FB Mike Alstott and the Buccaneers face a tough rookie defender in S Mike Brown (30) on Sunday
And a rookie shall lead them. Or two rookies.
The Chicago Bears surrendered 41 points to the Buccaneers back in September, and are ranked 25th in the league in total defense, but Dungy believes they are improving rapidly on that side of the ball. Much of that improvement can be attributed to the gradual increase in production from rookies Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown.
Buccaneer scouting reports in the preseason gave good reviews to both of these Bear rookies, and they have become integral parts of the Chicago defense. Brown has started at free safety since opening day and is fourth on the team with 70 tackles, plus one fumble recovery and one interception. Urlacher started slowly but is now being touted as one of the league's top first-year players. He leads the Bears with 108 tackles and has also snared one interception and made six sacks.
"He has helped them out," said Dungy of Urlacher. "He was playing outside 'backer the first time around and still learning the system. He's since moved to middle 'backer, which looks like it's a little more natural for him. He gets a chance to run to both sidelines, and he's done a good job for them.
Since his six-tackle performance against Tampa Bay in week two (using Chicago coaches' statistics), Urlacher has reached double digits in stops in all but one game. Six of his 108 tackles have been sacks and another five have been knockdowns behind the line of scrimmage. Urlacher had 16 stops against Buffalo last weekend and 15 vs. New Orleans in October.
As a team, the Bears have only held three opponents to less than 300 net yards this season, but two of those performances have occurred in the last three weeks. The Chicago defense has also forced five turnovers in that span, compared to eight over the first seven contests.
"They're playing better on defense and they've got a lot of active guys," said Dungy. "Mike Brown is another rookie that's playing a lot better for them. It's just the natural flow, I guess, of getting that experience. We expect a much better defensive team than we saw that first time, and even with that, it was 3-0 after 27 minutes. So we know we've got to be ready."