(You used to be the underdog. Now you're the favorite in this game, if you believe the oddsmakers. Do you go into this with a different mindset, or is it the same?)
No, we're going in this week, we're playing the Bears. Huge rivalry game. We have a lot of respect for them. I think they do for us as well. We're focused on what we have to do to go in there and get the win.
(There will be a lot of talk this week about Cover-2 now with the receivers and quarterback and all that, but what's the challenge scheme‑wise with theirs?)
For us we want to be a two‑dimensional offense, want to run the ball and pass the ball effectively. They use the front four, and two mainly Briggs and Urlacher, and I guess all three of their linebackers to create penetration up front, try to funnel things up to their linebackers to eliminate explosive gains in the run game. So our key is going to be to eliminate that penetration, create some seams and try to be a two‑dimensional offense.
(The fact that it is the Bears, it is, as you said a rival, a team you're very familiar with, how does that impact this game?)
For one, I think it's great for the fans. It's a huge rivalry game. There's some great history between these two teams. So we're familiar with them, they're familiar with us. So the preparation's really going to go back to trying to evaluate what we do and controlling what we do going into this game and being at our best effort to go out there and get the win.
(What's your most vivid memory of a Bears/Packers game, either in ones you've played in or just before you got here?)
Well, the ones we win stand out, that's for sure. It's always tough. So to me when I think Packers/Bears, they're usually tough games, very physical games. I know when we played up there, that was a very physical game. Playing here was a very physical game as well. Takes a lot of effort and execution to secure a win. And the little things add up in those games. We can't have penalties. We can't turn the ball over. We have to be effective at running and passing the ball, and our defense needs to continue to do what they've been doing, and special teams as well. We need all three phases to click on all three cylinders.
(What do you think about their defensive linemen, what do you have to watch out from some of those four, five other guys?)
Their starting four, they're outstanding up front. Anthony Adams I think is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. If you watch film, he's always around the pile. He does an excellent job playing with low pads, creating penetration, getting penetration, so he's one player that I have to be familiar with, because he lines up over the center most of the time.
The other guy, Idonije, does an excellent job on that side. He kind of gets overlooked because of Peppers and what he brings to that package. Really their front four I think outstanding defensive line, well- coached. Tommie Harris is playing well here towards the end of the season. They do a great job holding their gaps and playing their scheme.
(There's some rivalries where the teams absolutely hate each other. Just from talking to you guys before these first two games this year, seems like this is one kind of built on more of a mutual respect. Is that fair to say?)**
I think there's a lot of respect with that. But when it comes game time there's some hatred and emotions that come up. You want to beat your opponent, and the fact that we see them twice a year, you know, they see us, and they're always tight games. Our fans and their fans are so close geographically, I think adds to it. So there's ‑‑ as far as a rivalry goes, yeah, there's some hatred there as far as the rivalry goes, but at the same time there's mutual respect in the fact that the games are so close, they're so physical, and there's outstanding players on both teams.
(You were in this position one other time in your career, in the NFC title game. What did you learn from that experience? Is there anything you can take from that this week?)**
Well, that was a while ago, so I've kind of turned the page since then. But the last time, it was the little things. You have to be concentrating, focused on little things, they'll jump up and bite you in the tail. In that game, I remember there were some things we didn't do quite as well as we had in previous games, which is why it was so close. So we have to be able to convert third downs, continue drives, get touchdowns in the red zone. All the little things that you do throughout the season to get wins, you need to do it in the playoffs as well.
(During the playoffs, as a sixth seed, you know going in that, everything is going to be on the road, how daunting a task is that and how will you guys handle that?)**
It's tough in the NFL to go on the road and get wins, but I think our coaching staff does an excellent job of keeping us focused on not on what the opponent does or what the possible distractions are, but more focused on what we need to do. We're a very close‑knit team. Very much like a family. So when we go on the road you'll see guys hanging out in each other's rooms, playing cards. We all go out to eat together. For us it's a family trip, a family business trip. We go there, one task at hand that's to get the win and come home.
(You got a chance to win the Halas trophy, playing in the NFC championship. Can you talk about the significance of that and it will be a little more special doing it against Coach Halas's former team?)
Winning the NFC championship will be huge. Great for our organization and our fans and for this team. Everybody knows we've gone through a lot of adversity this year, and I think we've handled it fairly well. We've put ourselves in a position to achieve that and take it one step further to getting to the Super Bowl. So it will be huge. Regardless of who the opponent is, I think doesn't matter to us. Right now it's the Bears, and we're focused on that, and it's a great rivalry, so that kind of adds to it.
(If you had beaten the Bears in the Monday night game, your positions would have been flipped in the playoffs. You would have won the NFC North by virtue of a tiebreaker, etc. Given all that, and how I think you guys felt that slipped away from you, has that been the most frustrating loss this year, and is it something that still sticks in your craw?)
I don't know if it was the most frustrating. If you think ‑‑ all of our losses have been close. So they've all been frustrating. But there were lessons learned in that game that we were able to take from each one of our close losses and move forward and apply it. So, I mean, that's speculation in the past. We're at where we're at. We're on the road this week, focused going in to play our best football to secure a win.
(Since you started the Philadelphia game with Starks having success, and you were able to go to that inverted wishbone, do you feel like there's a new element to your offense that teams have to defend now even from the regular season, just of late?)
Oh, yeah, definitely, I think we've had more success running the ball the latter part of the year. I think we went through a feeling‑out phase early on, trying to figure out what we were going to do once Ryan went down. And I think we found a good balance with Brandon and with James and John and Dimitri, when he stepped in there. So right now we have four good running backs, I think, and if we do our job up front opening up holes they do an excellent job hitting the holes.
The more success we have in the run game, the more success we have in the passing game, seems to open up a lot of plays down field. And Aaron is playing as well as anybody has played that position and he's doing an excellent job spreading the ball around and getting it down the field.
(That year the Giants beat you guys to go to the Super Bowl, they played the Patriots late in the year and lost but played a great game and kind of springboarded them, for lack of a better word, through the postseason. Did that Patriot loss for you guys, you played well in that game, played very well since then, did that game do anything for you guys?)**
I mean, I don't know. I mean, I hadn't really ‑‑ I think it looks as if maybe it did, as far as the way the season's kind of played out. But right now I think each one of our games, we've improved the next week. So we've taken something from each game. And if you go through any of the losses, whether it's New England, the Detroit loss was a frustrating loss, any of those games we had to face some adversity. We've managed to find a way to bounce back the next week. Definitely we've built from week‑to‑week regardless of the outcome. We're continuing to improve. I think we've improved from the Giants game, to the Bears game, to the Philly game, and to last week against Atlanta, we look forward to taking another step at improving this week.
(Back to the run game. The average wasn't that great against Atlanta. But you ran it so many times and you generally got positive yards out of it. Was that the impact that you guys wanted?)**
Yeah, I think coach did an excellent job of keeping it two‑dimensional as far as the play calling goes, set up some play action pass, which we've had a lot of success with. We didn't get the explosive yards that we had necessarily against Philadelphia, but it made them respect the run enough. So our receivers did an outstanding job of running their routes, Aaron played lights out, got the ball downfield, and made them pay on the back end when they tried to come up and stop the run.
(You came back from a serious shoulder injury to have two good seasons here in a row. First of all, how rewarding is that for you? And, secondly, how important to have a healthy offensive line generally, except with Tauscher going out?)**
It's huge for me to be able to come back and kind of recapture that spot and hold it down and play well. But with that said, having all five guys play together, as long as we have, up front has been huge. That's something we've lacked in the past few years. We've kind of had to shuffle some guys here and there due to injury. So I think Bryan's done an outstanding job stepping in once Tauscher went down. Having the five guys in there ‑‑ Josh, I don't think, has missed a practice, which is huge, and Daryn's kind of the same way. So having the five of us in there has definitely, I think, helped our offense.
(How much can you take out of that last Chicago game? And did you ever get the sense during that contest that Chicago's defense was playing vanilla at all at the end of the year?)**
No, I don't think so. I mean, I think they ‑‑ my take was they played to try to keep us out of the playoffs. They played to win the game, which is the way you're supposed to play. So they've got an outstanding defense, and I think we have a pretty good offense, so it should be a good matchup.
(What about the field itself in Chicago, is that a problem? Has it been in the past for you, and do you have any concerns about it?)
No, I have no concerns. It's equal field. It's the same for them as it is for us. We just have to go out there and be secure with our technique and fundamentals and take care of our business.
(The second time you faced the Bears, how much stuff did you actually see that you hadn't seen before? Do they just play what they play and expect you to stop it, or do you see a lot of different play calls?)
They always throw ‑‑ they're like any defense, they'll throw a wrinkle here and there to their scheme. But their scheme is pretty well set. They're well-coached. Their players play their scheme well. So it really comes down to us taking care of our business, being fundamentally sound and executing our technique in order to be successful.