Chicago Bears: Monday Night Football

Here are five things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Chicago Bears host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field:

Pass rush: The Bears tied a season high with five sacks last week against Minnesota, and Julius Peppers produced his best performance of the season (2.5 sacks). Chicago racked up the sacks with aggressive and creative calls, and new addition Jeremiah Ratliff also contributed to the group in 23 snaps of action. He’ll play more Monday night against the Cowboys.

“I feel good. I feel stronger. I feel more balanced,” Ratliff said. “Everything’s holding up,and there haven’t been any complications. So I’m good.”

Obviously, the Bears need to dial up the heat even more against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has a penchant for making mistakes in the face of pressure.

Look for Ratliff to start inside next to Stephen Paea with Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside at the end positions.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/James D SmithStopping Dez Bryant will be key -- he had more than 100 yards against the Bears in the last meeting.
Run D: Believe it or not, the Bears fit the run well despite Adrian Peterson's reeling off 211 yards. The problem was that the Bears struggled to make tackles. That can’t happen against Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Dallas wants to try to establish the run early, but if it can’t, the Cowboys won’t hesitate to resort to a pass-happy attack.

That’s a good thing because it’ll mean the Cowboys have become one-dimensional.

“We’re to the point now where we’re there to make the play,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We just have to finish. We’re not talking about missed fits as much now as we were talking about maybe a couple of weeks ago. Now, we have to be more physical at the point of attack; get off blocks. We have to make tackles. There may have been some improvements here and there, but not enough where I would say we’ve improved in that area.”

Bears CBs vs. Dez Bryant:Bryant caught eight passes for 105 yards against the Bears on Monday night football last season, and he’s sure to make some plays in this contest. The key is for the Bears to limit the back-breakers, the plays that sway the momentum and become game-defining moments.

Chicago’s safeties also need to chip in against Bryant.

“We need all the guys to do their jobs and realize Dez Bryant is an explosive player. So of course, we’re going to keep our eye on him,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We’re going to have to take away what they like to do so much whether we match [me] with him. If that give us a good chance to win, then I’ll be all for it.”

Short yardage:The Bears average nearly 400 yards per game on offense, but in short-yardage situation the club is horrid. Against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears failed to convert three third-and-1 situations, and on the season, the Bears own a 42 percent conversion rate on third and 1.

“It’s a physical element, but it’s also a mental element. You’ve got to be assignment-right. Our mistakes have not been a question of effort or being outmanned or anything like that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Ours have been simply the three or four times we haven’t gotten it done, whether it’s goal line or short yardage, we’ve just got to do a better job in making sure we’re blocking the right guys. We’re going to get out-physicalled at times; teams do. But we feel it’s more just making sure that assignment wise, we’re sharp. All five guys plus our tight ends, our backs all have to be doing the right thing and we haven’t gotten it done. It’s difficult to make a yard in this league like that, and we’ve got to do a better job.”

Bears WRs: Alshon Jeffery is coming of a franchise single-game record 249 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall is one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers. So the duo should generate big numbers for the offense, provided the line protects quarterback Josh McCown adequately.

Dallas ranks No. 31 in the NFL in pass defense at (294.9) yards per games. So Chicago’s sixth-ranked passing attack should be able to light up the Cowboys. Marshall needs 10 yards receiving to make him and Jeffery the club's first receiving duo to gain 1,000 yards each in a season since 1995.

Marshall said he doesn’t like the matchup against Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, but the Bears will look for ways to free up the receiver by lining him up in different places.

“They’re good players,” McCown said of Dallas’ cornerbacks. “Both of them are bigger guys, good cover guys, good man-coverage guys for sure and talented. We always feel good about our matchups, but this week especially. These guys are good players and they’ve been causing turnovers, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Bears' defense submits to Kaepernick

November, 20, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO -- Cornerback Tim Jennings used one word to describe the Bears' defensive performance in their 32-7 lopsided loss to the San Francisco 49ers: Embarrassing.

[+] EnlargeMajor Wright and Vernon Davis
Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/MCT/Getty ImagesSan Francisco's Vernon Davis has been one of the NFL's most durable tight ends in recent seasons.
"Man, (it was) embarrassing," Jennings said. "On Monday Night Football, we look for tests like this to come out and show the world where we are as a team and we didn't show up today at all. San Francisco came out and had a great game and a great game plan and they beat us the whole game. It was embarrassing."

Behind second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who got the start in place of Alex Smith, the Niners picked the Bears apart in the passing game. Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns while posting a quarterback rating of 133.1.

"I've seen him (Kaepernick) in college and knew he was a good player," Bears free safety Chris Conte said. "I knew their coaches were ready and their scheme would be good. He didn't have to do a lot. He threw the ball to the outside when he had to and knew where he had to go with the ball. He really wasn't doing any reading at all. They just had a good scheme and they executed well."

One of most troubling aspects of the Bears' defensive collapse was the amount of big plays the 49ers were able to complete down the field. All year the Bears defense had done an excellent job in deep coverage where they limited opponents to just five passing plays of 30 or more yards. But they allowed Kaepernick to connect on three throws of 30 or more yards Monday, including a 57-yard strike to Kyle Williams.

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Video: Jaws predicts solid Campbell effort

November, 19, 2012

Video: Field report from San Francisco

November, 19, 2012

Video: Comfort is key for Campbell

November, 16, 2012
Former Detroit Lions Pro Bowl offensive tackle Lomas Brown said that the key to the Chicago Bears being successful on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers is to make Jason Campbell comfortable.

The Bears announced Friday that Campbell will start for the concussed Jay Cutler.

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Bears-Lions draw big ratings for MNF

October, 23, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' 13-7 defeat of the Detroit Lions on Monday night football delivered a combined 29.1 television rating for the Chicago market and 7.3 metered market rating across the country, despite going head-to-head with Game 7 of the NLCS and the final presidential debate before next month's election.

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Video: Salters preview from Soldier Field

October, 22, 2012

Prime time to prove themselves

October, 21, 2012
CHICAGO -- As 4-1 starts go, the Chicago Bears' pre-bye success has been mostly unmemorable. Fun, yes, dominating at times, like the second half in Jacksonville, absolutely.

But the most noteworthy game has been the worse-than-the-final-score drubbing in the road-to-the-Super Bowl-is-farther-than-it-appears loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

That’s not to devalue the early dominance of the defense or the impressive start by Brandon Marshall and by proxy, general manager Phil Emery, who did what his predecessor could not, get Jay Cutler some help at receiver.

I’m not glossing over victories versus Indianapolis, St. Louis, Jacksonville and Dallas either. All were important to the process. But the first five games were just the prologue. Now we’re getting to the real story. This is how it should be.

With the Detroit Lions coming in for a nationally televised game, you have my permission to froth.

Read the entire column.

Civil tone hovers over contentious rivalry

October, 20, 2012

The on-field incidents belie the weeklong muzzle job performed by the players in the buildup to a showdown on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

While the teams claimed mutual respect, it's clear they're not fond of one another, a sentiment expected to manifest itself on the field like it has so many other times in recent meetings.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNdamukong Suh snapped off Jay Cutler's helmet last November in a game that featured $62,500 in fines.
"Just because games are chippy doesn't mean the teams don't respect each other and don't want the emphasis to be the play on the field," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "There are a lot of great players that are going to play in this game on both sides of the ball, and I think these guys know each other very well. The schemes are well known. We have a good idea what they're going to do. They have a good idea what we're going to do. The more you know somebody, probably the better opportunity there is for guys to push and shove a little bit."

There has been opportunity aplenty in this series for sure.

Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh snapped off Jay Cutler's helmet during a 37-13 Bears win at Soldier Field in November. That was a game in which six players received fines totaling $62,500, including quarterback Matthew Stafford ($7,500) and cornerback D.J. Moore ($15,000) who were involved in an incident that led to an on-field brawl between the teams. Officials also flagged Lance Briggs for a crushing hit on Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, but the linebacker didn't receive a fine.

During the first meeting between the teams last season -- a 24-13 Lions win at Ford Field on Oct. 10 -- former Bears safety Brandon Meriweather received a $25,000 fine for a vicious hit on receiver Nate Burleson, while cornerback Charles Tillman was docked $7,500 for a horse-collar tackle on Jahvid Best.

Rewind to two years ago, and there's the incident in which Suh shoved Cutler hard in the back during a 24-20 Bears win, drawing a $15,000 fine from the league.

"They're a tough defense, they play hard," Cutler said. "They tackle hard, they rush the passer hard. They do everything full speed, so it's a challenge. With anybody in our division, we're not going to like them and they're not going to like us."

But Bears coach Lovie Smith made it clear that respect is there.

"With today's technology, you don't have to remind guys [about] an awful lot," Smith said. "It's not like I have to bring out the George Halas pep talk to get them ready to play Detroit. We realize what's at stake. We know about the rivalry we have with them, but it's still going to be decided on the football field."

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Forte looks for Bears to stay grounded

October, 17, 2012
Matt FortePhil Sears/US PresswireThe only game in which the Bears didn't lead in time of possession was their loss in Green Bay.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte considers re-commitment to the fundamentals coming out of the week off much more important than any fancy scheme the team can devise going into Monday night’s matchup with the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

The key, Forte said, is for the team to “not get ahead of ourselves.”

“It’s always important to get back to the basics of the offense, what you want to do, which is just like technique stuff, blocking and making sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves, like saying, ‘Well, last game we ran the ball well and threw the ball well. We’re just going to come out and run and gun.’ We’ve got to get back to the basics and not try to call all these extravagant plays.”

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Stats & Info: Bears lead NFL in takeaways

October, 2, 2012
The Chicago Bears defense lived up to its hype in the Monday Night spotlight against the Dallas Cowboys, intercepting Tony Romo five times in the 34-18 win.

The Bears now lead the NFL with 11 interceptions and 14 total takeaways this season. Two of the picks were returned for touchdowns, marking just the fifth time since the merger that the Bears have returned at least two interceptions for a score in a game.

Read the entire piece.

Video: MNF crew breaks down Bears' win

October, 1, 2012

Video: Cutler, Marshall discuss the win

October, 1, 2012

Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Cowboys 18

October, 1, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Chicago Bears used an all-around team performance -- including two defensive touchdowns -- to blast the Dallas Cowboys 34-18 in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football.

After taking a beating on national TV at the hands of the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13, the Bears dealt out one of their own as quarterback Jay Cutler completed 75 percent of his throws for two touchdowns and a passer rating of 140.1.

Defensively, the Bears ran up their takeaway total to 14 after intercepting Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo five times, with Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs returning the INTs for scores. The Bears entered the game ranked second in the NFL in takeaways (9).

Here’s more:

What it means: This seemed to be a contest that could potentially swing the season negatively for the loser. So the Bears avoided that on the road in a boisterous Cowboys Stadium atmosphere on Monday Night Football. More importantly, they moved into a tie with the Minnesota Vikings atop the NFC North.

With the Bears having finished the game relatively healthy, the schedule seems to set up nicely.

The Bears' D scores, Bears win: Cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs helped the defense put two of the team’s touchdowns on the board, and when that transpires, the Bears typically come out on top. Since 2004, the Bears own a 20-5 record when the defense scores a TD. Since 2005, the club is 17-2 under those circumstances.

Tillman scored the first touchdown of the game with his 25-yard interception return that put the Bears ahead 10-0 with 2:38 left in the first half. The pick came on what appeared to be a miscommunication between Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant.

Briggs followed that up with a 74-yard interception return in the third quarter that made the score 24-7 after Robbie Gould’s extra-point kick.

Here’s a breakdown of Chicago’s defensive touchdowns since 2004: 28 TDs total; 21 interception return TDs, 7 fumble return TDs; 25 games in which the defense scored a TD.

Tillman now has 31 career interceptions, with six returned for touchdowns. Briggs’ pick marked his third returned for a TD.

Déjà vu Wright there: The sight seemed too familiar. But for the second consecutive week cornerback Tim Jennings broke up a pass that was later intercepted by safety Major Wright. Jennings sent the ball flying after hitting Kevin Ogletree as he attempted to bring in a pass from Tony Romo. The ball sailed into the waiting hands of Wright, who last week intercepted a pass tipped by Jennings for a TD.

Wright nabbed another pick in the fourth quarter.

Protection holds: The offensive line faced a formidable task Monday in protecting Cutler against the No. 1 ranked defense of the Dallas Cowboys, led by linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who was expected to give left tackle J’Marcus Webb more than he could handle.

For the most part, however, the Bears held up in protection, allowing just two sacks and very little in the way of pressure. Ware managed to notch a sack. But Cutler helped with the protection by stepping up into pocket or sidestepping rushers and delivering the ball quickly. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice also helped by calling a game in which the Bears first established the run, before going to the air. Tice put in plays that called for shorter drops and quicker passes, in addition to a few designed bootlegs that allowed Cutler to throw on the move.

Cutler’s second sack didn’t come until there was 4:03 left to play, at a time the quarterback probably shouldn’t have even been in the game.

What’s next: The Bears take a day off on Tuesday before returning to the field Wednesday to prepare for another road test next Sunday, when they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Video: MNF 2nd quarter highlights

October, 1, 2012