Cutler must deal with confusing, hungry Eagles 'D'


Cutler must deal with confusing, hungry Eagles 'D'

Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010
6:26 PM

By John Mullin

Bears players have admitted that often it is easier to come back from a good win than a bad loss (witness the Bears disaster vs. New York after the MNF win over Green Bay). The Eagles have had not one, but three good wins in the form of the Indianapolis Colts and NFC Easters Washington and the Giants.

One plus in the Bears favor is that the Eagles, besides those three heady wins and now a trip to Chicago, also have a game coming up Thursday back in Philadelphia against the Houston Texans.

The Bears have had 10 days of rest since shutting out the Miami Dolphins and prepare for Sundays 3:15 p.m. kickoff as perhaps the healthiest team in the NFL: zero players on a Game 11 injury report.

By contrast, the Eagles scheduling crucible has them officially without All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel, ruled out Saturday with a knee injury. Samuel leads the NFL with 7 interceptions and has caused the Bears substantial problems, with three interceptions in New Englands win over the Super Bowl-bound Bears and three solo tackles in the Eagles win last season over the Bears.

Quarterback Jay Cutler thought enough of the Samuel threat to single him out in conversation this week. But even without Samuel, the Philadelphia defense with its league-leading 26 turnovers does precisely the kinds of things that have bedeviled Cutler and the Bears offensive line, albeit less in the past three games since the return of veteran right guard Roberto Garza.

The offensive line makes us go, said tight end Greg Olsen. The last couple weeks its been evident that theyve stepped up and are doing a great job of protecting Jay so he can find guys downfield. When it gets going, its fun.

Dealing with Philadelphias defense, ranked No. 9 in yardage allowed but a surprising 19th in points allowed, has always been an adventure for the Bears. Cutler produced a decidedly pedestrian game against the Eagles last season, throwing for just 171 yards and completing less than 56 percent of his passes; he was less productive in only three 2009 games.

Theyre going to show you a lot of different things, Cutler said. Theyre going to bring some safeties. Great linebackers. Theyve got a lot of odd blitzes.

Bears chances

Whichever defense can force the opposing quarterback into turnovers (the Bears are No. 2 in the NFL with 25 takeaways) gains a massive advantage. Cutler has proven capable of poor decisions and worse throws even as the Bears have built their 7-3 record with him starting all but one of the games. The Bears had the ball with a chance for a win over the Eagles in the closing minute last season but Cutler was intercepted at midfield with 45 seconds remaining.

But Michael Vick, whose fumble last week in the win over the Giants was his first of the year (he has yet to throw an interception) has been throttled by Bears defenses anchored by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. The Bears allowed Vicks offenses zero touchdowns in 2001 and 2005 games with the Atlanta Falcons and one in 2002. All games were Bears wins.

Urlacher was out for the year last season when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Bears 24-20 in a game where Vick got loose for one run of 34 yards.

Our defense is right at the top right now, coach Lovie Smith said. We feel like we are one of the best defenses in the league. But thats the thing about it: When you get through the season, you get a chance to prove that each week. We know that were playing one of the best offenses in the league and were anxious to see how we match up with them.

The game does have several keys, already chronicled by and reporters.

More important than most

Lovie Smith has had only one unbeaten November, in 2005 with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. With a win over Philadelphia his Bears will finish this November with a 4-0 mark.

More important, they will log a crucial win over an NFC opponent, one that well could factor into a post-season tiebreaker scenario with the Bears.

The matchup here becomes particularly intriguing because the Eagles are No. 2 in the NFL scoring 28.4 points per game; the Bears are tied for No. 1 allowing barely half that, 14.6 points per game. The Eagles have scored fewer than 20 points in only two games this season. The Bears have allowed as many as 20 just twice (Dallas, Seattle).

Theyre definitely one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best, Vick said. I dont want to offend anybody else around the league but this group is a great group of guys who play together, play fast, play hard, and you can tell theyve jelled together and play with a tremendous amount of confidence. I see why theyve been able to have the success theyve had.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

Bears' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

The Bears did their part to keep hope alive for a playoff berth in Week 14, defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night and moving to 7-6 on the season. Unfortunately, they didn't get the help they needed around the league to enter Week 15's game against the Green Bay Packers with legitimate post-season juice.

The Minnesota Vikings, who currently hold the final NFC wild card that the Bears are chasing, handled their business against the Detroit Lions with their 20-7 victory in a game that was never close. Now 9-4, the Vikings' have a two-game lead over the Bears with one head-to-head matchup remaining in Week 17. Chicago needs to defeat Minnesota in the season finale and hope the Vikings lose one of their other two remaining games against the Chargers and Packers. Otherwise, it's on to 2020.

The bigger blow to the Bears' playoff hopes came in Los Angeles, where the Rams moved to 8-5 with their 28-12 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. This was a game Chicago needed the Rams to lose, considering they hold the head-to-head tie-breaker and play only one more game on their schedule that seems like a likely loss (49ers in Week 16). Los Angeles' other two games are against the struggling Cowboys and lowly Cardinals, and if they win both and end the year with the same record as the Bears, they'll have the advantage because of Chicago's loss in Week 11.

So what does all this mean? Week 14's results have the Bears' chances to make the playoffs at just 2%, according to FiveThirtyEight.  Essentially, nothing's changed, even after a win. Football Insiders is a little more optimistic; they have Chicago's chances at 4.4%.

Sunday's game against the Packers has meaning. The Bears are still alive, and a victory in Green Bay coupled with some upset losses by the Vikings and Rams could change the playoff picture quite a bit. If both Minnesota and Los Angeles lose, Chicago's playoff chances jump to 14%, per the New York Times' playoff predictor.

One game at a time. It's a mantra that's worked for the Bears over the last month of the season, and one they'll continue to preach until there's nothing left to play for.

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Devin Hester is on NFL 100 All-Time Team, now only the Hall of Fame awaits

Devin Hester is on NFL 100 All-Time Team, now only the Hall of Fame awaits

Football lists usually leave me feeling a bit cringey.

I don’t like being asked to rank players of different eras because of our collective historical ignorance and quite frankly my own. Even if we take a look at statistics or happen upon film of the player, it’s hard to compare.

I don’t like being asked my opinion on these matters because slighting someone who deserves praise is inevitable. The Bears 100 list was an excruciating exercise for all involved. Watching the reveal of the list was difficult. As hard as Don Pierson and Dan Pompei tried to be measured and fair in their assessments, worthy players were left out.

Our own Alex Brown felt obliged to defend his life’s work. Watching him go through that, quite honestly felt icky. For the record, A.B. ranks in the top 5 all-time in Bears history in sacks. The fact that he isn’t on the list is a shame, but I digress.

As football continues to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, I’ve been intrigued at the way the NFL Network has devised their ranking system and put together their “All-Time Team” of 100.

Now comes the part in the column where you can ignore almost every bit that comes before this sentence: I’m really happy that Devin Hester is on this list. It literally made me smile that his inclusion on the team was without any real debate.

Hester came along in my third full year covering the Bears beat. He was this quiet, shy kid who let his play do the talking. Watching him that first year was mesmerizing. In the ‘06 season he had five return touchdowns (three punts, two on kickoffs).

The most famous, until the Super Bowl, was his role in the Monday Night comeback against Arizona. What we were all watching was impossible. It’s a game that will live on in not just Bears history, but NFL history because the team somehow overcame Rex Grossman’s six, yes SIX, turnovers to win a game.

It was a win that prompted one of the most famous post-game rants in 100 years of the NFL.

Hester’s return in the Arizona game and his return to kick off Super Bowl 41 are both iconic moments. What I remember most about Hester is a bit more abstract.

I imagine that any Bears fan of a certain age can relate, but when the steel drums of Soulja Boy’s: “Crank That” start, it was an event. Hester adopted that song as his kickoff theme and the energy that would overtake Soldier Field before each kickoff was intoxicating. It was a call to arms for the 61,500 fans packed into the stadium.

There was Hester in the end zone-unaffected, dancing, waiting for a chance to make a play. You had to take notice because there was the opportunity to see something special, something you’d never seen before.

On top of hating lists, I hate Hall of Fame debates, but allow me to contradict myself once more. Hester’s inclusion on the All-Time Team list will go a long way towards his induction into Canton.

He shouldn’t have to beg or wait for his gold jacket. Everyone knows what they saw and what they saw was the greatest returner in the history of this league. This list affirms that.

The Hall of Fame is a museum, right? Well, how can a football museum keep out the Basquiat of returns?

Oh and A.B. should be on that Bears top 100 list. If we’re keepin’ it 100.

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