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.

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

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AP

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."