Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers joke with teammates on the bench near the end of a game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on Nov. 13, 2011, in Chicago. The Bears defeated the Lions 37-13.
Yesterday, we looked at the best of the special teams. Today, we focus on the heart of the Bears: the defense. Classic Bears football features a crushing defense, and Chicago's D aimed to reach the same heights as their predecessors. They didn't quite get there, only ranking in the top five in the league at stopping the run, but some players did stand out.
The nominees are:
Lance Briggs: The longtime linebacker joked that he is aging like a fine wine, and his play this season backed up his claim. Briggs finished the season with 105 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception. His play was a huge reason why the Bears were so effective against the run, because he had nine tackles of a rusher for negative yardage.
Henry Melton: After starting the year well against the Falcons, Melton struggled. Lovie Smith made the rare move of calling out his player in the media. It worked, as Melton picked up production in both sacks and tackles.
Julius Peppers: One of the best free-agent acquisitions of the Jerry Angelo era, Peppers turned in 11 sacks this season for a loss of 60 yards. He also showed versatility, lining up both at defensive end and defensive tackles. When offenses didn't know where he was going to be, they had to get creative in stopping him, which opened lanes for other defensive linemen.
Charles "Peanut" Tillman: After years of being the heart of the Bears secondary, Tillman finally got his due and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. He now owns the Bears franchise record for interceptions returned for a touchdown. His patent-pending "Peanut Football Punch" was responsible for four forced fumbles, plus he had 99 tackles and 12 broken-up passes.
Brian Urlacher: He made his eighth career Pro Bowl by making 102 tackles and showing that he can still disrupt offenses by grabbing three interceptions. When things went wrong for the defense during a five-game losing streak, Urlacher stepped up and took the blame.
And the winner is:
Charles "Peanut" Tillman! He anchored the defensive backfield despite an ever-changing cast of characters playing alongside him. His output didn't waiver over the course of the season.