Hibernating Bears look to break out against Bills
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) hangs his head after throwing an interception to Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall (23), who ran for a touchdown during the third quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, on Sunday, October 24, 2010. The Redskins defeated the Bears, 17-14. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre, the Chicago Bears have a winning record and remain within hollering distance of the NFC’s playoff race, but don’t be fooled.
The Bears need a win as badly as the 0-7 Bills do.
A 3-0 September had the Bears looking like contenders in the NFC North and raised expectations in the Windy City. But the Bears dropped three of their four October games, leaving observers to wonder if the Bears are who we thought they were in the first month of the season.
And just who do we think the Bears are?
To help you figure it out, we’ll familiarize you with five key figures on display for the Bears on Sunday.
Why: Because it’s stinks.
Through seven games, the Bears rank 27th in the NFL with 620 rushing yards. That total trails nine individual players but the Bears could live with it if they had a solid passing game. However, the league’s 19th-ranked passing attack is nowhere near strong enough to compensate.
Put another way, only six teams in the NFL trail the winless Bills in yards per game, and the Bears (29th overall at 290.4 yards/game) are one of them.
Why: Because it’s still productive.
No, it’s not the crew that strong-armed its way to a berth in Super Bowl XLI four seasons ago but, led by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Bears defence ranks a respectable ninth in yards per game (305.3).
In seven games this season, no opponent has scored more than 20 points against Chicago. And when the offence struggles — which it does often (see above) — the Bears can sometimes count on their defence for points.
In a 17-14 loss to Washington on Oct. 24, the Bears scored their first points on an interception return by safety D.J. Moore. And they might have won if Moore’s second touchdown return had stood up, but a delay-of-game penalty against Washington nullified the play and deprived the Bears of a huge chunk of their “offence.”
QB Jay Cutler
Why: Because he’s not who the Bears thought he was.
Or at least he hasn’t been yet.
Over three seasons with the Denver Broncos, Cutler earned ridicule for suggesting his throwing arm was better than Denver legend John Elway’s, but he still put up numbers. In 47 starts with the Broncos he passed for 9,024 yards and 54 touchdowns.
But 23 games into his tenure as the Bears’ quarterback, Cutler leads the league in all the wrong stats. Last season he threw a league-high 26 interceptions — six more than the second-place finisher. So far this year his interception rate is down (he’s on pace for 16) but he has been sacked more times (27) for more lost yards (163) than any quarterback in NFL.
In his last outing, Oct. 24 against Washington, Cutler suffered four sacks and served up four interceptions.
DE Israel Idonije
Why: Canadian content.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Idonije grew up in Brandon, Man., and didn’t play organized football until age 17, when his high school started a football program. After a successful career at the University of Manitoba, Idonije was selected by Ottawa in the 2003 CFL draft but decided instead to gamble on a career down south.
Seven seasons later, it’s paying off — big-time.
Idonije caught on with the Cleveland Browns as a undrafted rookie in 2003 and joined the Bears later that season. And after spending his early career in spot duty, he has developed into a regular on the Bears’ defensive line, and currently leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
PR/WR Devin Hester
Why: Have you seen the man play?
On Oct. 17, Hester zigzagged through half of Seattle’s punt coverage unit, then sprinted away from the rest of it for an 88-yard touchdown, his second punt return score of the season. It was also the 13th time Hester had scored on a kickoff or punt return, trying an NFL record established by long-time Redskins return ace Brian Mitchell.
But while Mitchell needed 1,070 returns to score 13 times, Hester enters Sunday with 263 total returns.
Hoping to safeguard Hester’s health, the Bears no longer use him to return kickoffs, but when he drops back to return a punt the whole stadium takes notice. And he could electrify the Rogers Centre on Sunday — if the Bills dare kick to him.