Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Look for Bears to take to the air
By Michael C. Wright
After a pedestrian start to the season, Minnesota's Jared Allen turned it on Sunday with 2 1/2 sacks against Arizona.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Different opponent, different game plan.
That should be the expectation for Bears fans anticipating a recipe on offense for the Minnesota Vikings similar to what the club employed last week in a win over the Buffalo Bills.
"You're not going to be able to use that same game plan against Minnesota. It's a different team, different defense," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler explained. "We've got to attack it in different ways. That's the difficulty of the NFL. Each week presents its own problems."
The latest, according to Cutler, comes in the form of Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who until last week had been somewhat pedestrian on the pass-rush front. Allen posted 2½ of his 3½ sacks on the season in Minnesota's 24-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The plan, Cutler said, is for the Bears to employ a game plan conducive to providing as much help as possible on the outside for the club's beleaguered offensive line, which has shown signs of improvement in its last three outings due to better health and more stability in the starting lineup. After allowing an NFL-record nine sacks in a half against the Giants on Oct. 3, the offensive line's sack numbers have dwindled to 6, 4 and 1 in the past three contests.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice said rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb was responsible for only "one mental error" against the Bills, which is positive news for Cutler, who has absorbed 28 sacks thus far, mainly because of communication issues up front.
"It's gonna be a big test for them," Cutler said of this week's game. "We're gonna try to help them as much as possible with the backs and the tight ends, but there's definitely gonna be situations where they're gonna have to block those guys one on one, and we're gonna have to take some shots downfield."
Reading between the lines of remarks of Cutler, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Tice on Wednesday, there's a good chance the Bears implement a plan against the Vikings catered more toward the passing game.
It makes sense, considering Minnesota -- ranked seventh against the run -- utilizes a Cover-2 heavy scheme similar to the one employed by the Bears, which means the vulnerabilities in the system are pretty much identical.
Because of the ground the safeties have to cover in two-deep coverage to get over the top of the outside receivers (especially if the corner can't force the receiver to release inside the numbers), like the Bears, the Vikings are vulnerable on deep throws outside the numbers in the window between the coverage responsibilities of the corners and safeties, and down the seams.
That doesn't mean the Bears will abandon the run.
"They've always been a terrific run defense, so it's a tremendous challenge for us," Martz said.
Chicago knows it won't be able to run at will, but coach Lovie Smith said the club needs to establish some semblance of a rushing attack to prevent the offense from becoming one dimensional, which in turn would put Minnesota's talented front four in pass-rushing mode.
Such a situation would be risky to Cutler's health.
"They're stout, so it's always hard to run against them," Smith said. "But in the same sense, you've got to continue to run against them. We have to be able to be able to run the football to do some of the things we want to [do]."
It appears one of those things is to put the ball in the air. Cutler "believe[s] the guys are getting more confident, just more sure of themselves" on offense, and Martz said the receivers are coming off their best performance of the season.
"[Our receivers are] getting some real consistency," Martz said. "They played exceptionally well [against the Bills]. When we needed a big play, they got us the big play."
All Tice hopes for, meanwhile, is enough consistency along the offensive line to prevent the Vikings from making game-changing plays. Having performed with five combinations of players through the first eight games, the offensive line will line up with the same group of starters -- Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza and Webb -- for the second consecutive week. Tice coached 10 years in Minnesota -- including a stint as head coach from 2001-05 -- and has "a lot of familiarity with some" of the Vikings personnel.
The coach compared Chicago's pending matchup to its loss to the Giants, a game in which Cutler didn't return after halftime because of a concussion. On the O-line, schematics aren't what will get the job done against the Vikings.
"Some of the challenges we've had have been scheme things," Tice said. "This will be like the Giants game: Are we man enough? We'll see."