for Aaron to answer. Obviously, Aaron studies every opponent well. As you said, he's got a little more history with these guys with six games under his belt. Whether he has a good feeling for how they communicate, what their signals are, what their calls are and those type of things, I'm not really privy to, and I don't get into that a whole lot with him. I'm sure he maybe has a sense of some of that. But I think ultimately the game is going to be decided by the team that executes the best and plays the hardest, good fundamentals and makes the fewest mistakes.
(When you play a team that you know this well, is it harder because you can't surprise them necessarily, or is it easier because you know all the tendencies so maybe you can scheme better? How is it knowing them so well?)**
I think you're accurate on both statements. Really, we've got a good, as you said, we've gone through their blitzes. We've had preseason blitzes in '07 that they've run. Coach Smith's been there since '04, so he's been there a long time. We've got some guys on the offensive staff that have been there as long as he's been there. So I think we have a good handle on how they like to play, what their defensive calls are. We like to say they don't have a ton of calls, we tell our players, but they play their calls very well. They know the adjustments to the personnel groups and the formations once they make the calls.
I think it can help you scheme. It can help you offensively stay out of a bad play potentially because you have a good grasp of what you anticipate from them. You know, the surprise element, I'm sure they'll have one or two up their sleeve and I'm sure we'll have one or two. Again, I think when we attempt to surprise, it's going to be about really the execution more than the surprise itself, I think.
(Are there one or two things that Aaron has improved on this season, in particular, that have made him as productive in the playoffs as he's been?)**
I think maybe he's been better in terms of getting rid of the football maybe a little more and in a little more timely fashion a little bit. I think there is maybe some evidence of that. Our sack numbers are down. I think he's done a very, very good job as he did the other day in Atlanta of avoiding the rush. His pocket presence, I think might be even a little bit better than it's been in the past. His awareness, again, I think experience, now that he's got 50‑something games under his belt in the National Football League. I think that's helped his awareness in those type of things. He's played very well, and he's playing very well as of late.
(I could be totally off on this, and I know you'll tell me if I am. Is your offense at times in need of a big play to get itself going? What I mean is like that San Francisco game you got a big play and it kind of ignited you. In the Detroit game and against these guys, Jennings dropped those long passes and you seemed to struggle thereafter. Is there anything to needing that one big play to kind of wake your guys up and get them going?)**
I don't know about that. The first time we played Chicago I think we had that great drive to open the game at their place. I don't remember how many yards it was, but we started the game extremely well, which you would think would lead to a lot of confidence and further production. We ended up with 17 points, I think, in the ballgame.
Certainly there is something to momentum, there is something to confidence. You can't allow frustration to set in if you're not scoring as many points. I think there is some truth probably with any group, and ours in particular, that if you're not ‑‑ I think our expectations are high, which is a good thing. And sometimes we've got to realize well, if we make a mistake or two, it's not the end of the world. We've got to get the mistakes fixed. We've got to move on and be more productive.
So have there been times this season where maybe we've been mired in our own little, not self‑pity parties, but there's been spots in the season where we probably haven't fought through that adversity quickly enough.
(With Starks getting so many carries, I know Brandon's still an important guy. Can you talk about the importance of Brandon and maybe some of the things that he can handle even though he's not carrying the ball?)**
Number one, he's been a productive runner. I think he's done a good job in the running game, number one. Number two, he's been an excellent pass protector. I think that's something that's probably unnoticed. He's very aware. His blitz pick‑up is excellent. He's got a lot of good chip blocks where he's helping on his way out, his release. He's helping various linemen, that's been outstanding. You've seen him even in the playoffs doing an excellent job in the screen game. He's been a vital part of that. He's going to have his opportunities in the running game as well. But he's done everything we've asked him to do, and he'll continue to make contributions.
(How is Bulaga doing?)**
Yeah, I think he's played well. He's played well. Obviously ‑‑ he had struggles with the penalties more specifically against the Bears a couple of weeks back. You know, that is a point of emphasis for our whole offensive football team. Against these guys, the thing they'd love to get you to do is get you into third-and-8, third-and-12. Then that's what when they really want to play Tampa-2 and they want to have you throw a 6‑yard completion and get that pursuit and tackle you 2 yards before the sticks and punt the ball. So it's been an emphasis for us offensively that we've got to eliminate the negative yardage plays. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We can't move ourselves back, can't have the sacks, the penalties and so forth. So Brian was obviously part of that, January 2nd or whatever the date was. I think he's had an excellent week of preparation so far, and I think he's excited about the challenge.