Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Bears ball

With or without Cutler, Bears O facing myriad problems
The Chicago offense was wobbling with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Without him it crashed under backup Jason Campbell, and Cutlers status for Sunday, because of the concussion suffered in the Houston game, remains a question.
Meanwhile, the problems with the Bears offense extend far beyond the offensive line and its shuffling in the wake of six 49ers sacks. So how bad has it all gotten?
The offense has even reached opposing red zones just twice in the past two games and put points on the board on only three of its past 25 possessions.
The Bears offense has scored just one touchdown in the past eight quarters, that a meaningless score at San Francisco when the Bears trailed 27-0. One of the two field goals managed against the Houston Texans came after a takeaway and scoring drive of five yards for a 51-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
The Bears have not scored on an opening drive of either the first or second half in four straight games. And they still rank 32nd on first-down plays at 4.09 yards per.
If there is a positive here it is that the Minnesota Vikings are sixth-worst, giving up 5.01 yards per first-down plays, which are the ones that start possessions off well or not so well, and which have repeatedly had the Bears starting drives with play-calling options limited from the first snap.
The concerns offensively -- the lack of rhythm, the lack of the fast starts, the lack of success on first down -- are still haunting us, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. We felt like we had a decent plan going in for San Francisco, playing some smash-mouth, getting into that third-and-medium, giving us a chance to convert to stay out of those long situations and giving those nickel pass rushers a chance to tee off. That didnt happen in that football game.
Will it happen vs. Vikings?
The Minnesota Vikings are not the San Francisco 49ers defensively, even though the Vikings did hold the 49ers to 13 points in a Week 3 win. But they do rank eighth in yards allowed per play and yards per rushing attempt and ninth in yards per pass play.
In short, the 49ers are a top-five defense; the Vikings are top-10 in three very key areas against a Chicago offense that is struggling in just about every area.
The Vikings have forced just 12 turnovers (five interceptions, seven fumbles) and allow 22.1 points per game. In the Bears favor: Minnesota has given up 24 or more points in four of the last five games, 30 or more in three of those.
QB questions
The Bears best hope clearly lies with Jay Cutler being past any concussion symptoms. Cutler has played the Vikings six times and has a combined 100.8 passer rating, with 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Since a 38-10 loss in late November 2009, the Bears have scored 36, 27, 40 and 39 points against the Vikings, with only two of the TDs coming on returns, both by Devin Hester.
Maybe its a touch of familiarity, based on what Cutler sees all during the offseason and training camp.
Minnesotas defense is very similar to the defense we have here: Cover-2, Tampa-2, Tony Dungy kind of coaching tree, similar stuff to what we see here, Cutler said. Jared Allen is a problem for us; weve got to account for him. Good linebacking crew, rest of the D-line is good, and the corners and safeties play disciplined football.
Much of the same that we see out of the Chicago Bears and were just going to have to execute, run the ball well and complete passes when we get opportunities.
Matchup concerns
The last time left tackle JMarcus Webb saw Allen the Minnesota defensive end was flying past him on the way to one of three sacks of quarterback Josh McCown in the Bears 17-13 victory to finish last season 8-8.
Webb has allowed seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 22 hurries so far this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com studies. That is an improvement from last years 14 sacks allowed but not enough for the Bears to leave him alone all evening with Allen, who has seven sacks this season in addition to 24 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.
Definitely we will have chip help, Tice said. He knows that. Were going to have to make sure that we account for him every play, every time we drop back to throw the ball, that hes walled up. We have to make sure we know where he is and find him and make sure we have an answer for that. Thats without a doubt.
But the Bears have other concerns of their own, whether Chris Spencer is a sufficient upgrade over Chilo Rachal at left guard, or if Jonathan Scott replacing Gabe Carimi can stop the hemorrhaging of pass rushers past right tackle.
Brian Robision at left end has 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Six-time Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams has 14 hits to go with his two sacks.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was watching last Monday but you dont want to take what happened on Monday night and say OK, thats the blueprint for success, because not all teams have some of the players that San Francisco has, he said.
The problem for the Bears? The Vikings do have some of the players the 49ers have.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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