Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

In the Rollerdome get ahead and stay there
Perhaps more so in this game than any other this season, if the Bears fall behind against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, more than just their quarterback could be in true jeopardy.
The reasons are compounded.
First, the overall: The Bears in general are not a team with the passing offense to play well from behind. They are 14-45 under coach Lovie Smith when trailing at halftime and a dismal 1-9 over the past two seasons, and just 2-10 when trailing after three quarters.
Jay Cutler has not played well from behind over his career. His 134.9 fourth-quarter passer rating is the NFLs best, but has involved just three from-behind games all year (Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle) and he has fewer career fourth-quarter comeback wins than Eli Manning had last season alone.
Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for a 56-yard completion to set up a tying field goal at the end of regulation. But in two previous possessions, with chances to put the game away, the offense had first-and-10s at the Seattle 48 and 44 and failed to get even a field goal try.
Sounding off
The issue this Sunday, however, is that the Bears are not against the Panthers or Seahawks in Soldier Field. They are in the Metrodome where they allowed seven sacks, 3.5 by defensive end Jared Allen, in a Week 17 win last year.
Minnesota, a dome, its going to be loud, Cutler said. Jared Allens a little bit of a different player in that dome compared to Soldier Field. A lot to deal with, a good team, very similar to our defense. Its going to be a challenge.
It will be a particular challenge for the offensive line, which is playing its first road game with three starters changed from the last time the Bears saw the Vikings.
Left tackle JMarcus Webb is still the spotlighted figure because of his assignment to neutralize Allen. That was accomplished in the first Minnesota game by scheme as well as personnel.
Were going to try to mix it up, offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. Different Minnesota defense at home on that field turf with that crowd noise, and we just have to make sure that were smart about the calls and how were helping JMarcus out.
Matchup styles
Tices plan, as it was in the Bears 28-10 win two weeks ago, is to run at defensive ends Allen and Brian Robison as a means of slowing the pass rush. The Bears are 30th in sacks allowed per pass play but 10th in rush yards per game. The Vikings are 16th in sack percentage and Allen and Robison have a combined 14 on the season.
Minnesota had just one sack in the first game when the Bears averaged a very modest 2.9 yards per carry but ran 39 times vs. 32 pass plays.
Weve got to be able to run the ball efficiently like we did last time; keep ourselves in manageable third downs, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. I think thats the key to the game.
Indeed, with Gabe Carimi and Edwin Williams at guard and Jonathan Scott at right tackle, the Bears have three players still learning each other. Carimi is a converted right tackle, Scott is the right tackle, and they work well together on combination blocks, a key in the run game.
A Marshall Plan?
Marshall caught tied his season high with 12 catches against the Vikings, for 92 yards. Notably perhaps, his average of 7.7 yards per reception was more than three yards less than his previous low. The Vikings were not going to let Marshall beat them deep and he had no catch longer than 17 yards. Only against Green Bay (14) and San Francisco (13) was he held to that short a long. Both of those games were Bears losses.
The Minnesota plan was not necessarily to let him make catches but to hit him very hard when he did.
The thing that stood out the most to me when we played them two weeks ago was, as soon as you catch the ball, they are right on you, Marshall said. Those guys are rallying to the ball, they play together and theyll hit you. You have to be tough out there, especially against that secondary because theyre an aggressive group and theres not a lot of separation out there.
Its going to be another grinder I think.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it's probably a little too late in the season for that, they'll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They'll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They'll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

"The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We're going to have to match that. We're going to have to come out and play physical basketball."

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it's just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

"I did, actually," said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he's scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside's tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg — although one can imagine how animated he must've been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

"It is what it is," Hoiberg said. "You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there's nothing you can do about that. You've got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute."

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn't seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls' success over LeBron James' Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

"Against big teams, we play much better," Mirotic said. "I don't know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It's on us. We just have to prove it."

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who've just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

"Sure, we understand," Mirotic said. "We've been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy." 

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