ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — All those 30-something defenders for the Chicago Bears can still play. They get to quarterbacks and make plenty of tackles even if they may have lost a little speed through the years.
The Bears went into Week 4 leading the NFL with 14 sacks, including 2 1/2 each by ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher lead the team with 21 tackles each.
And Urlacher, their defensive elder statesman at 34, believes he’s just getting started going into Monday night’s game in Dallas after missing the preseason because of a surgically repaired left knee.
“I don’t have any pain. … The more I play, the better I’ll get, the more in shape I’ll get,” said Urlacher, who as promised didn’t miss any regular-season games. “Preseason just ended for me. That’s the way I looked at it. I didn’t play the whole preseason and now I feel like I’ve got a little bit of game shape and can run a little better.”
The Bears will be at Cowboys Stadium chasing quarterback Tony Romo in a matchup of 2-1 teams.
Romo took quite a beating last week. He was sacked four times, twice losing fumbles after being sandwiched between defenders, and was hit several other times in a tight win over Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys will get no break against the older group from Chicago.
“They are an outstanding defense. They really are. It starts with those guys up front. … They don’t do an incredible amount of blitzing, but they still provide pressure as much as any team,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They play the right way. They play with a relentless spirit.”
Chicago was among the NFL’s best defenses the first three weeks, allowing only 279 total yards (sixth in the NFL) and 16.7 points (fifth). The Bears have a fifth 30-something starter in right cornerback Charles Tillman.
“They play so well as a unit right now,” Romo said. “They’re getting a great pass rush up front. And it allows those guys to play fast and react and do the things that allow them to get their hands on the ball. It’s just a very, very tough unit to go against.”
DeMarcus Ware, the perennial Pro Bowl linebacker who himself turned 30 this summer, and the Dallas defense is pretty good as well.
The Cowboys are first in the NFL allowing only 250 yards per game. Tampa Bay had 166 yards last week, only 96 before its final drive of the game. That defense is a big reason they have managed to win two games despite scoring an NFL-low 47 through the first three games.
Second-year Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been less boastful this season, not as outgoing in proclamations of how good his unit can or should be. They have instead shown that with their play.
“I think this group is all in together,” Ryan said. “We worked hard last year. We just weren’t quite as effective, but all of our guys believe in each other. I think they believe in the coaches. …. We’re all really coming together.”
The Cowboys could be without linebacker Anthony Spencer, who missed three consecutive days of practice because of a strained pectoral muscle.
Peppers has twice had three-sack games against the Cowboys, but those were his rookie year in 2002 and three years later while still with Carolina. Those were also when Dallas had the likes of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and an old Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, instead of the mobile Romo.
“You’ve got to be locked in on your job. You’ve got to be disciplined,” Briggs said. “When he starts to scramble, you’ve got to find a receiver and plaster him. And our D-line has to keep him in the pocket. We’ve got to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket and not allowing him to create more time, because if you get enough time on any defense you’ll find a hole.”
Urlacher said he has blitzed once all season, and that the Bears haven’t had to very much this year because of the pressure the defensive front gets on quarterbacks.
Monday’s game is set to be Urlacher’s 172nd career start for the Bears, matching Mike Singletary for the third-most in team history. If he starts the rest of the game this season, he will match Walter Payton for the most.
Inside the 30-somethings ends are a pair of tackles in their mid-20s, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea.
“We’ve talked an awful lot about Henry Melton, Israel Idonije, it’s just good competition for all of the guys to get to the quarterback,” coach Lovie Smith said. “And we want that.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.