Chicago Bears: defense

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery finished up a 17-minute news conference Thursday night at Halas Hall, the muted TV to his right showed the Green Bay Packers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the draft.

Emery passed on Clinton-Dix, a mock draft favorite, when he took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in the first round of Thursday’s made-for-TV draft.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIBears first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller was a four-year starter at Virginia Tech.
If Fuller struggles and we see Clinton-Dix picking off Jay Cutler next year, we’ll have a good laugh (ha ha) about it, right, Bears fans?

Don't answer that.

You'll be surprised to know Fuller was the player the Bears wanted all along. Emery played coy about Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who ended up going a pick before the Bears’ turn, but he couldn’t help but effuse over Fuller, a tough, versatile cornerback who should excel playing Chicago Bears defense in Chicago Bears weather on Chicago Bears chewed-up turf.

He can hit and he can cover. Basically, he's the perfect football player, according to Emery's news conference.

"He's even a great person," Emery said.

No kidding.

Emery's a wild card around draft time, but we all figured he would go defense, given the glaring needs up front and, well, all over. But you shouldn't be surprised he wasn’t monomaniacally focused on safety. It’s a long draft. I think it’s over in July. So there will be more chances to draft a young safety this season.

This wasn’t a best-player-available situation, either. The Bears have a need, a hybrid defensive back, and Fuller filled it. ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. even picked this one.

“We decided on Kyle Fuller, the player,” Emery said. “That’s the important thing. He’s a good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage.”

Versatility is a word thrown around a lot around this time, and Fuller said, as draft picks are wont to do on draft night, that he’s open to playing anywhere.

“I feel like they know I can play corner, nickel and possibly safety,” Fuller said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m a versatile player.”

Versatility is nice. The Bears just need more bodies. Let’s go back to how last season ended, with safety Chris Conte blowing coverage, however it happened, and Packers receiver Randall Cobb going 48 yards for a division-clinching touchdown. At that time, the call was for a complete demolition of the defense, starting at safety.

Conte’s still around, but his partner, Major Wright, is gone. The Bears re-signed Charles “Peanut” Tillman and corner Tim Jennings, and brought in a handful of free agents at safety.

This isn't a leap. Fuller makes perfect sense. Emery just wants someone to cover the wide variety of receivers and tight ends in the modern NFL offense. The Bears need to match up with Green Bay and Detroit, not to mention the various offenses they see around the league.

Emery mentioned how Fuller covered tight ends like Eric Ebron, who was taken 10th by Detroit.

“His versatility of coverage was a big attraction,” Emery said.

We already know the Bears are going to go more “hybrid” this season under coordinator Mel Tucker. That’s the new rage, and of course, the old one. Disguising coverages is nothing new.

Fuller, who will line up inside and eventually supplant Tillman or Jennings on the outside, is expected to play right away, wherever.

“We see him as a corner with a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different sorts of athletes,” Emery said. “That’s where his length comes in.”

Ah, length, another favorite buzzword come draft time. Fuller’s no giant, he’s a shade under 6-foot and 190 pounds, but Emery fell in love with him when he live-scouted Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Fuller forced a fumble and made two tackles for loss in that game.

“I knew that day that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears,” Emery said.

Let Emery explain.

“He was playing Georgia Tech, and they lined him up at inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback,” Emery said in plain English. “And he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player.”

On Thursday, Emery marveled at Fuller’s physicality, including 129 solo tackles as a four-year starter (with some injury history, that is of course, no concern whatsoever). In 2011, as a hybrid “whip linebacker/nickelback,” he led all college defensive backs with 14 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also a highly-regarded special-teams player, blocking two punts in his career with the Hokies’ always dangerous unit. He's got a good pedigree, with two older brothers who have played in the NFL. His brother Corey is a practice squad receiver with Detroit.

Emery, of course, raved about Shea McClellin when he drafted him as a versatile pass-rusher. Two failed years later, McClellin is being moved to linebacker this year as a last-ditch effort to save his Bears career.

The Bears GM has made bold moves to renovate this defense for 2014, most notably signing defensive end Jared Allen. But Chicago will need Fuller to be more like Kyle Long, an instant starter.

A confident Emery left the press room Thursday sure the Bears have hit on this pick. Fuller was the best player on their board and is the start of a new defensive generation.

After all, he was the guy they wanted all along, and maybe the guy you wanted all along, too. Even if you didn't know it.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 7

October, 21, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins:

Run defense: The Redskins kept the Bears off balance all game with their ability to run the football. Alfred Morris averaged 5 yards per carry, while Robert Griffin III averaged 7.6. By establishing the run, the Redskins kept the Bears on their heels, thus opening up other facets of the game. Typically, the Bears shut down the run, making opponents one dimensional. But Chicago hasn’t been able to accomplish that objective consistently this season. Certainly, injuries along the front four contribute to the problem, but until the Bears solve the issue, teams will continue to gash them on the ground before taking chunks through the air via play action.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Matt Forte
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsMatt Forte rushed for 82 yards and two scores after halftime against the Redskins.
Inconsistency against the pass: Jordan Reed became the third Bears opponent to catch at least nine passes for 134 yards or more. An anemic pass rush from the injury-riddled front plays a role, but up-and-down play at safety between Chris Conte and Major Wright seems to be Chicago’s most pronounced deficiency against the pass. Coming into the season, Conte and Wright seemed destined to become a productive duo at safety for the Bears. Wright has graded out higher than Conte for the majority of the season because of his takeaways and run support, but together, they’ve been more of a liability on the back end than the playmakers the club envisioned. The Bears yielded five completions for gains of 26 yards or more, including 30-, 38- and 45-yarders.

Feeding Forte: They don’t seem to be involving Matt Forte enough early on, and that’s diminished Chicago’s ability to find a rhythm. In six first-half drives, the Bears handed off to Forte just four times, including only once in each of the first two possession. Forte didn’t receive back-to-back attempts until the team’s second drive of the second quarter. By then, Washington held a 17-10 lead. Forte carried four times for nine yards and a score in the first half, yet finished the game with 91 yards and three TDs on 16 attempts. The offense should run through Forte from the onset.

Veterans on the front four: Given the injuries, inexperience and inconsistency on the defensive line, veterans Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton need to step up and start carrying the group. Peppers finally showed up on the stat sheet with seven tackles, while Paea and Wootton contributed two tackles apiece. Still, that’s not enough. The team needs even more, especial in the pass-rushing department. One of the best to play the game at his position, Peppers hasn’t contributed a sack since September.

Jon Bostic to play under Briggs' wing

October, 17, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When leading somebody down a dark tunnel, trust is the key, and so it will be Sunday when veteran linebacker Lance Briggs stands alongside rookie linebacker Jon Bostic, who will be seeing his first significant NFL action.

With linebacker D.J. Williams lost for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bostic will finally get his chance to shine after a solid preseason. Briggs remembers when he was in Bostic’s shoes.

“Jon is further along than I was as a rookie and he understands things,” Briggs said. “He understands all our concepts. For him, it’s just about getting game experience. There are things that he is still learning to trust. It’s just like me when I was young and Brian [Urlacher] would give me a tip off. I might be a step late because I didn’t really trust what he was saying.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Bostic
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWith D.J. Williams lost for the season, rookie Jon Bostic has been thrust into the lineup.
Anything Briggs says Sunday will likely be followed with the words “trust me.”

“For him he just has to know that hey, if it’s going to be there, if it’s a tip off, they’re probably going to run it,” Briggs said.

Bostic has played primarily on special teams this season, but the second-round pick out of Florida has been taking notes when it comes to the defense and often asks Briggs why things sometimes look different on the field than they did in practice.

“I’ll tell him that depending on the down and distance there are certain checks and adjustments you want to do differently than first and second down or against certain formations,” Briggs said. “For him it’s just allowing himself to be as sharp as he can be on Sunday.”

Coach Marc Trestman is less concerned about the transition from the veteran Williams to the rookie Bostic, primarily because of Briggs’ presence.

“I do know enough to watch (Briggs) work every day, his ability to communicate, his understanding of the defense and the standards that he has and wants to get to with our defense,” Trestman said. “I think that Jonathan is in very good hands.”

Bostic’s speed could come in extremely handy as the Bears go up against Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris.

“For Jon, you don’t want to think too much when you’re on the field,” Briggs said. “That’s what practice is for, getting that kind of stuff down, getting your keys down and your reaction to be as sharp as it can so that once you get in the game you read and react. You allow your athletic ability take over.”

Briggs’ ability to communicate figures to be put to the test as he guides a young teammate.

“There are always certain tip-offs before a play, but once game time comes, you have to get 11 of us aligned, making some of those adjustments, throwing out some of the tips and keys to him,” Briggs said. “I know [veteran linebacker] James [Anderson] will help too. Major [Wright] and [Chris] Conte, Peanut [Tillman] and Tim Jennings, we have a good group back there that does understand how teams will attack us.”

Peppers quiet in more ways than one

October, 9, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The play this season of Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has been similar to his interview sessions: Lacking in substance.

Peppers has struggled in his 13th NFL season, with his slow start highlighted by the fact that the defensive line has been hit hard by injuries. He has failed to record any defensive statistics in two of his starts this year, the most recent coming last week against the New Orleans Saints.

For anybody looking for some insight as to what has happened or how things can get better, Peppers has preferred to keep it to himself.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Greg TrottJulius Peppers is off to a slow start with just one sack through five games.
The eight-time Pro Bowler was asked Wednesday if the line might have to change its approach in the wake of its struggles that are evident in the group’s eight total sacks and their opponents’ 69.0 completion percentage, both third worst in the league.

“We’re going to stick with the game plan,” Peppers said.

How about the opportunity Thursday night to go against a struggling New York Giants offensive line and an anemic running game?

“We’re going to go into the game and execute the game plan and we’ll see how it goes,” he said after a long pause.

Can blitzes and new schemes help cover for past struggles?

“We’re going to see about the game plan,” Peppers said, making it perfectly clear that he’ll talk, he just won’t say much. “I don’t know. If you want to know about the game plan specifically you have to ask [defensive coordinator] Mel [Tucker] about that. As far as blitzing and all that, we’re just going to play what’s called and we’re going to get the job done.”

With the Giants’ big-play tendencies behind quarterback Eli Manning, more blitzes could be on the agenda.

“We just have to eliminate the big play,” Tucker said. “These guys take more shots down the field than almost anybody in the NFL. They are in the tops in the league in air yards and shots down the field so that’s big. But [Manning] is a fierce competitor. There isn’t a whole lot that you can throw at him that he hasn’t seen.”

With the Giants struggling, the Bears are making sure they don’t get lulled to sleep. Manning’s career success is being mentioned prominently this week and the consensus is that the Giants won’t lose every game so make sure this isn’t the first one they win.

The defensive line could be in prime position for a breakout game, but Peppers won’t take anything for granted.

“We’re not concerned about having a breakout game necessarily for ourselves, we want to do it for the team because if we do it will more than likely improve our chances of winning,” he said.

If there is one thing the Bears’ defense does well, it’s taking the ball away and creating turnovers, so it is being stressed against a Giants team that struggles in that department. The Bears’ 12 forced fumbles lead the NFL. The Giants lead the league with 20 turnovers.

“We have to be opportunistic on defense,” Tucker said. “Our job is to get stops and take the ball away, score ourselves or set up the offense.”

If there was anything Peppers was willing to be specific about, it was the turnover game.

“Every game, well most of them, come down to turnovers and the turnover battle,” Peppers said. “We’ve been pretty good at it. We didn’t do as well last week so we have to try to win the turnover battle this week.”

A quick trip through Bears headlines

August, 26, 2013
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As of right now, there’s no clever name to call this feature. The hope was to find something cool like colleague Kevin Seifert’s "Black and Blue All Over" staple on the NFC North blog, but nothing comes to mind right now.

So let’s keep this thing unnamed until we find something we can deal with on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, this is an attempt to get input from you guys on our daily look at the headlines involving the Chicago Bears. We want this to be a one-stop shop every day where you guys can take in a nice-sized sampling of Bears news. “Bear bites?” “Bear of a breakfast?” See what I mean? I’ve got nothing.

Anyway, let’s go.

-- CSNChicago.com’s John “Moon” Mullins ponders whether this year’s preseason performance by the Bears has provided less perspective on where they are than other seasons. Mullins takes it back to 2012 to explain his point, writing: “The four preseason Bears opponents -- Carolina, San Diego, Oakland, Cleveland -- all had losing records in 2012. The Chargers and Browns fired coaches after the season; the Panthers and Raiders could after this one unless fortunes change.”

“Doubters didn’t trust the 7-1 start last season because of the quality of opponent. Trusting the positives this preseason might be viewed through the same prism.”

I tend to agree with Moon here, but not solely because of Chicago’s bad preseason opponents. I keep going back to the fact that Jay Cutler is in a contract year, playing in his fourth offense in five seasons with a new head coach in Marc Trestman, not to mention a couple of potentially explosive personalities to manage in receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett. Everything’s good now between Cutler, Bennett and Marshall. But what happens when those guys aren’t getting the ball and the Bears aren’t successful on offense? After all, they'll face some adversity.

It’s also natural to be concerned about the right side of the line, where the Bears will likely go into the regular season with a pair of rookies in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. Sure, they’ve played solid football throughout the preseason. But inevitably, those rookies will face some adversity. How will they bounce back, and how will Cutler handle that?

-- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at some of the blitzes the Bears employed against the Raiders.

-- The Chicago Tribune’s Fred Mitchell says the Bears showed a sliver of their potential against the Raiders. Basically for the Bears on defense, nothing has changed.

-- Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times takes a position-by-position look at some of the battles for final roster spots.

 
Jonathan BosticAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRookie linebacker Jon Bostic drew positive reviews for his play-calling on Thursday.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears held out linebacker Lance Briggs (rest) for Thursday's practice, thrusting rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic -- who was filling in for injured middle linebacker D.J. Williams -- into the role of playcaller on defense.

Bostic drew positive reviews for his first day making the calls.

"He did very very well," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We're going to need him. We hope Lance doesn't go down, but he could. All of us could go down. So whenever somebody goes down, the next player has to be up. So we've got to get him ready because we might need him one of those games."

The Bears could wind up needing Bostic sooner than originally anticipated. The club drafted Bostic with the expectation he would spend 2013 learning behind Williams, a 10-year veteran, who at one time was considered one of the NFL's most talented middle linebackers. Williams suffered a strained right calf on Wednesday, and the prognosis given by the team has been "week to week," which means the injury could linger.

"I really don't look at it as getting thrown in the fire," Bostic said. "I'm out there with a lot of guys I've pretty much watched on TV the last 10 or 12 years, however long I’ve been watching football. To be in there with them, I’ve got to pick it up. I've got to go out there and make sure I'm in my playbook off the field so I'm not making any mistakes when I'm out there."

(Read full post)

Cornelius WashingtonTodd Kirkland/Icon SMICornelius Washington made 22 tackles for Georgia last season.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Keeping with the mantra of acquiring “dynamic” players, the Chicago Bears appeared to acquire another Saturday in the sixth round (188th overall) in Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington, who was considered by some to be a late second-round talent.

“I’m a little bit disappointed, but the call came,” Washington said. “That’s what’s really important.”

The addition beefs up an already fairly explosive Bears pass rush. If Washington adjusts quickly to the NFL game, he’ll become an immediate contributor as a situational pass rusher, which just might signify the end of Israel Idonije's tenure with the Bears.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: 6th-round pick Washington

April, 27, 2013
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Cornelius WashingtonRadi Nabulsi/ESPN.comSixth-round pick Cornelius Washington was projected by many as a third- or fourth-round pick.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Here is a look at the Chicago Bears' sixth-round choice (No. 188), defensive end Cornelius Washington out of the University of Georgia.

Washington is listed as an outside linebacker in draft guides. He made 76 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks during his career at Georgia.

SportsNation

How would you grade the Bears' selection of Georgia DE Cornelius Washington?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,240)

Strengths: Numerous outlets projected Washington to be drafted in the third or fourth round. Washington is another athletic hybrid-type player who boasts impressive measurables and athleticism. Flashed extreme speed at the NFL Combine. Described as a powerful player with a great build. Competed at the highest level in the SEC, arguably the top conference in the nation.

Weaknesses: Washington was never a full-time starter with the exception of his final year with the Bulldogs when he started 10 of 14 games. Even with playing time, Washington was kind of hit-or-miss in terms of on-field production. Had an off-the-field incident, a DUI arrest, in 2011. Injured hamstring at Pro Day.

By the numbers: Washington is 6-4, 264 pounds. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Second highest vertical leap (39-inch) and top bench press of all the linebackers at the NFL Combine. Washington tested with the linebackers.

What it means: If Washington can keep it together, he projects to be a valuable contributor on special teams at the onset of his NFL career. There is no shortage of ability here. Washington is Phil Emery’s prototypical “dynamic athlete”, but he needs to prove he can successfully adjust to life in the NFL. Plenty of players with Washington’s talent never make it because they lack the proper focus. It will be interesting to see how Washington competes at defensive end with reserves Turk McBride and Kyle Moore. The Bears haven’t ruled out re-signing Israel Idonije, but with another defensive end now in the mix, the odds of bringing back the veteran seem to be shrinking by the minute.

What’s next: The Bears hold one more pick in the seventh round (No. 236) as a result of their earlier trade with the Atlanta Falcons. The Bears could still stand to gain another cornerback or wide receiver.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears tacked on even more depth at linebacker in the fourth round Saturday by taking their second consecutive player at the position in Khaseem Greene of Rutgers with the 117th pick overall.

The selection came on the heels of the team taking Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic on Friday in the second round, and alleviates depth issues for a linebacking corps that had already lacked in that area, even before the departures of future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. The Bears picked up D.J. Williams and James Anderson in free agency as starters, but signed them to one-year contracts, and stalwart Lance Briggs, who turns 33 in November, has a deal that runs through 2014.

“I’m just ready to get down there and go to work,” Greene said. “I’m just extremely happy and excited to be in this position to come into such a great organization and be able to compete. As far as coming in and starting, I’m just gonna take it one day at a time. I’m just looking to come in, compete and contribute in any way I can.”

(Read full post)

Bears draft preview: Safeties

April, 21, 2013
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Kenny VaccaroTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsEven a top safety like Texas' Kenny Vaccaro may not catch the Bears' eye this draft day.
ESPNChicago.com continues its Bears draft preview series with a look at the safeties.

For eight straight years, the Chicago Bears have drafted a safety.

In only one of former general manager Jerry Angelo’s nine seasons at the helm of the organization, 2004, did the Bears fail to address the position via the draft, and new boss Phil Emery continued the tradition last spring when he used a third-round draft choice on Oregon State’s Brandin Hardin, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve after an underwhelming training camp.

In theory, the Bears probably don’t need to add another safety to the mix, after the club signed free agents Tom Zbikowski and Tom Nelson to compete with Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters and Hardin for roster spots behind incumbent starters Chris Conte and Major Wright.

(Read full post)

Source: Bears look at Navy OLB Wetzel

April, 21, 2013
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[+] EnlargeKeegan Wetzel
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears are one of four teams rumored to be interested in Navy linebacker Keegan Wetzel.
Former Navy outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel made a recent pre-draft visit to the Chicago Bears, according to a league source.

A native of Palos Heights, Ill. and graduate of St. Laurence High School, Wetzel recorded 15.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and 79 overall tackles for the Midshipmen last season, with his top two performances coming versus Notre Dame and Penn State.

Wetzel’s on-field play earned him a spot on the FBS All-Independent first team, and his work in the classroom led to the 6-foot-3, 226 pound linebacker to be named a first-team Academic All-American for carrying a 3.93 grade-point average.

(Read full post)

Bears tag DT Henry Melton

March, 1, 2013
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The Chicago Bears have placed their franchise tag on Henry Melton, the defensive tackle's agent, Jordan Woy, confirmed Friday.

Read the entire story.

Bears sign CB LeQuan Lewis

February, 11, 2013
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The Chicago Bears announced the signing of cornerback LeQuan Lewis on Monday.

The well-traveled Lewis began his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State. He also had stints with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets before appearing in eight games last year with the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, totaling four tackles, one interception and a pair of pass breakups.

Lewis also returned five kickoffs for 106 yards.

The Bears may be forced to replace several reserve cornerbacks next season as veterans Kelvin Hayden, D.J. Moore and Zack Bowman are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

Bears, Mel Tucker reach deal

January, 18, 2013
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Chicago has finalized a deal to bring in former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for the same position with the Bears.

The news came on a day in which the Bears hired former New York Jets assistant Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach.

The Bears also announced the hirings of Andy Bischoff and Michael Sinclair as their tight ends coach and assistant defensive line coach, respectively. Both Bischoff and Sinclair coached under new coach Marc Trestman with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.

Read the entire story.

Coach's big decision: Focus on Peterson

December, 8, 2012
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The Chicago Bears haven’t held a team to fewer than 100 yards rushing since Oct. 22, and if they plan on beating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, they’ve got to devote everything to shutting down Adrian Peterson, who is coming off a 210-yard effort.

Peterson has rushed for 947 yards and six touchdowns in his last six outings, and with Percy Harvin recently going on the injured reserve, the running back is Minnesota’s only legitimate threat on offense. Playing without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Bears need to utilize more run-stopping defenses, and provide more safety help in the box.

Although Christian Ponder is 4-1 at home this season, it’s highly unlikely he’ll beat the Bears through the air; even with Bears starting cornerback Tim Jennings out because of a shoulder injury. Ponder’s average throw travels a league-low 6.2 yards down the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the last time the teams played, he was 0 of 8 with an interception on throws of 10 yards or more down the field.

That’s not going to beat you. Peterson will.

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