Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bears Down Eagles!

The Bears had a daunting task on Sunday afternoon in front of a national television audience. They had to face the rejuvenated Michael Vick who was leading an explosive Eagles offense that was averaging over 30 points per game. And, they had to a face an aggressive, blitz happy defense that was as good as the Bears at getting turnovers. Most people pointed to this game as a watershed moment for the Bears. If their supposedly "soft" schedule was the reason for their 7-3 record, then this was their chance to show everyone that they belonged in the discussion of upper echelon teams in the NFC. With their 31-26 win, the Bears finally proved that they need to be taken seriously.

For the most part, I think the Bears defense performed pretty much as expected. They probably got more pressure on Vick than most expected, but the secondary kept Jackson and Maclin in front of them at all times, the linebackers tackled well when Vick checked down, and Peppers was everywhere. The front four also did an excellent job of staying in their gaps, which limited LeSean McCoy and kept Vick from taking over the game with his legs. They also picked Vick off for the first time this year (which yours truly predicted!). It was a great play by Tommie Harris to get upfield and tip the ball. Nice to see him step up and make one of the biggest plays of the year so far.

Despite the gaudy passing statistics, which the Bears were more than happy to give up, especially late in the game, the Bears defense was superb. The only real mistake was the late touchdown pass to Brent Celek. Urlacher should've gotten his head around to knock the pass away, but, really, the throw by Vick was ridiculous. Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to the opposition. Great throw, Mr. Vick. Too bad it only made a difference in the fantasy football world.

On the offensive side of ball, Jay Cutler had a fantastic game. He had a 146.2 rating, which was aided by the fact that he threw four touchdowns while completing only 14 passes! Amazing. His decision making was great, his accuracy was good, and he was nifty again with his feet. It was the kind of game the Bears needed from their franchise quarterback. He stepped up big time.

Matt Forte also played a great game, highlighted by a 61-yard run in the first quarter. When he gets to the second level, he is dangerous. The offensive line did a nice job of opening up holes for him and, if that continues down the stretch, the Bears will continue to score loads of points. The line did struggle at times with assignments, but I expect that to happen. But, they continue to show improvement, which is all you can ask for. The receivers also had huge games. All of them. Hester, Bennett, Knox, and Olsen all made tough catches in key situations. Mike Martz has done an amazing of job of keeping defenses off balance since the Bears bye week. He has called shorter passes, which has generally kept Cutler out of bad situations. I was a harsh critic of Martz, especially after the Seattle and Washington games, but he has done an excellent job of learning the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel since the bye week and tailoring an offensive game plan to maximize their abilities.

In my preview, I said the Bears were looking for respect. I'm not sure if they'll get it, but they damn well deserve it. This is a good football team that has just proven skeptics wrong (myself included). The road to the playoffs still won't be easy with the Pats, Jets, and Packers all remaining on their schedule (not to mention the Lions and Vikes on the road). But, their offense just might be finding its groove as they enter the home stretch. If they can continue to build upon their recent success, the sky is the limit because the defense and special teams are championship caliber.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eagles vs. Bears Preview

In 1967, Aretha Franklin asked for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This Sunday, the Bears will be singing that same song against the Eagles at Solider Field. Some people (myself included) have been somewhat skeptical of their 7-3 record. Their wins have largely come against the dreck of the NFL (Lions, Cowboys, Panthers, Vikings, Bills), and they've looked completely lost at times on offense. It seems most "pundits" and some fans are saying this game against the Eagles will tell us all we need to know about the 2010 Chicago Bears. No doubt this is a big game, but I don't necessarily think this game is as important as I (and everyone else) originally thought. Yes, it would be great if the Bears stifled Vick, scored 34 points on offense, and looked like a Super Bowl contender. But, if they struggle and lose to a very good Eagles team, they'll still be in good shape to make a push for the playoffs where anything can happen.

They both enter the game at 7-3 and in first place of their respective divisions. The Bears have done it with a defense that has given up the fewest points in the league while the Eagles have scored the second most points in the league with a rejuvenated Michael Vick at QB. Vick hasn't thrown an interception yet this year, but the Bears are second in the league on defense with 15. The flip side, though, is that the Eagles' defense leads the league with 19 interceptions. I hope Cutler has been watching his game film.

Speaking of Cutler, I think he can take advantage of the aggressiveness of the Eagles' corners. Asante Samuel is a gambler. On one of his interceptions on Sunday night against Eli Manning, he showed how quickly he reacts to the underneath routes. The Giants receiver barely started his break when Samuel exploded towards the ball. The Bears should run at least one stutter-step and go against him each series, even if they are simply decoy routes. Hopefully, that will create some doubt in his mind as the game goes on.

On defense, the Bears generally match up pretty well against Vick. They don't play much man-to-man coverage which means all eyes are usually on him. That should limit his ability to break containment and pick-up huge gains running the football. Don't get me wrong, he'll get his yards. But, Urlacher and company should be able to at least mitigate some of those gains. The Giants defense was also effective when it forced Vick to scramble to his right. This means that the Bears should leave Peppers at his normal right end position all game long. If they force Vick to his right, it limits his ability to throw on the run. The Lovie-2 defense should also be effective at preventing DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin from getting down field, which has been a huge part of the Eagles offense this year. Jackon is averaging 19.8 per catch, and Maclin leads the team with 705 yards. Of course, where does that leave LeSean McCoy and his 5-yard per carry average? Honestly, I don't know. The Bears run defense has been stout this year, but they will have their work cut out for them with all of these weapons to defend. Vick, though, is most dangerous when he has ample time to find his receivers down the field. Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive coordinator, consistently dialed up some corner blitzes from Vick's left which limited some of his big play ability. Was Rod Marinelli paying attention to that? A few well-timed, well-designed blitzes could be the difference in this game.

The Bears will need to score more than their average of 19.1 points in order to win this game. In fact, I think they will need to at least match their season high of 27 points (done against the Cowboys and Vikings). I'm not sure how they're going to do that, though. During their three-game winning streak, they've been running the ball, converting third downs, and eating up the clock. But, they haven't been lighting up on the scoreboard. This has been a good formula, but the Eagles are going to get their points. The Bears offensive line will need to give Cutler some protection on a few seven-step drops just so they have the opportunity to hit a few big plays down the field. But, the offense cannot turn the ball over more than once. If they do, I don't see how they can win.

I think the Bears will rise to the occasion and knock off the Eagles. The thick turf at Soldier will slow down the Eagles just enough, and Hester will have a huge return. The defense will pick off Vick for the first time this year, and Cutler will make a few plays of his own with his legs. Am I being overly optimistic? Probably. But, that's what happens when you're on a three-game winning streak. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. On Sunday, the Bears are going to find out what that means!


Bears 30, Eagles 27

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bears are 7-3...No, Really

The Bears went down to Miami and shut out the Dolphins in a game that featured physical play that reminded me of the famed Bears teams from the mid-80s (notice I resisted actually comparing them to a specific Bears Super Bowl winning team). While many of us have been howling at moon about the infuriatingly inconsistent play of the offense, the defense has continued to improve over the past month. Some could say the Bears took advantage of a beat-up Miami team that was starting its third-string QB. That's true. But, the key point is that they DID take advantage of these things. Good teams do that.

Peppers played like a man possessed all night long, and Izzy continues to play at a very high level. I was also impressed with the play of Henry Melton, who shows flashes of true ability. Rod Marinelli has done an excellent job of putting his players in positions to be successful, and they are responding. I still worry about the secondary at times, but the Cover-2 can function well without dominating players back there, especially if the front seven continues to play as fast as they did against the Dolphins.

The offense still hasn't found its groove yet. They've shown occasional explosiveness, but on Thursday they played physical, efficient, hard-nosed football. The passing stats weren't pretty, and Cutler made three more bad decisions. But, the running game was good and Cutler was great on third down. Martz continues to dial back the offense in favor of something more important than gaudy stats...winning. Wow. What a novel concept. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks. Really, though, I think Martz realizes that his career was resurrected by Lovie and company. He may actually be showing some loyalty. Or, Lovie has shown true leadership by putting the screws the Martz and demanding a running game. Either way, I didn't see this coming after the Seahawks and Redskins debacles.

The Bears will be tested next week against an explosive Eagles team. If they can beat them or even hang with them, then the Bears bandwagon will start to fill-up quickly. Sure, this team has its holes, mostly on offense, but their defense is for real and their special teams is top notch. I say grab your seat now. It's going to be a fun ride down the stretch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bears vs. Dolphins Preview

The Bears have put themselves in good position to make a push for the playoffs. They are tied with the Packers for the NFC North Division lead, but they beat the Packers in their first meeting. So, technically, they lead the division by virtue of tiebreaker. Plus, they are 3-0 in their division games. These will be key factors later in the season if the Bears continue to compete for the division title or a playoff spot.

Bears vs. Dolphins Preview

I haven't seen the Dolphins play much this year, but I do know that they seem to be a better road team than home team. Four of their five wins have come on the road. I have no idea what that means, but I'm glad the Bears are taking their talents to South Beach on Thursday. Plus, the 'Phins are down to their third QB Tyler Thigpen. Normally, facing a third-string QB is a guaranteed win. But Thigpen has had some moderate success when given the chance to play over his career. This is still a good opportunity for the Bears, but Thigpen being the QB doesn't guarantee a victory for the Bears.

Miami is basically a middle of the road team. Their defense is pretty good (top 10 overall) and their offense is ranked 16th overall. They are -5 in the turnover ratio, so that should bode well for the Bears who are +3. With Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, I'm sure the Dolphins will try to establish a running game while using some sort of Wildcat offense. But, the Bears have been dominant against the run this year. If they can force Thigpen to beat them, it should be another good week for Bears fans.

Devin Hester should be able to capitalize against a pretty bad Miami special teams unit. Their kickoff team is ranked 30th in the league. Maybe tomorrow night will be the night that Hester breaks the all-time return TD record. Even if he doesn't take one all the way, he should be able to help the offense with great field position just like he did last week. I'm hoping they keep him on kickoff returns because he has re-established himself as a true difference maker in that capacity.

The Bears offensive line has allowed two sacks in the past two games, which is stunning. In October, it seemed like they were giving up two sacks per play. If they can continue their solid play, all will be right in Bears land. Cutler has helped, too, with his willingness to escape the pocket and find open receivers down field. He's also done a great job of running when there has been space in front of him. Martz has done a good job the past few weeks with his play calling which has helped keep defenses off balance. This has allowed Cutler to play with confidence. As long as he realizes he can't actually throw the ball through defenders, the Bears offense will continue to improve.

The short week will hurt the Bears less because Cutler will be far more prepared than Thigpen, who obviously hasn't been getting many practice reps this year. Plus, their defense and special teams will be too much for the Dolphins to handle. This would be a big win for the Bears, especially with the red-hot Michael Vick next on the schedule.


Bears 24, Dolphins 15

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bears Win; I'm Officially Confused

The 2010 Chicago Bears are an enigma wrapped inside a riddle. I no longer understand this team. They pretty much dismantled the Vikings even with a missed field goal, a horrible Jay Cutler interception in the red zone, and 11 penalties. I predicted the Vikings to win by four, but I thought I was being optimistic. Instead, the Bears won by 14. Ridiculous. The offense was converting third downs, protecting the quarterback, and even running the football a little bit. Martz called a great game, and the defense was dominant. Wow. I'm stunned. I'm not ready to buy Super Bowl tickets yet, but this game definitely makes me feel more optimistic about the rest of the season. I promised I would let the "gray cloud of pessimism" lift if the Bears won. Well, I'm going to keep my word.

The Bears defense is good enough to take this team deep into the playoffs assuming, of course, the offense can continue its recent improvements. They are flying to the football, jamming up running lanes, and getting hits on the quarterback, even if the sacks aren't coming. The secondary had two awful blown coverages against the Vikings, but they were anomalies in an otherwise great performance. They held Adrian Peterson to three yards per carry, which is an amazing feat. Peppers and Idonije both had great games and the entire linebacking corps did a fantastic job of getting Peterson to the ground. They held the Vikings to 240 yards of total offense. Again, a dominating performance.

When is Dave Toub going to get a head coaching opportunity? His special teams consistently make a positive impact on Bears games. I don't know whose idea it was to put Hester back on kickoff returns, but it was brilliant. Hester averaged 50 yards on his two returns. Plus, Rashied Davis had a huge, heads up return when the Vikings kicked it short. It didn't look like Davis was surprised at all to have the ball in his hands, which is a credit to Toub's coaching. His special teams are always prepared. Hester also averaged 23.5 yards on his punt returns. Anyone else ok with Hester missing some snaps on offense if he keeps doing this on special teams?

Jay Cutler had a great game outside of one horrible, awful, disgusting, puke-inducing interception in the end zone. His throw to Olsen on the first touchdown was so good it hurt. His ability to escape the pocket, roll out, and find an open receiver has really helped take some pressure of the much maligned offensive line. But, what I really liked, is how poised he was in the pocket. The few times the Vikings had pressure, he either stepped up, rolled out, or stood tall and delivered the ball down the field. He didn't look skittish, which is a testament to the improvement the Bears offensive line has shown over the past two weeks. If the line continues to improve or at least play as well down the stretch as it has the past two games, the Bears might make a playoff run. I didn't think I'd be writing those words after the debacles against the Giants, Seahawks, and Redskins.

It's a good day to be a Bears fan, and I'm a little more optimistic about this team.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vikings vs. Bears Preview

Brett Favre travels to Soldier Field on Sunday for the last time (hopefully) in his long, overly dramatic, drawn-out career. I'll be glad when the Bears no longer have to face him. He has caused me more pain than any other opposing player. That 99-yard touchdown pass to Robert Brooks on Monday Night Football still haunts me. I've enjoyed the success the Bears have had against Favre in recent years, but I'm just tired of seeing his mug and listening to his awe-shucks, faux-Southern charm. This guy's been a major dink since his early days up here in Wisconsin. I badly want the Bears and Julius Peppers to dominate on Sunday.

Vikings vs. Bears Preview

The Vikings are an underachieving team that could be on the verge of total chaos. The players, media, and every Minnesotan from Garrison Keillor to Prince can't stand Brad Childress. Their quarterback, the aforementioned Brett Favre, is mired in a controversy that is oddly disappearing from the media's attention. They traded a third round pick to rent Randy Moss for about 12 minutes, and, in case that wasn't enough, their lease is up on their home stadium after next year and there is very little political will for the state to pony up cash for a new stadium. The Vikings ship set sail this season with a Super Bowl destination. By season's end, they may be without their diminutive captain and their aging Nordic warrior while the vessel drifts rudderless towards the smoggy skies of Southern California. Poor Vikings fans.

That being said, this team still scares the bloody hell out of me. Their pass rush has been pretty anemic so far this season, but they broke out against the Cardinals last week with six sacks. The Bears offensive line has demonstrated over and over again that it will be their achilles' heal this year. The good news is the that the Bears have mostly struggled against teams that blitz (ignoring the Giants game), but Vikings defensive coordinator (and former Bear) Leslie Frazier runs a scheme similar to the Bears. They try to get pressure with their front four without blitzing too much. However, I worry that Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards are simply more talented than our offensive line. Jay Cutler may be running for his life once again. Mike Martz will need to have a game plan similar to the one that he developed against the Bills. Lots of runs, lots of short passes, minimal seven-step drops. Cutler will need to get the ball out quickly to his backs and tight ends. Sadly, I don't think the Bears can manage to gain large chunks running the ball, but even short gains will prevent turnovers and chew up the clock.

The Vikings, though, can run the ball. Adrian Peterson is a horse. He has rushed for 857 yards this year (which is more than double Forte's 401 yards), and he's averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He runs with amazing strength and power, which can be a problem for the Bears smallish front seven. The Bears defense has been close to dominant against the run this year, but they haven't faced Peterson yet. They will need to commit eight guys to stopping him, which will open up even more holes in the Bears secondary. This game could get ugly quickly if Peterson is finding holes and Favre can play-action pass.

The Vikings are top 10 in three of the four team yardage stats categories (Offensive Rush Yards, Defensive Passing Yards against, Defensive Rushing Yards against). The Bears are third against the run, but they don't rank higher than 19th in the other three categories. Best case scenario is that the Bears play turnover free football, get a special teams touchdown, and force two to three turnovers on defense (calling Julius Peppers). If that happens, I can see the Bears winning a close game. Yet, I just don't see it going that way. I think the Bears will get behind early, Martz will call wing-and-a-prayer plays, and Cutler will oblige him with some picks due to constant pressure from Allen and company. I desperately want to be wrong because a 6-3 team is in control. A 5-4 team with three straight home losses is a staggering drunk pretending not to be.


Vikings 24, Bears 20

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bears Find Way Not to Lose

If the Chicago Bears travel to Canada and beat a winless Bills team and no one cares, does it still count? Thankfully, for Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo, yes. The game will officially be counted by the NFL as a "win". But, for the rest of us, this game did nothing to allay the fears about the Bears. They are currently not a very good football team. After eight games, you'd think we'd know more about them. But, due to the constant offensive line changes, Jay Cutler's schizophrenia, and Mike Martz's bi-polar disorder, it is actually possible that this team could improve over the second half of the season. But, I don't see it happening. They couldn't run the ball very well against the worse rushing defense in the league (2.6 yards per carry), and they've had to eliminate the deep throw due to the offensive line's inability to pass protect. That is not a formula for success against good teams.

Mike Martz must've gotten a stern talking to over the bye week by Lovie. How else can you explain the playcalling? The Bears ran the ball often, threw short, and kept mistakes to a minimum. That sounds like the formula for success from five years ago. Wasn't that supposed to change with the acquisition of Jay Cutler? The Bears have succeeded in taking a Pro Bowl quarterback and turning him into a game manager...for one game at least. After all the draft picks, big contract, and loads of unmet expectations (so far), we've found that the Bears can win when Cutler does his best Kyle Orton impression. This isn't Cutler's fault. This is the organization's fault. They haven't equipped the offense with the players or coaches needed to take advantage of Cutler's ability. He's not Kurt Warner. He is not the kind of quarterback who has ever needed to learn the intricacies of timing, footwork, or looking safeties off. When a guy's open, he can get it there. When a play breaks down, he can use his feet to escape pressure and make a play. But, he will never reach his potential running the Mike Martz offense. He's a freelancer trying to be successful within a rigid system with a bad offensive line. Martz and Smith may have finally realized this, which is why they've scaled back the playbook in hopes the Bears can win a bunch of 20-17 games the rest of the year.

So, if they stick to a similar plan like they ran against the Bills, can the Bears reach the playoffs? Possibly, but I don't think so. Their offense has looked its best this year when Cutler has gotten protection and he can find guys open down field. Their line will not allow that to happen with any regularity. They will need to run it well, be efficient on third downs and in the red zone, and eliminate turnovers. Sure, that happened against the Bills, but I don't think they can do that against any other team on their schedule.

Plus, their defense showed that is it vulnerable against the pass. Their pass rush still isn't very good, and their secondary is below average. If not for a badly underthrown interception, we'd probably be talking about a Bears loss. Marinelli was forced to blitz often against the Bills, and while it worked at the end of the game, it also allowed for numerous easy completions to wide open receivers. Peppers needs to do more, but, again, I think the system is limiting his ability. The cover 2 allows easy completions underneath the coverage, so quarterbacks don't need to hold the ball very long, which makes it near impossible for Peppers to get to the quarterback. That being said, he needs to do more. Two sacks after eight games is pretty pathetic.

I still think the Bears will struggle to reach eight wins. I hope I'm wrong. But, at least they'll be playing some meaningful games the rest of this month and maybe even into December. If they manage to beat the Vikings next week, I'll allow the gray cloud of pessimism to lift...a little.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bears vs. Bills

It seems like forever since the Bears have played a game. That is probably because I spent a few days in the hospital last week, and I spent the remainder of the week recovering. It was a long week, especially with no Bears game at the end of it to look forward to. I was hoping that my hospital scare would help me cope with my somewhat unhealthy addiction to the Chicago Bears. Watching last week's game in the hospital, I found myself able to not care too much about the fact that they lost and Cutler sucked. But, I fear that as I continue to get healthy, my obsession with the Bears will return in full force. I guess there are worst things to obsess about, right?

Bears vs. Bill Preview

The Buffalo Bills are 0-7, but they have played close games against good teams in recent weeks (Chiefs, Ravens). Ryan Fitzpatrick has a higher rating, more touchdowns, and fewer interceptions than Jay Cutler. Of course, he doesn't have to run for his life during each pass play. But, it's worth mentioning because this team, despite their winless record, is not a push over. They can move the ball a little bit on offense and they are definitely due for a win. In fact, the Bills actually rank higher than the Bears in offense (26 vs. 29) However, their defense is awful (worst in the league in points allowed), which should help Cutler and company get out of their recent slump.

Has Mike Martz been watching the Carolina game? Let's hope so. If he commits to the run even a little bit, the Bears should beat the Bills by two touchdowns. The bye week should help the offense settle down a little bit while giving Martz and Tice the chance to self-scout and find the things they do well. Obviously, Forte and Taylor need to touch the ball more and Cutler has to find a way to prevent disaster when speed bumps occur. It's one thing to throw an interception. It's another thing to throw four interceptions and lose a fumble at the goal line. A leader has to find a way to stop the bleeding, regardless of what's going on around him. He can't rip open the wound further.

The Bears defense should be able to hold this offense under 14 points. I worry that this could be one of those games that defies logic, though. Like, the Bears defense giving up 27 or something. Hopefully not. The Bears need this game because the schedule becomes much harder in the second half of the season. If they lose to Buffalo and fall to 4-4, the playoffs may be unreachable. With games against the Vikings (twice), Dolphins, Eagles, Lions (on the road), Pats, Jets, and Packers, I don't see more than 4 wins in there. Of course, the NFC is pretty weak, so who knows. Maybe the Bears will stumble to an 8-8 record and still make it in. If they beat Buffalo, I think 9-7 is realistic. But, they gotta beat Buffalo first!

Bears 24, Bills 13

Monday, November 1, 2010

And the winner is...

After assigning each follower a number in a spreadsheet and giving extra entries to those who blogged or tweeted about this blog, I went to to get a random number.

Congratulations to "My name is Jonas"! You are the big winner in the Born to Bear blog sweepstakes. I will be getting in touch with you regarding your $50 gift card.

Thanks to everyone who entered! Go Bears!