Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

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Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

The Bears have won seven of the last eight games against the Detroit Lions but they have not always ruled with offense.

Chicago special teams and defense accounted for nearly as many return yards (213) in the offense (216) in the Bears 37-13 win in Soldier Field last November. The Bears piled up 463 yards in week one of 2010.

But 117 of that came on two Matt Forte TD catch-and-run plays, and the Bears needed the good fortune of Calvin Johnson failing to complete an apparent winning touchdown catch in the end zone. Game two was won 24-20 in Detroit with a winning TD catch by Brandon Manumaleuna and two fourth-quarter stops in Chicago territory.

The Bears scored 48 and 37 points in the two 2009 victories but Detroit outgained the Bears 747 to 694 in the two.

How good the Chicago offense really is at this point of 2012 will begin to be answered starting Monday night and against a front four that includes first-round picks at tackle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley).

This will be one heck of a challenge against this front, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Anybody that plays against this front has a challenge, for the fact that they can take over a game. We have to go out and have answers, as many as we can.

The Bears are No. 2 in the NFL with 29.8 points per game but that includes five defensive touchdowns over the past three games.

Detroit went into the weekend ranked ninth allowing 324 yards per game but 24th in points-against. Like the Bears, however, not all of the points are reflective of a weak defense. The Tennessee Titans scored 44 point on the Lions but got touchdowns on a punt return, kickoff return and fumble return.

Cutler dominance

The Bears traded for and invested in Jay Cutler to be a true franchise quarterback, which GM Phil Emery and coach Lovie Smith believe Cutler has become. He most assuredly has played like one against the Lions.

Cutler has played seven career games, six as a Bear, against the Lions, all but game one last year a win. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes vs. one interception, netted 1,415 yards and posted a passer rating of 105.0.

He registered ratings of 108.3 and 117.0 in the 2010 games but declined to 99.6 and then 68.5 in the games last year as Detroits front of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Suh, Fairley and Cliff Avril sacked him a total of five times in the two games.

They get after the quarterback, Cutler said. I think what they have is not only guys on the outside, but those two inside can get a push. Whenever you feel pressure on the outside and you step up and theyre getting a push in there, theres not a lot of room to operate.

Forte has averaged 5 yards per carry against Detroit, but finished with a modest 64 yards on 18 carries in the game-two win in Soldier Field last year.

The overall is that the Detroit defense has played the Bears progressively better over the past two years.

Secondary plans

Where the Lions have struggled has been in pass defense, with injuries at cornerback. The return from knee surgery of safety Louis Delmas was a major boost for the secondary but the game, like most, will be decided by the play of the lines.

The Bears will be without No. 2 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, out with a broken hand. But they get Earl Bennett back from his hand injury, although Bennett has never scored in six Detroit games and has a total of 18 catches. Brandon Marshall has faced the Lions twice in his career, with a gaudy 19 catches but also none for scores.

The Bears defensive strategy and mindset is to stop the run with the objective of making an opposing offense one-dimensional. That is precisely the plan of the Lions, take Forte away and force Cutler to throw to a weakened receiver group.

We have a lot of talent up front, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. When we play well up front it tends to trickle down to the rest of our defense. I think you saw that last week with Philadelphia. We did a good job of stopping the run and we also put pressure on the passer.

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

Notes from the rewatch: Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger key another Fire win

 

During the Chicago Fire’s stretch of four games in 13 days, FC Dallas had the best record out of the four opponents by a wide margin.

However, when Dallas came to Toyota Park on Thursday, the lineup that took the field was not the typical FCD squad. Dallas rotated many starters in advance of Sunday’s game against Houston (which ended a 0-0 draw).

Still, Fire midfielder Dax McCarty thought Dallas still provided tough opposition.

“This was the hardest game we played in this four-game stretch by far,” McCarty said after the game. “They’re a really well-coached team, they’re organized, they’re tough to break down, they have the best defensive record in the league for a reason. I don’t care if they rotated players, that was a really good team.”

Dallas proved to be a tough defensive team after a wild first 10 minutes that featured three goals. The game slowed and the Fire limited Dallas’ attack the rest of the way with McCarty and his central midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, keying the 2-1 win.

McCarty, Schweinsteiger key Fire midfield

The headline for this section is obvious and probably something that can be said every match, but both McCarty and Schweinsteiger had good showings on Thursday.

The duo had the most touches in the match (Schweinsteiger with 105, McCarty with 93) and both completed passes at a high rate (Schweinsteiger 87 percent, McCarty 86 percent). Dallas isn’t a team built around keeping possession (FCD is actually towards the bottom of the league in possession), but the Fire held the edge even with Dallas chasing the Fire’s lead for more than 80 minutes.

Schweinsteiger had a game-high 12 ball recoveries, including two past midfield, won four tackles and had two interceptions, both in the attacking half. McCarty had five ball recoveries, but more impressively won three tackles past midfield. The Fire's ability to press and win the ball higher up the field was on display in this match and these two were at the heart of that.

McCarty's highlight came on a play when both centerbacks made mistakes that took them out of the play. A few minutes before halftime Johan Kappelhof dribbled forward, but lost control and turned it over. Joao Meira wildly slid to stop the ball, but missed badly. That left the Fire scrambling, but McCarty saw it the whole way and was able to recover to block a cross and only concede a corner kick.

The clip below starts just after Kappelhof's turnover:


Matt Hedges was very good

The Fire scored two early goals, but didn’t generate much in the way of chances after that. A big reason why was Dallas centerback Matt Hedges.

Hedges won plenty of aerial duels and also had the speed to keep up with David Accam in 1v1 spots on a few occasions.

The Fire had just three shots on target, not counting Nemanja Nikolic’s saved penalty in added time, the entire match. That’s not a good output, especially when considering two of those came in the first 10 minutes.

Hedges was credited with eight ball recoveries (the most on Dallas and second only to Schweinsteiger’s 12 for the match), four interceptions, four clearances and a pair of tackles won.

The 6-foot-5 centerback was just called in to the latest national team roster and this performance was a good example of why.

Fire hold on for close win

The Fire led this game for the final 81 minutes and did so without Dallas getting a shot on target after Roland Lamah’s early goal.

Previous Fire teams developed a reputation for blowing these kinds of games. This year’s team held on without much drama.

Even if Dallas was without much of its best attacking talent, the Fire limited Dallas to just the one shot on target (Lamah’s goal in the sixth minute). Dallas was chasing the game for 80 minutes and couldn’t even test Matt Lampson.

In the final 20 minutes Dallas had three free kicks that went into the box and a corner kick. Nothing came from those and there wasn’t anything from the run of play other than three crosses into the box that were cleared without drama.

The insurance goal never came, but the Fire did have the best chances in the final minutes. Juninho had a hard shot on target in the 89th minute and Nikolic had a penalty kick in added time. The Fire also had a majority of the possession in the final 10 minutes.

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera is the latest hitter to aid a surprising White Sox offense.

The veteran outfielder had two go-ahead hits on Monday afternoon, including an RBI single in the seventh inning of a 5-4 White Sox victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 27,148 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cabrera also blasted a three-run homer for the White Sox, who won for the fourth time in five games on the homestand.

Only three weeks ago, Cabrera boasted a .595 OPS and had one home run to his credit. But Cabrera has followed the leads of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu and heated up over the last week.

He continued his torment of opposing pitchers in the third inning when he ripped the first pitch he saw from David Price for a three-run homer to put the White Sox ahead 3-1. Cabrera nearly broke a 3-all tie in the fifth inning with runners on the corners. But Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts made a diving stop and flipped the ball to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.

He wouldn’t be denied in the seventh.

With the White Sox down 4-3, Yolmer Sanchez led off the seventh with a triple to right. Kevan Smith tied it with an RBI double. Two outs later, Cabrera looped a Matt Barnes pitch up the middle and Smith charged home even though Red Sox second baseman Josh Rutledge tracked the ball down in shallow center. Rutledge fired home but catcher Christian Vazquez couldn’t handle the hop and Smith slid in with the go-ahead run.

Cabrera is hitting .407/.467/.852 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last 30 plate appearances.

Adam Engel and Tim Anderson both walked ahead of Cabrera’s homer off Price, who allowed two hits and three earned runs in five innings in his first start of the season.

Buoyed by the performances of Garcia, Abreu — whose 10-game hit streak ended Monday — and Cabrera, the White Sox offense has performed better than expected this season. Monday’s effort was the 23rd time in 50 games in which the offense has scored five or more runs. The team entered Monday seventh in the American League with 225 runs scored, an average of 4.59 per contest.

The White Sox bullpen made the lead hold up. Juan Minaya struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning for the victory. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson each added scoreless frames to preserve the win.

David Holmberg made a spot start and allowed two hits and three earned runs in four innings.