The title to this blog may seem like a pretty dull and inane "no duh" type of headline, but there's a purpose to it. Lance Briggs is now the focus of any offense in the NFL that is going to test the Chicago Bears defense. With no Brian Urlacher in the middle of the Bears defense teams are going to force the action at Lance Briggs and find out if anyone else on the defense can make a play.
The weak-side linebacker is always going to make a lot of plays with in any defense because a lot of teams will leave the weak-side linebacker unblocked as the try to run away from him. This is not to take anything away from Briggs' career because he has had a consistently great career, but it's also important to point out how much Urlacher makes Briggs look better.
Teams were forced to focus on Urlacher, to either stop him or slow him down. Otherwise Urlacher would take the game over and rack up 25 tackles. Briggs is still going to make an impact, but teams are going to try and be more physical with Briggs until someone else proves they can step up and make a play.
Urlacher had a hall of fame career by all statistical measures and was still playing at a high level prior to last season when he played at an average level due to his knee injury. Urlacher was among the best in impact tackles, stuffs, tackles for a loss, just shutting down the run game to put the Bears in favorable passing down situations.
Even last year when Urlacher was playing on a bad knee throughout most of the season he still was among the games best in stuffs recording eight on the season. His stuffed tackle yardage on the season was the second highest total of his career, again despite not playing the entire season and playing on a bad leg.
When Urlacher wasn't making the play, it was Briggs who typically was making that key play. Now the pick your poison scenario is gone because Urlacher has retired after the Bears refused to bring him back. As a result teams are going to focus more of their attention on Briggs.
Since the 2004 season, according to FootballOutsiders season defensive metrics the Chicago Bears have only once been outside the top-10 in total defense. The one year the Bears were outside the top-10 was the 2009 season when Urlacher missed the season with his wrist injury. Only twice have the Bears been outside the top-5 in total defense, essentially this unit has been dominant.
To give you an idea into the metrics of FootballOutsiders consider strength of the Bears schedule, strength of the offenses the Bears have faced and add in stats like stuffs, missed tackles and impact tackles. Don't think in terms of total yards allowed, or rushing yards allowed or passing yards allowed given that a lot of those yards can be skewed by the game situation.
Think of in terms of when the Bears' defense the best offenses in the NFL, the defense shut down those offenses better than any other team did on the season even if the offense was able to put up a lot of yards.
The Bears defense has been up to the task on an annual basis not only under Lovie Smith but under Brian Urlacher and now both of them are gone. Briggs may not have to step up his game, but someone on the defense is going to have to step up their game considerably to prevent a huge drop in defensive production.
Questions that must be answered, who should be the starting MIKE 'backer in week one? Do the Bears go with an unspectacular veteran who nearly missed all of last season due to suspension? Do they gamble on an athletic rookie who shows good speed but has questions about his physicality at the point of attack?
Is the long term solution to the middle linebacker position even on the roster or will the Bears bounce between mediocre players and bad players? Will they simply struggle to replace a sure fire Hall of Famer with a good linebacker?
Urlacher knew this defense inside and out and was always able to not only get himself into position to make a play but also to get other players into position to make a play. Someone else is going to have to step up and fulfill that role for the Bears defense.