Bears

Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

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Bears stun Vick's Eagles, alone atop NFC North

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 9:20 PM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Coach Lovie Smith has made a philosophical point of stressing November as the pivotal month for making a run at the playoffs. His players appear to have been listening as they handled Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles 31-26 to finish 4-0 in November and take sole possession of first place in the NFC North with an 8-3 record many outside of Halas Hall thought unlikely at this point of 2010.

Since losing three of four leading into their off week, the Bears have reeled off four wins to position themselves squarely in the middle of any playoff scenarios. In the last 50 years the Bears have reached the playoffs every season in which they have had eight wins by this point of their season.

"I think we've taken steps each week," Smith said. "Even the times that we lost, we found out something we needed to know about our football team.

"I would definitely say our arrow is pointed up. When you win four games in a row the way we have, we talk early about getting in position in October and making that run in November. That's exactly what the guys are doing."
Total team victory

The defense allowed 398 yards, second highest total this season. And Philadelphia's 26 points were the most scored this year.

But five different defensive linemen had at least a share of a sack against quarterback Michael Vick, four sacks total. The combined efforts produced the first interception of Vick this year and handed Vick his first loss as a starter this season.

"I need to take my hat off to the Chicago Bears defense," said Vick, who finished with 333 passing yards and 2 TD passes. "They did a great job with their scheme."

The defense in particular delivered turning-point stops of Vick in the first half, forcing a field goal with a Julius Peppers sack on a play from the Chicago 3 and then intercepting Vick on second-and-goal from the Chicago 4, a turnover that led to a crucial Bears touchdown.

On the interception, defensive tackle Tommie Harris deflected a Vick pass. The ball fluttered into the end zone where safety Chris Harris collected the first interception of Vick all season, two yards deep in the end zone with 2 minutes remaining in the half.

"I made a regular inside move and just got my hand up. I knew he was in an empty backfield so didn't have a lot of options and had to get the ball out quick."

For Vick, "That interception was just deflating to us as a team. It just changes the momentum of the game."

The NFL's No. 2 scoring offense at 28.4 points per game struggled to just one touchdown and four field goals into the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Vick threaded a 30-yard TD pass between three Bears to tight end Brent Celek with 1:48 to play and keep most of the 59,911 in their seats to make sure a game the Bears led since the first quarter did not get away.

Johnny Knox pulled in David Akers bounding short kickoff and the Bears went into their victory formation.
Offensive show

Meanwhile the offense was putting up its biggest touchdown total of 2010. Jay Cutler, matching his career high of four touchdown passes, threw for scores twice to wide receiver Earl Bennett and once to Knox in a first half that saw Cutler complete 7 of 10 passes, avoid any interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times, and post a passer rating of 152.1.

After the Chris Harris interception and 39-yard return, coming with the Bears ahead just 14-13, the Bears were presented with the ball at their 37. It took Cutler just six plays, one on a 30-yard toss to Bennett who broke tackles to get all the way to the Philadelphia 20. Cutler then found Bennett on a short route to the right side and the game was changed for good.

"To score right before halftime, then get the ball back and go down and try to score again, that's huge," Cutler said. "That's a potential 14-point swing right there."

As if to demonstrate that it was no fluke, Cutler engineered a drive to open the second half that culminated with him firing a pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a nine-yard TD that sent the Bears up 28-13 barely 90 seconds into the second half. A 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the closing minutes pushed the Bears up by three scores at 31-13 and all that effectively remained was settling on a final score.
League matters

It was a day that began with good things happening as far as the Bears were concerned.

The Bears got a pregame gift from the Atlanta Falcons, who defeated Green Bay on a Matt Bryant field goal with 9 seconds remaining. The loss dropped the Packers to 7-4 and left the NFC North door unlocked for the Bears, who finish their season Jan. 2 in Green Bay in a game before which they hope to have their post-season situation secured.

Minnesota gave new coach and former Bear Leslie Frazier his first win as a head coach. In the process the Vikings dealt an NFC loss to a Washington Redskins team that has a tiebreak edge on the Bears but now is fading at 5-6. The New York Giants (8-3) got past Jacksonville to stay atop the NFC East and New Orleans (8-3), another wild-card contender of possible future interest to the Bears, escaped with a three-point win over Dallas.

A whole half

The Bears built a 21-13 lead at halftime on near-perfect play by Cutler, who completed 7 of 10 passes, 3 for touchdowns and good for a rating of 152.1 as he managed to avoid interceptions despite pressure that sacked him four times.

Cutler and the offense had previously scored no more than three touchdowns in any entire game this season, doing that three times (Dallas, Buffalo, Minnesota). They reached that point by halftime with Cutler threading precision scoring passes of 10 yards to Bennett, 20 yards to Knox and 6 yards to Bennett again just before halftime.

D-ing Vick

Vick and the Philadelphia offense proved more than capable of gaining yardage on the Bears but that was nearly all they managed. Akers gave the Eagles the game's first points with a 45-yard field goal but that was the last time the Eagles led.

Vick guided the offense 65 yards in 10 plays and gave Philadelphia its only touchdown of the first quarter with an eight-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin. Akers added a 36-yarder midway through the quarter but that was a bitter consolation prize.

The Eagles owned the ball with a third-and-goal at the Chicago 3 and left Peppers unblocked on a Vick rollout to the left. Peppers instead sacked Vick for a 14-yard loss and a fumble, forcing the Eagles to settle for Akers' kick.

As far as a statement game, "we're not concerned with that right now," Peppers said. "We'll be concerned with that when playoff time comes."

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears add another weapon to offense, activate Adam Shaheen off injured reserve

There’s a wrinkle to the Bears’ offense nobody’s quite seen yet in 2018. With Adam Shaheen being activated off injured reserve on Saturday, we might get a look at what it could be starting Sunday. 

To make room for Shaheen on the 53-man roster, the Bears placed tight end Dion Sims on injured reserve. Sims didn't practice the last two weeks after suffering a concussion Nov. 4 against the Buffalo Bills, and has had recurring concussion issues in the past.

Shaheen, who suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game Aug. 18 against the Denver Broncos, began practicing with the Bears last week. 

The aspect to Matt Nagy’s offense we haven’t seen, then, is a “Y” (in-line) tight end being a legitimate receiving threat. While opposing teams have film on Shaheen from his rookie year of 2017, they don’t have film on how Nagy could use him. 

“I haven’t even though about it,” Shaheen said. “For me, I just want to get out there and play. And so, thinking about that, if they don’t see me coming and it gives me better looks, then so be it.”

While Shaheen’s usage could be limited in his first regular season game since Dec. 10, 2017, his go-up-and-get-it ability in the red zone could instantly be a factor against the Minnesota Vikings. Shaheen led the Bears with three touchdowns in 2017 despite only catching 12 passes. 

From a schematic standpoint, how Nagy works Shaheen into the offense will be interesting to observe. The Bears are one of five teams to average seven or more yards per play while having three receivers on the field:

The Bears’ two most-used formations (totaling 90 plays) has had Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel as the three receivers, with Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen the running back and Trey Burton the tight end. Their third most-used formation (31 plays) did feature two tight ends in Burton and Dion Sims, though the majority of those plays (18) were rushing plays. 

Sims, though, wasn't a receiving threat, while Shaheen is. 

“It just puts another playmaker on the field, as somebody else they have to account for,” Burton said. “We just have so many guys that can do so many different things, so it makes it really tough to guard. And so I like it because we have two tight ends in there at a time. Hopefully we can get rolling with that whenever he comes back.”

“Whenever” will be Sunday. And the larger point here may be that the Bears were able to add a playmaker into their offense instead of losing one to attrition in November. 

“He’s just a mismatch problem across the board for linebackers and safeties, and when you get a corner on him as well, his size is just too much to handle,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “Getting him back will just open things up even more for this offense, and he’s another option for this offense to be even more dynamic."

Three keys and prediction: How the Bears can win a statement game against the Vikings

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USA Today

Three keys and prediction: How the Bears can win a statement game against the Vikings

1. Finish in the fourth quarter. Here’s a blind test of which team is which: 

Team A: 29.9 points/game (5th), 19.4 points allowed/game (4th), 4th in DVOA
Team B: 24.6 points/game (15th), 22.7 points allowed/game (11th), 14th in DVOA

The Bears are Team A, and the Vikings are Team B. The point here being: The Bears are, on paper, a better team than the Vikings — and, actually, it’s not particularly close. 

But what the Vikings have that the Bears don’t is experience winning together. While Kirk Cousins wasn’t on this team last year, the same core playmakers remain: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph on offense; Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr (who’s questionable for Sunday’s game), Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on defense. Those guys led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game a year ago, which included that miraculous win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round. 

Minnesota, as an offense, isn’t markedly better in the fourth quarter (5.6 yards/play) than the other three periods, but they’re not worse than their full-game average (5.8 yards/play). Their defense, on the other hand, is at its best in the final 15 minutes, allowing 4.7 yards/play, lower than the 5.3 yards/play they’ve allowed this season. 

The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled in the fourth quarter on offense (4.9 yards/play, about one yard fewer than their season average) and defense (7.0 yards/play, two yards more than their season average). Matt Nagy and this team can do plenty over the first 45 minutes to make sure it’s not a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, but even if that’s the case, they’ll need to be better down the stretch to beat Minnesota. 

2. Make big plays on defense. Thielen has 100 or more receiving yards in eight of his nine games this year, while Diggs has gone over 90 yards in half of his eight games. While Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller are playing at Pro Bowl levels and might very well be capable of shutting both receivers down, the expectation here is that Thielen and Diggs will get their yards on Sunday night. What will key the Bears’ defense, then, will be big plays: Interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks, tackles for loss, etc. The good news: Cousins has been sacked four times in four games this year, three of which the Vikings lost. Hitting home on Cousins and making him uncomfortable should result in the kind of game-shifting plays the Bears’ defense will need. 

3. Stay on schedule on offense. Opposing offenses are averaging 8.6 yards-to-gain on third down against Minnesota’s defense, which is about a yard and a half better than the league average. What’s interesting about that third down yards-to-gain number is it’s actually higher than what opposing offenses average on second down (8.1) against this defense. Needing to win on third down is sort of a non-starter for the Bears’ offense, given the three teams that beat Minnesota (the Bills, Rams and Saints) converted only 11 of 34 third down tries. But picking up quick first downs, or at least generating some third-and-short downs, can mitigate that strength of Minnesota’s defense. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Vikings 17. Just about every worst-to-first team has a “statement game” in which they prove they’ve arrived against a good team, or at least a team generally thought to be good. The Bears are a better team than the Vikings entering Sunday, but still have to prove — perhaps to themselves — that they’re a better team than the defending NFC North champions. Consider this a gut feeling: This is the game the Bears do just that, taking the step from being a potential playoff contender to a legit favorite to win their division.