Last game: The Bears dropped a close game to the Panthers 20-17 in a matchup that featured two outstanding rookie RBs: Matt Forte and Jonathan Stewart. Chicago jumped out to a 17-3 lead on a blocked punt for a TD and an interception return to the 1 yard line. Forte ran for 92 yards on 23 carries, but Carolina mounted a second half comeback keyed by Stewart's 77 yard, 2-TD effort.
Offensive sets and tendencies: Make no mistake.... Chicago is a blue-collar running football team. Muhsin Muhammad made the comment that Chicago is where WRs go to die. Well, that may not be a fair comment, but it does, at least, coincide with Chicago's ineffective passing game over the last several years. Nonetheless, the Bears' offensive issues can be traced back to the shaky arms of Rex Grossman and Brian Griese. Grossman is now riding the pine, giving way to newbie Kyle Orton. Orton's the type of quarterback who, as Bill Parcells would say, "drives the bus"... meaning he'll be expected to make basic run/pass reads, put the team in right sets, and make the 5-15 yard passes necessary to move the sticks. Clearly the Bears are a 65/35-ish run/pass team and it all starts up front with a solid offensive line. Coming off a 7-9 season in which Cedric Benson and (the other) Adrian Peterson were lucky to make it 2 yards past the line before getting pasted, the offensive line was considered to be a shaky unit. The Bears drafted OT Chris Williams out of Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2008 draft to help solidify the line. Well, now Williams is out and the offensive line looks like it's come to play this year. Against Indy, Chicago lined up and pounded Matt Forte between the tackles. The Bears found great success on the right side of the line, behind manchild blockers John Tait and Roberto Garza, and pretty much had their way with the Colts' defense. It looks like Matt Forte might be the real deal. The second round pick out of Tulane has been running with great vision, breaking off a 60 yard TD run through the Indy defense, and has shown the ability to carry the ball 20-25 times per game. Although it's early, we'll see if his 6-2, 216 frame can handle the pounding throughout a long NFL season, since the Bears will be relying on the running game this year. Having FB Jason McKie opening holes in front of him will help. The Bears like to run between the tackles out of traditional I and offset two back formations, using the FB to blast LBs off the ball and create running lanes to the secondary. McKie also is an adept ball carrier at the goal line and in short yardage downs. He scored a TD last week against Carolina. Once the Bears induce opposing linebackers to come up in the box to stop the run, they can use TEs Desmond Clark and Greg Olson to get behind the middle of the defense and hit big plays down the field. Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker are pretty much trash, but will make the occassional catch. I know Devin Hester is far from a solid route-running WR, but the Bears will need to find a way to get him more touches this year. He only had 20 catches for 299 yds and 2 TD last year.
Defensive sets and tendencies: It's far from a secret that the Bears have a stout defense. It all starts up front in their 4-3 set with a beastly front 7. Adewale Ogunleye tallied an impressive 58 tackles and 9 sacks from the LE spot last year. His linemate on the left side of the line, DT Tommie Harris, totaled 8 sacks and 35 stops in the middle. Harris can run over guards and collapse pockets and blow up the run, creating a smorgas bord of fleeing QBs and RBs for the ends and backers to gobble up. That's a fierce pass rush that Trueblood and Zuttah will have to contain on Sunday. On the other side, Dusty Dvoracek will line up against Sears and might be, if there is one, the spot where you can run the ball on this Chicago defense. Former Gator Alex Brown is an adequate pass rusher on the blind side, tallying a meh 6 or 7 sacks a year. Brian Urlacher patrols the middle with authority and is as versatile a backer as you'll find in the NFL, laying out a RB one play and returning an interception 30 yards on the next. In fact, he led the team last year with 5 INTs. Lance Briggs is built like a brick *#$#house and runs like a RB. These guys can move sideline to sideline and absolutely shut down a running game. Of course, this is IF the opposing O-line can create holes through the Bears' nasty front 4. Tillman and Vasher can cover like white on rice.... a huge asset to have when pressure up front meets a brick wall and leaves corners on an island. Mike Brown has battled the injury bug over the past few years, but is healthy and back terrorizing opposing offenses. He's fearsome in the box and pretty adept in coverage. The Bears can create a pretty good pass rush with only 4 or 5, but they can also confuse opposing QBs by bringing zone blitzes or showing a jail break blitz and dropping Urlacher back to step in front of an ill-advised pressured pass.
Last matchup with the Bucs: The Bears locked up homefield advantage en route to a Super Bowl appearance with a Week 15 win over the Bucs 34-31 in overtime back in 2006.
Line: Bears by 3
Prediction: With Hester and Galloway iffy and out, respectively, this offensively-challenged matchup becomes even more challenged. Bears' front 7 slams the door all day on Graham, while Griese spends too much time on his back and the passing game struggles again. Bears 19-13.