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Play of defense could separate Bears, Ravens

October 23, 2005|By ANDREW SELIGMAN

CHICAGO - To Ray Lewis, it's no contest. One linebacker and one defense stand above the rest in the NFL, and his picks aren't shocking.

The best linebacker? Himself.

Best defense? The Baltimore Ravens.

The Chicago Bears and Brian Urlacher might have a case to argue that.

Soldier Field will house the debate Sunday when the Ravens (2-3) visit the Bears (2-3).

"Definitely," Lewis said when asked if he's the best linebacker in the league. "I don't play for no other reason."

Where does Urlacher rank?

"I've never rated other linebackers," Lewis said. "Everybody's game is different. Everybody plays in a different style of football as linebackers. When you speak about the Zach Thomases, when you think about the Brian Urlachers, the Teddy Bruschis, everybody's game is different and mine is totally different. So I don't have the leverage to rate any other linebacker.

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"I look at Brian Urlacher as a great linebacker, he's a great guy who loves playing the position and I respect it a lot."

The Ravens' defense ranks second in the NFL; the Bears' is third.

Urlacher is tied for third with six sacks; Lewis has one.

Both have 33 solo tackles, with Urlacher in on 43 total and Lewis 41.

But while Lewis declared himself the best linebacker, Urlacher took a pass.

"Whatever he thinks," Urlacher said. "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion."

He said he understands why he and Lewis are being compared, but "there's 11 guys on defense and 11 guys on offense and it's not going to be decided between him and I. There are going to be 10 other guys on defense out there and they make a lot of plays themselves on our team."

It seems fitting that the Bears will honor their 1985 Super Bowl champions - arguably the greatest defensive team of all time - with the Ravens in the building. The best defense since then might have been Baltimore's in 2000. And this year's Ravens and Bears are among the league's top three.

"That linebacking corps is very, very good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of the Bears. "The safety, (Mike) Brown, you have to account for on every play. He is all over the place making plays. You've got to respect that defense."

Baltimore's defense took a blow last week when safety Ed Reed, the reigning defensive player of the year, suffered a high ankle sprain in a 16-3 win over Cleveland, an injury expected to keep him out of Sunday's game.

"Anytime you can take a great player out of the mix - and he is a great player, plays the ball extremely well - that's to our advantage that he doesn't play," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But we'll see. It's a good matchup; we talk a lot about their defense, and I'm going to continue to talk a lot about our defense. We don't think we're second fiddle to anyone."

There are other issues.

Bears left guard Ruben Brown (strained right pectoral muscle) and left tackle John Tait (sprained left ankle) are questionable after missing last week's 28-3 victory over Minnesota, as is punter Brad Maynard (calf). Thomas Jones, who rushed for 89 yards against the Vikings, still is bothered by a stretched ligament in his right knee suffered two weeks ago at Cleveland.

The Ravens have been outscored by a combined 124-47 in losing five straight road games, including two lopsided defeats this year.

"It's definitely come up in some meetings, but we don't worry about it," defensive tackle Jarrett Johnson said. "We just have to play like we did last week and bring our talent on the road."

For some reason, they've lacked that focus away from home.

"You can look at what we eat, when we leave, who the flight attendants are, what hotel we stay at," Billick said. "When you're playing well, that doesn't matter. When you're not playing well, that doesn't matter, either. It's all about the preparation. The preparation has been excellent.

"I'm going to rely on it."

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