Biggs: 10 thoughts on Bears' win over Vikings
- By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter 9:08 a.m. CDT, October 17, 2011
Ten things to take away from the Chicago Bears' 39-10 victory Sunday night over the Minnesota Vikings:
1. You don’t have to read too far between the lines of what Jay Cutler said Sunday night to understand there was a change of thinking, at least for one week, with the offensive plan.
Cutler made a plea of sorts Wednesday when he said it was his hope offensive coordinator Mike Martz would start ordering up plays that were quicker developing so that he could be more timely getting the ball out. The hits were piling up on Cutler, and he talked about the psychological toll that was taking on him.
His request was granted. The Bears went to more five-step drops. They went max protect. They offered chip help to the offensive tackles. They moved things around. Every possible thing Martz could call to assist the line, he did. Doesn’t it make you wonder what took so long?
“We managed them,” Cutler said of the offensive line. “A lot of five steps and play action, left some extra guys in, shift a little bit. Whenever we help them out like that and get the ball out of my hands it’s going to be easy on me. It’s not that difficult. Our game plan was really solid this week and we need to be very judicious going forward with what we can do and can’t do.”
It’s not difficult but the Bears have a master’s degree in finding ways to make it challenging. The fifth offensive line combination in six games had a chance because the Bears gave it one. Yes, playing at Soldier Field made a huge difference. The Vikings haven’t played well this season but their defensive line is a strength.
Cutler makes the point that the Bears had a plan and they stuck to it, making you wonder just how many previous game plans have floated out the window of the coaches’ box and disappeared with renegade Martz doing his thing.
In this instance, it also helped that the Bears struck quickly. Matt Forte ran off left tackle on the first play from scrimmage and then Cutler, with a five-step drop and play fake, hit Roy Williams for a 17-yard gain on a deep-in route. That set the table for another play fake, this one guarded with max protection in which tight end Matt Spaeth helped block Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Cutler wasn’t even looking to Hester as a primary target but found him for a 48-yard touchdown because he had so much time to throw.
“He’s kind of a run-off guy, he’s not really in the read,” Cutler said. “We were trying to get Roy wrapping in there. That hard play action left a couple of extra guys in there, gave me some time and obviously he’s so fast, he gets behind people most of the time. When we have time like that we are going to be able to take some shots.”
From there, it was a nice mixture. Cutler dropped back 32 times. The Bears handed the ball off 28 times. The Vikings loaded up with an eight-man front primarily to stop Forte. The shots were there and it wound up frustrating the heck out of the Vikings.
“It’s tough to get a rush with six, seven people blocking,” Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. “Fact of the matter is, we’ve got to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and we didn’t do that tonight. It’s humiliating. It’s the only word I can think of right now -- it’s simply humiliating.
“We watched them. They did the same stuff tonight that they’ve been doing on film all week. They did a little bit more max-pro -- we kind of expected that. They did a good job of neutralizing us on defense and making plays they needed to make to win and we just can’t give up those plays. We’ve got to play better, there’s just no excuse for it.”
Maybe, just maybe it was successful enough that Martz will look to stick with the principles he highlighted this week. It’s not real sexy. It doesn’t always look impressive on stat sheets. But it’s what the Bears can find consistency doing. That’s what has been missing. It’s what has been so maddening about the start to the season.
“Offensively, we didn’t really deviate from our game plan,” Cutler said. “We still kept it simple, got rid of the ball on time, ran the ball well, just stuck to what we can do out there.
“There’s a lot of people involved in this. (Offensive line coach) Mike Tice, me, (quarterbacks coach) Shane Day, tight end coach “Debo” (Mike DeBord), everyone has kind of a say in this and we are all trying to do the right thing and we are all trying to manage what we can and can’t do on the football field. When we are smart about it and do the things we did tonight we are more than likely going to be successful.”
There really shouldn’t be any question about this moving forward.
2. There was no way J’Marcus Webb could get out of the Lions game with anything other than a report card that was marked in red ink. It’s the reality of any game in which an offensive linemen has three false starts. But overlooked in an ugly loss was the fact that Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was mostly held in check for the entire game. He didn’t make any big plays, and that was reason for Webb to enter Sunday’s game against Jared Allen with confidence. Allen is off to the best start of his career. He had an NFL-high 8 1/2 sacks coming into the game and had one with a strip of Jay Cutler in the third quarter, putting him on pace for 25, which would shatter Michael Strahan’s gifted NFL record (he should thank Brett Favre often).
It looked like Cutler probably could have got ridden of the ball before Allen dropped him because it was more of a hustle sack than anything else. Other than that, it was a quiet game for Allen. There have been plenty of issues on the offensive line, but most of them have been concentrated elsewhere. Ever since Tice kicked Webb in the pants following a dreadful performance in the preseason opener, he has been on the rise. If the Bears can get the left tackle situation truly resolved -- and Webb has a long ways to go -- then they’ll have something going.
“He did a good job today,” center Roberto Garza said. “I think he is doing a hell of a job of competing, of getting better every week and his athleticism, his willingness to go out there and fight play after play is showing up and I think he is being tested. Vanden Bosch last week, he’s got the top guys coming after him week after week.
“His confidence is definitely growing and having him and (left guard) Chris Williams work together week after week is really helping them. They’re communicating and they’re working well together.”
The growth has to continue, and we can’t ignore the help that Webb was given during the game. But it’s going to be rare for any tackle to be asked to ride out a guy like Allen through an entire game without receiving help.
“Webb is holding his own,” general manager Jerry Angelo said. “You are starting to get into a real comfort zone when he is in the game. The best thing he had coming into the season was all that play time last year, which he had a lot of. He took advantage of that. Things aren’t as new to him this year and now he is able to allow his talent to kick in and that’s what you are seeing. He’s got a lot of talent and he doesn’t look surprised, he’s becoming more comfortable in what he’s seeing and when he’s able to be more patient, particularly in pass pro, that’s a tremendous quality. That’s what he is, he’s being patient.
“When he’s allowing the guy to declare before he commits, he’s got enough talent to react to him. I saw a guy try to come inside on him. He was playing for a speed rush but because he didn’t over-commit to the outside, guy comes inside and he was able to come back down and take advantage of his arm span and just ride the guy inside, which was kind of neat thing to see.”
3. So did Julius Peppers make dramatic improvement from doubtful to ready to go in 48 hours as payback for the Vikings’ injury report move a year ago? If you remember, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was declared out, then suddenly was questionable and finally started in what turned out to be the final game of his career last December for the snowy game at the University of Minnesota.
Peppers suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the first quarter of last Monday’s loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. He missed a few plays and then played the rest of the game but was largely ineffective. Peppers was held out of practice last week, and coach Lovie Smith came out on Friday after practice and announced the defensive end was doubtful -- meaning there was a 75 percent chance he would not play when you follow the letter of the definition. It was interesting because Smith is usually vague about injuries after Friday practices, even though the injury report comes out shortly after the practice ends. In reality, doubtful almost always means out. In 11 seasons of covering the Bears, Peppers is the first player I recall being doubtful and suiting up, let alone having a two-sack performance.
“We knew he was playing all week long," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "There was no doubt about that all week. He's a tough guy, we knew he would play. Players knew he would play."
So was it a setup -- Smith coming out and announcing Peppers was unlikely to play -- designed to put a banana in the tailpipe of the Vikings?
“I can’t explain it,” Smith said. “The last game, talking about Detroit, he barely made it through that game. This time of the year, you play with pain. I assume that’s what Julius was doing, playing with pain. This past week he really couldn’t go. When a player doesn’t practice Friday, history has told us it’s not looking good. He made progress after that. You can’t really explain a guy like Julius Peppers. He’s special and there’s nobody like him in the league.”
Peppers said he didn’t have any advance notice. He wore a brace on the knee and had ice strapped to the injury after the game.
“When (Smith) told me before the game. He told me I was playing, so I played,” Peppers said. “That's pretty much it."
Certainly, there were no NFL rules that were broken. But the injury report rules are in place and they’re in place for a good reason -- to keep everything above board and eliminate the idea information could be brokered for all the wrong reasons. The guess here is it will be an awfully long time before another Bears player makes remarkable health progress in 48 hours to go from doubtful to starting.
4. What else can you say about Devin Hester after the 16th return touchdown of his career? He shines in prime time. Of his 15 return scores, six have come in night games. Of course, he also had a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI and the 108-yard return of the missed field goal against the New York Giants. Neither of those count toward his 16 return touchdowns, but both were in night games. Perhaps it’s fitting for a guy who grew up idolizing a player with the nickname Prime Time: Deion Sanders.
This 98-yard touchdown against the Vikings is why you can’t be upset when Hester reaches high to catch a bouncing ball at the goal line and winds up being stopped at the 9-yard line. The chance is always there that Hester could go all the way. It’s why special teams coordinator Dave Toub can’t get on him too hard for making an error like he did last week at Detroit, running out of bounds at the 7-yard line. He was being aggressive, trying to make a play and his momentum carried him to the sideline.
In this instance, Ryan Longwell couldn’t boot the ball through the end zone and the Vikings paid after seemingly getting a little momentum and pulling to within 26-10. It should be noted that while many were upset with what they thought was a phantom holding call against Corey Graham on a Johnny Knox punt return in Week 3 against the Packers, it looked like Craig Steltz got away with a hold at the point of attack on Hester’s return here. A minor hold, but it looked like he had a fistful of jersey.
As it was, linebacker Larry Dean dove and missed Hester in a small hole. Kyle Adams had a nice block on Marcus Sherels, Brian Iwuh had a solid block on the back side and Hester outraced Eric Frampton to the end zone, 98 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a great call by Toub and Devin made the first guy miss,” Graham said. “Normally, after you make that one guy miss, with a speedy guy he is pretty much going to take it to the house. It was just a great call and good execution.
“The hole was small but that’s Devin. He tends to plant a foot, make a guy miss, plant a foot and get up in there. He has that unbelievable speed and good burst so he can get through some tight gaps. You have to try to stay with your guy as long as possible because you know he can make it happen.”
Hester left the game at the start of the fourth quarter with a chest injury. Smith said afterward he didn’t believe it was serious, but Hester was not available for comment. Another source said he didn’t think the situation was serious. Of course, Knox is available for duty, too.
“With Johnny, we’d do just as good,” Graham said. “We’d be OK. Same scheme.”
5. Right tackle Gabe Carimi, the first-round draft pick from Wisconsin, did a little work on the side during practice Friday. The hope is he’ll be in position to do more when the Bears return to practice Wednesday, but it would be an upset if he’s ready to go Sunday against Tampa Bay. The Bears aren’t going to rush him back into action, and he’s only got two starts under his belt. He might need two weeks of practice before he reclaims his spot in the lineup. So, the target date for him probably becomes Nov. 7 at Philadelphia.
6. There surely will be material the coaches find that they want fine-tuned from young safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte after they took over in the secondary, but we didn’t see anything glaring. Neither player got caught in a hapless pursuit mode and that is one of the problems the defense had in previous weeks.
Smith was clear that the decision to bench Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather wasn’t designed to send a message.
“We’re not trying to wake anybody up,” he said. “We’re trying to win football games and put guys out there that we feel like can make some plays and give guys an opportunity. We have a starting rotation. To stay up top, you have to play at a certain level. If you don’t, we look to the next guys. This week we wanted to get a look at a couple other players that were next up.”
That doesn’t rule Harris and Meriweather out for the future. Players have won back starting roles in practice. But you also don’t see a lot of changes when the team is going well. If the Bears win -- and the safeties that are in there don’t make the big errors that have been made -- it’s hard to envision change coming again real soon.
7. Be prepared for the possibility that was the last start Donovan McNabb will make as a member of the Vikings. Now, you just wonder how he lasted as long as he did in Washington last season. No, the overall stats weren’t ugly and some dropped passes certainly hurt him. McNabb actually posted a passer rating of 97.4 and he didn’t turn the ball over. But there was nothing efficient about the passing attack and the Bears spent most of the night in an eight-man front to load up on Adrian Peterson (12 carries, 39 yards). It should have left plays for McNabb to make and he didn’t. His ball-placement accuracy is poor and it limits the ability of receivers to make plays.
It sounded like Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is ready to turn the page on the Mount Carmel product and go with first-round draft pick Christian Ponder.
“We have to sit down on Monday and talk about a lot of things,” Frazier said. “We need to decide on what direction we want to go.”
The direction the 1-5 team is headed right now doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ponder, in a brief appearance, was athletic and had a good arm. The Vikings have to see what Cam Newton is doing in Carolina and think they too can do some on-the-job training with their own rookie.
“I don’t see it ending ‘like this,’ as you say,” McNabb said. “It’s tough; you’re 1-5 at this particular point. It felt like we did a lot of great things today. I guess we’ll sit down and talk, but I still expect to be in there next week.”
The guess here is the Bears see Ponder when the teams meet again Jan. 1. We’ll see if that game has any meaning for either team.
8. The Bears have completed their first run through the NFC North, giving them an idea of where they stack up against the teams they will face once more. The Lions are the next division foe they will face as Detroit comes to Soldier Field Nov. 13, when the Bears will be coming off a short week after a “Monday Night Football” appearance in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Lions have an off week leading into the game, meaning they’ll be well rested.
When you look at the division, it’s easy to start a discussion with the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is clearly at the head of the class and maybe the best in football. I spoke to one offensive coordinator in the league on Saturday night and he said Matthew Stafford soon will be considered among the five best.
“The way he is playing right now, he’s a top-10 quarterback and he’s just getting better,” the coordinator said. “That kid’s accuracy really sets him apart. He’s so good with the football and they’ve got so many weapons for him right now. He’s just going to take off. You watch. They’ve really got something going there.”
It didn’t happen on Sunday when the Lions were upset at Ford Field by the San Francisco 49ers and exuberant head coach Jim Harbaugh, but Stafford has been impressive and the most important thing for the Lions is that he’s remained healthy. We’ve seen what Cutler can accomplish when given a chance. It’s why the Bears have to do everything they can to develop around him. For all the focus there has been on Forte, it’s still a passing league. It’s going to remain that way, too.
9. The Bears had a long time to determine exactly how to schedule their week with the trip to London. The way it’s set up, they will get most of their traditional week of work completed at Halas Hall before taking a charter flight Thursday night after a regular day at the facility. The overnight trip will put them in London Friday morning and they’ll have part of the day to rest before meetings and a practice Friday afternoon. There will be a walk-through on Saturday and then the game Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
Surely, the Bears communicated with those they know that have made the trip before. General manager Jerry Angelo has a good relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and New England went over in 2009 to play against the Buccaneers, the same opponent the Bears face. The Patriots also left on a Thursday.
The Bucs will leave for London on Monday, a decision made after they struggled with the journey last time. The Bucs actually left on a Friday morning in ’09 and they were lethargic throughout the trip. There is a flip side to leaving early, though. The Bucs will be well-adjusted to the time change (5 hours for them and 6 hours for the Bears) but they’ll face the distractions of being away from home as they spend a week abroad preparing for the game. Tampa had serious issues with a curfew that coach Raheem Morris enforced after the game against the Patriots. Why did he try to rein in his players the night after the game in London? Who knows?
“I’m excited to go over there,” Forte said. “I’m always up for new experiences. I heard they’re always ahead with trends. I’ve got a lot of tweets from (Bears fans) in London. I am looking forward to it.”
10. Think passing doesn’t matter? It fuels scoring and going back to last season, including the playoffs, the Bears have scored at least 30 points in the last six games they’ve won and seven of the last eight. They are 0-6 in the last six games they’ve scored less than 30.
10 a. Referee Tony Corrente and his crew got the lucky draw to handle the Bears-Bucs game in London.
10 b. Bucs running back LeGarrett Blount, who missed Sunday’s victory over the Saints, will be iffy for the game with the Bears in London. He has a sprained knee and is a big part of what Tampa does on offense.
10 c. Press box statistics credited Bears cornerback Charles Tillman with 11 tackles.
10 d. You have to think rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea played well enough to remain in the mix. Matt Toeaina is out at least one more week with a knee injury, so the London game will be another chance for Paea to perform. He played with better pad level than we saw in preseason and was powerful.
10 e. Looking forward to seeing football abroad this coming week. Should be interesting. The NFL is making a big global push and to do that it needs to showcase the marquee franchises.
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