Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

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Bears try to clinch NFC North title outdoors in Minny

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
9:35 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The 2010 season has continued to play out as Lovie Smith envisioned it (or as much as it can with three losses in seven home games.) The Bears played their way into a reasonable (4-3) if not commanding position through October, then ran off a 4-0 November that carried over one week into December.

The New England game rocked them backwards but the Bears are now in a new position that has been missing in two of the last three seasons and was blown in 2008 when they had a playoff berth in front of them before a final-game loss to the Houston Texans.

Its nice to have games that mean something in December, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. We havent had that in a while. Two years after the Super Bowl, we had a chance to go to the playoffs, and we lost that game at Houston.

But to have a few games here at the end of the season that actually mean something, its fun. Youre practicing for a reason, for a purpose. Its easy to come to work when you know you have a goal in mind to get to, and its still attainable.

It clinching the NFC North division title for the first time since 2006 -- is indeed attainable after the Green Bay Packers teetered to the brink of playoff elimination with their loss to the Patriots. The Bears can accomplish that with a win over Minnesota.

But it is far from a given.

The 2008 missed opportunity should still be seared into their minds, losing on the road to a team that had nothing particular to play for beyond an 8-8 record, not unlike the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. It helped place Smiths job in jeopardy.

Be careful with teams like that. They got one mission and thats to start knocking off playoff teams and guys still in it will make a run for it. So weve got to take them seriously, a tough team. We played well against them the first time. Still doing a lot of similar stuff offensively and defensively.

The 1993 Dave Wannstedt Bears stood 7-5 and proceeded to lose their final four games, failing to score more than 14 points in any of them.

The 7 points scored against New England last Sunday should be an anomaly for an offense that has averaged just under 20 per game. But the home team has won 15 of the last 17 games between Minnesota and Chicago and last year it was the Bears who upset the playoff-bound Vikings, at home.

And Minnesota is the only NFC North opponent against which Smith does not own a winning record.

Playoffs is one thing that youre playing for, but theres a lot more than that, especially when youre playing a division opponent, Smith said. Well get their best effort. I dont have any doubt on that.

Whats missing? The football

The running of Adrian Peterson, the play of a rookie Minnesota quarterback (Joe Webb), the ability of the Bears offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against a stout defensive front all are points of analysis. Same with Bears LT Frank Omiyale vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen; footwear and field conditions; or Jay Cutler playing at night, which he doesnt do very well.

But Bears defensive players and coaches are of one mind on the one true key to this game and most:

Take what the offense gives you, beginning with the football.

During the Smith era the Bears are 36-7 when they have a more takeaways in a game than giveaways. They are 5-0 this season with a plus-turnover ratio.

They are also 3-2 with a negative turnover margin, a tribute to their defense delivering stops after giveaways. But they are 1-2 when the defense produces zero takeaways, which was the case against New England and Detroit the past two weeks. They were also takeaway-less in the loss to Seattle.

And that has killed not only some chances for wins. It also sapped out some of the swagger that had come to characterize the defense through the Bears winning streak.

Weve got to get takeaways, Urlacher declared. We havent gotten a takeaway in two weeks. So we need to get takeaways again, start getting to the quarterback, and just start having fun again. Were a fun group when were playing well. So weve got to start doing that again.

Peterson once could be counted on to turn the ball loose. He has not done it once yet this season.

Obviously hes very conscious of it, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. You can tell. Its not been popped out yet so its credit to him. Hes cleaned that up but part of our deal is weve got to go take it away.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Bears necessities toward going 3-0 in Jerry's house

Three Bears necessities toward going 3-0 in Jerry's house

The Bears have won both times they've played in Jerry Jones' gargantuan pigskin palace. But that was in 2010 and 2012, the last two times this franchise finished with a winning record. The home team has lost eight straight times there. This matchup actually provides some hope for the offense (despite Jay Cutler's absence), but uncomfortable thoughts defensively, considering Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman will be sidelined, with safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan (concussions) potentially joining them.

1. Tag Hoyer

...with a red non-contact jersey. Not possible, you say? Okay, well this scuffling offensive line needs to get in synch. And quickly. Like the Bears, the Cowboys have just four sacks so far this season. But they did deliver nine hits last week in D.C. on an already-rattled Kirk Cousins. Rod Marinelli's no-name, suspension-thinned defense has allowed fewer points than the Bears. The added concern is Hoyer's lack of work with the only player opponents must game-plan for: Alshon Jeffery, who worked primarily with Cutler throughout training camp. And who knows how much Jeffery (knee) worked at full-speed in practice this week, being held out of Thursday's workout completely. So....

2. Hand off, dump off

There is no time like now to establish the running game. There's Hoyer trying to get comfortable. There's the 4.75 yards per rush the Cowboys defense is allowing. There's the need to keep the Cowboys' offensive weapons off the field against the Bears' banged-up D. Between Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Ezekiel Elliott, and the best offensive line in the NFL, no matter Dak Prescott looks so comfortable. And when the Bears need to mix up their attempt to pound on the ground, get Zach Miller and Eddie Royal involved with quick-hits through the air.

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3. Fill up the half-empty glass

Whether this is Dowell Loggains being unable to adjust and be creative enough to the opposition's counter moves, or a coincidental breakdown in execution, the Bears' offense has scored zero points after halftime. We signed off on Houston's talented defense two weeks ago. Three turnovers on the first four possessions lost momentum Monday night. Loggains and company need to find a way to anticipate, execute, and dictate at a much higher level over the final 30 minutes.

**Join Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Chris at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night on Comcast SportsNet for "Bears Pregame Live," leading you right up to the 7:30 kickoff on NBC. Then as soon as the second quarter ends, log on to CSNChicago.com for "Bears Halftime Live," as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and go over adjustments. And immediately after the game ends, switch back to CSN as the four guys are joined by former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt for 90 minutes of reaction, analysis, live press conferences and locker room interviews from Dallas on "Bears Postgame Live."**

Bears vs. Cowboys: And the winner is...

Bears vs. Cowboys: And the winner is...

Severe conflict here.

The obvious temptation is to succumb to the swelling despair surrounding the Bears and predict a third loss to open the 2016 season. And “View from the Moon” did in fact call this game as a loss back in April. It’s not that easy, however.

The Bears couldn’t be pants’d by two rookie quarterbacks in a row, could they? Dak Prescott got the Dallas Cowboys to a win last Sunday while Carson Wentz was preparing to undo the Bears Monday night. Prescott posted a passer rating of 103.7 in the win at Washington while the Bears were losing their game and their quarterback the next night.

But if the Bears have had their troubles at home under John Fox (1-8), the Cowboys haven’t won a home game without Tony Romo at quarterback since December 2010.

So a contrarian view has taken shape. Brian Hoyer looked awful in training camp and preseason, but Hoyer is a controlled professional in the tradition of Josh McCown, and last year with the Houston Texans put up six games with passer ratings of 94 or better (Cutler had seven for the Bears).

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I do not like the look of the Bears defense without nose tackle Eddie Goldman and with a litany of others (Willie Young, Bryce Callahan, Adrian Amos) at less than 100 percent because of early season injuries. There is little to favor the Bears, which is why bettors placed them as clear underdogs.

But the belief here is that the offense will shed its passive mindset and attack with Jordan Howard and the running game, unlike the first two games. The first two games effectively turned on turnovers, and Hoyer last year had just one game in the 11 he played where he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes, before the meltdown in the playoffs.

If the Bears keep control of the football, they will wear down a mediocre Dallas defense, which is exactly the style of game Fox and Dowell Loggains want.

Bears 17, Cowboys 16

(View from the Moon ’16 record: 1-1)