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Bears' defense still useful despite Urlacher loss

9/15/2009

One might think it's an obvious time for those unfortunate fantasy owners relying on the big, bad Chicago Bears defense to find another option now that Brian Urlacher will miss the rest of the season. One of the league's signature linebackers, Urlacher suffered a dislocated wrist Sunday night, leaving the Bears' defense seeking help and fantasy owners panicking. But as you often will see in this Karablog space, I offer a contrarian point of view.

First of all, one shouldn't panic when it comes to any fantasy defense. Sure, the Bears didn't improve by losing their best defensive player for the season, but it's not all about stopping the other team from scoring points in fantasy football. Hey, I didn't make the rules.

The Bears have a long-standing reputation for playing ferocious, mind-numbing defense, but opposing offenses certainly had some fun at the unit's expense the past two seasons. Even with Urlacher and Lance Briggs wreaking havoc on the field, this team allowed 348 and 350 points in 2007 and 2008, respectively, good for only 16th and 15th in the NFL those seasons, respectively. In 2008, the Bears allowed 75 points in two games to the quarterback-deficient Minnesota Vikings and 31 points in a must-win Week 17 finale against the Houston Texans, and finished 21st in the league in yards allowed. Urlacher was there for all of it. So, even before the Urlacher injury, this was not the best defense in the NFL, or even close to it.

However, fantasy rarely mirrors real life; the Bears finished sixth in ESPN scoring among fantasy defenses last season, mainly because they forced turnovers and translated them directly to points. It was the turnover angle that led ESPN Fantasy to rank the Bears' defense No. 10 and fantasy owners to choose it, on average, No. 7 among defenses. The Bears haven't been a good pass-rushing team for years, but when you can pile on the takeaways, few notice. While most view this season-ending Urlacher injury as crippling for the Bears as a team -- a point I clearly see, especially since the offense isn't good enough to win on its own -- it doesn't mean the turnovers and big plays will stop. I also don't put much credence into what happened the last time Urlacher missed games, which was in 2004. The Bears' defense completely fell apart then, losing all seven games and allowing an average of 10 more points per contest than they had with him, but that was five seasons ago. I don't assume that will happen again.

Look, I generally wait until Round 15 of any draft -- assuming the draft is 16 rounds long, because kickers go in the last round -- to select one of the top defenses left on the board. I have opinions and reasons why I like or dislike certain defenses, but in general, I'm the guy who selects the Chicago Bears' defense and leaves it active for each week except when the bye week arrives, and I drop my sixth wide receiver for that week. That's it. Of course, I will drop a defense if it tanks like the San Diego Chargers' did last season, but the point is, I don't think the Bears will do this. The Urlacher loss doesn't help matters, and the Bears are left scrambling, but from a fantasy standpoint, I'd hold tight. This defense is owned in more than 88 percent of ESPN leagues, the eighth largest total. To be honest, I don't see any defenses owned in fewer leagues I like considerably better.