Bears need to 'lengthen' the field vs. Houston Texans

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Bears need to 'lengthen' the field vs. Houston Texans

A significant key to Sundays Bears-Houston Texans game: length of field. If it is the same for both teams, the situation tilts in favor of the Houston Texans. And the Bears offense knows it.

At the end of the day, with our defense, as long as we make another teams offense go 80, 90 yards, I think were going to be OK, said quarterback Jay Cutler, who has accounted for all 12 of the Bears turnovers with eight interceptions and four lost fumbles.

The Bears have lived by the takeaway (28) and have turned those into points, seven times for scores by the defense. They are 6-0 with a positive turnover ratio in 2012.

For all of the apparent statistical imbalances, the Bears have driven the ball long distances almost as effectively as the Texans. Houston has 23 drives of 50 yards or longer that have resulted in points. The Bears have 21.

The problem with that for the Bears is that Houston has allowed only 12 drives of 50 yards or longer that resulted in points. The Bears have allowed 16, also very respectable, but Houston is not the Jaguars, Titans or even the Lions, teams in the bottom half of the NFL in average yards per rush, a Bears standard.

The Texans are ninth, second in rush yards allowed per game. They will be without starting nose tackle Shaun Cody because of rib and lung issues, so the Texans will use a three-man combination of Earl Mitchell (starting), rookie Jared Crick and Terrell McClain, cut by Carolina and signed last week.

Starting vs. finishing

The Bears will be in serious trouble if they are forced to play from more than one score behind. That has rarely happened this season, with them trailing in a fourth quarter just twice this season (Green Bay, Carolina).

Not surprisingly then, the Bears have had as many scoring drives in the fourth quarter as in the second and third quarters combined this year:

Quarter Drives
1st 9
2nd 6
3rd 7
4th 13

Cutler has directed only six fourth-quarter comebacks in 49 games as a Bear. That plus the Houston defense points to a need to avoid a serious points need late.

We've had some games where we've started well, coordinator Mike Tice said. We scored on the first series a couple of games ago, we scored on the second series a game a couple of weeks ago. We just need to put a couple of drives together. We need to get that rhythm.

While attention will focus on RT Gabe Carimi vs. ex-Wisconsin teammate DE J.J. Watt, the real game may play out with center Roberto Garza and guards Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal against a weakened Houston middle.

I think weve got to recognize what theyre playing and attack them a certain way according to what coverage and fronts were seeing, Cutler said.

Weather or not Bears want nasty

A home-field advantage may be rolling in on Doppler weather maps in the form of rain for Sunday night. The Bears dont necessarily play better in adverse conditions but they are more accustomed to them than the Houston Texans.

So as far as Soldier Field being a sloppy track by Sunday evening , We hope so, said meteorologist Lovie Smith. Its November, and Im sure Houston is expecting to play in bad weather. Ive been watching the forecast a little bit closer than I normally do, and I hear theres a lot of rain and wind supposed to come in.

Temperatures are expected to be around 60 degrees, which wont bother the Texans. The 22-mile-per-hour south wind wont favor anybody who cant run the football. Same with the rain forecast, which is a 20-percent possibility at 7 p.m., 60 at 8 p.m., 90 at 9 p.m., and an ominous 100 percent at 10 p.m. right about the time a close football game is apt to be decided.

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

When Scott Darling and Antti Raanta vied for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job two seasons ago, there was definitely a strong competition. But it was still one built on respect.

“We had no bad blood in that situation,” Darling said on Friday. “We’ve remained friends. He’s having a great season and I’m happy for him.”

On this night, Raanta may have been just a bit happier.

Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw against his former team, notching his first shutout of this season, and Nick Holden gave the New York Rangers a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks are 1-2-1 in their last four games but remain atop the Western Conference with 38 points.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford in this one. Nevertheless, it was a tight game, one in which both goaltenders were stellar. Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots – Holden’s overtime winner was the first goaltender allowed to New York in two games against them.

Considering the players missing, the Blackhawks will take the point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“With or without Toews, you’re always thinking when it’s in the third period and it’s close and getting inside 10 minutes, let’s get it to overtime,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve seen a ton of overtimes in the league. You gotta get the one point. We’ve had some success trying to get the extra one. Tonight, not, but that’s got to be the mindset.”

The Blackhawks were close to taking the 1-0 lead six minutes into the third period, when Marian Hossa thought he scored his 15th goal of the season. But the Rangers challenged for offside. Upon further review, the goal was nullified.

“Well, obviously that’s a tough one,” Hossa said. “I mean, I didn’t notice it was close to offside but obviously with today’s technology, with this new rule, it’s a game of inches. It’s slowing the game down, I think. You’re getting confused, what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we just have to deal with it. But sometimes it’s more frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and right now, I think more goals are disallowed because of this.”

Hartman, who had the pass to Hossa, was also disappointed but agreed with the review’s ruling.

“You get your excitement up a little bit and you try not to get too ahead of yourself when you know they are reviewing it. You just try to see it as both ways, if they do call it a goal, if they call it back,” Hartman said. “Obviously it was the right call. It was just a tough one.”

The Blackhawks will take the point out of this one. Despite the players they were without they played a solid game. They had good, quality scoring chances. Their current backup was just slightly bested by their previous one.

“Both [goalies] were great, both [teams] had excellent looks at the net,” Quenneville said. “We missed some good opportunities on 2-on-1s and they had some good looks around Darling as well. Both guys got their teams to overtime, got a point. It’s a good point if you want to look at it like that. I didn’t mind the way we played but Darls was excellent.”

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

The 2017 Winter Classic featuring the Blackhawks and Blues is right around the corner.

Players from both sides already squared off in a game of NHL 17 to generate some hype into the game, but nothing compares to behind-the-scenes footage of the two teams leading up to it.

Beginning Dec. 16 at 9 p.m., EPIX will air a one-hour episode each week that provides an all-access look inside the lives of the Blackhawks and Blues, on and off the ice.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The game will be on Jan. 2 at 12 p.m. on NBC, with the final episode airing Friday, Jan. 6.

Here's a two-minute preview involving the Blackhawks, who are labeled "A Good Bunch of Guys."