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.

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”