Bears' offense must dictate Vikings' defense

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Bears' offense must dictate Vikings' defense

The Bears' offensive line has been a hot topic the past few seasons, as the offensive tackle performance continues to be scrutinized from year to year.
Bears fans have been given code words like "chip blocks" from running backs or tight ends to provide help for the offensive tackles to slow down fast defensive ends rushing the quarterback.
The truth of the matter is there is plenty an offense can do to slow down destructive fast forces on defense, but the Bears haven't been good at any of that the past few seasons. Pass protection is much improved under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, along with the practicality of game plans, but the offensive line needs to utilize more tools at their disposal.
The Mall of America in Minneapolis can get extremely loud. At one point during the late 90s, it was ranked as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL to play. How do teams like the Bears combat the noise this weekend? How will this plan slow down fast defensive linemen like Vikings' sack master Jared Allen?
Score first
It sounds clich, but the Bears have to get off to a fast start and score first. Fans become like a baby coming down from a sugar high when the opponent scores first in their house.
The top 15 offensive plays will be scripted and followed to the letter of the law. They will be "go plays"--plays that can be run regardless of defensive front--with not a lot of communication until crowd noise is calmed.
Mix up the snap count
After the crowd is subdued, there is no weapon greater to an offense to slow down a defensive pass rush than the snap count. Unfortunately for Tice, this year's group does not understand the concept.
The snap count is an asset utilized on offense so the defense cannot get a jump off the ball. Cutler only tells his team the snap count in the huddle, far from the opponent, but yet the Bears have been awful at working the snap count.
False starts have been horrific on first and second downs, setting the Bears up for failure on the third down. We've already written about the stats and the Bears are ranked worst in the league on first down production.
Comcast SportsNet's John 'Moon' Mullin talked to Tice, who said "manageable third downs are the key to the game" against the Vikings. Working the snap count alone can aid in correcting those statistics.
Cutler can go on a quick count, often catching a defense off guard when they are not set, or he can go on one, two or on three. Cutler can work the snap count by changing the inflection of his voice to draw the defense offsides.
Cutler can also work what is known as a double cadence to affect the defense, by allowing for a longer snap count to identify problem areas if they exist. The snap count is an offensive lineman's friend and a tremendous weapon by not allowing a defense to pin their ears back rushing. It stuns, slows, delays and frustrates them with penalties of their own, disrupting their game plan.
Go right at them
Tice utilized this method in the first matchup against the Vikings and would be wise to go to the well again until Minnesota stops it.
A very effective way to neutralize good players and slow them down is to run right at them, that way they are forced into a defensive position, fighting off blockers in their path. There are different looks with various blockers coming from all angles, but offensively you are running the same play.
Even a defensive end as good as Allen becomes mortal and confused, not knowing where the next block is coming from, thus slowing their game down while also sustaining physical abuse.
Motion and shifts
Different looks cause the defense to communicate and call audibles much like an offense does. They have to adjust, make calls, and change their defensive front or coverage, causing them to change their line of thinking during a play.
Motion and shifts can stun a defense much like the snap count, and if the defense is thinking, they're not playing fast. They don't have to be done all the time because shifts or motions can inhibit the ability to work the snap count due to play clock constraints, but work brilliantly for angle blocking in the 'go right at them' approach.
Motion and shifts are also a great way to apply the chip block help by a running back, tight end on defensive ends that were sorely missing under Mike Martz, but managed well under Tice.
If the Bears' offense wants a fighting chance in Minneapolis, they need to dictate the Vikings defense rather than placate and submit like the way they did against the San Francisco 49ers while on the road.
Sounds like a lot to handle with three new offensive linemen for the Bears at different positions, but it really isn't. All they have to do is listen to the play call in the huddle and the snap count, and execute their assignment. After all, it is what they're paid to do.

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

After the Bulls got off to a 3-0 start, it looked like this would be a team that might be able to give LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls proceeded to lose their next three, tempering those optimistic expectations. What those first six games proved is that they're an inconsistent bunch, and it's been a microcosm of their season past the halfway mark.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Entering Thursday, the Bulls were slotted in as the No. 8 seed in the East with a 21-22 record through 43 games.

Former Bulls forward/center Horace Grant, who was named a special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf last year, joined SportsTalk Live on Thursday to talk about the team's current state, and why Bulls fans shouldn't panic just yet.

Check out his comments in the video above.

See what else he had to say during his SportsTalk Live appearance and on In The Loop below:

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."