Monday Morning Quarterback: Week 12

November 24th, 2008 - 10:27 am

It’s victory Monday in Chicago after the Bears routed the Rams, 27-3, but I’m already focusing my attention on this week’s showdown with the Vikings.

I will spend a few minutes talking about the Rams game, though, beginning with the defense. I will reiterate what I said in my postgame thoughts and that is to say that even though the Bears were solid defensively, they were far from impressive and anything but flawless.

If it weren’t for such awful throws by the Rams’ trio of quarterbacks — mostly second-stringer Trent Green, as starter Marc Bulger lasted just one series — then it is quite conceivable that the Rams would have systematically moved the ball down field. The Bears did not have particularly great coverage, although it was better than normal, and there were plays to be made in the passing game but Green could not connect with his receivers.

Never did I think the game was in doubt, though. Even if the Rams would have completed a lot of those missed throws and scored a couple more times, it wouldn’t have stopped the fact the Bears controlled the game from the opening kickoff.

The Bears also held the Rams to just 14 net rushing yards. Good, but deceiving. There was no Steven Jackson. There was no Orlando Pace. And the Rams had to throw the ball the majority of the second half being down by three touchdowns.

But what’s going to happen when the Bears head up to Minnesota to face one of the league’s best and most elusive runners in Adrian Peterson? On his turf? Prior to Ryan Grant’s 145-yard performance last week, Peterson was the only back to crack 100 yards against the Bears when he did in Week 7 at Soldier Field.

I imagine the run defense will do a decent job of keeping him in check, but it’s the pass defense I’m worried about.

The Bears had 5 sacks against the Rams Sunday. Commendable, but where was the pass rush on all the other passing downs? Aside from those 5 plays, I saw an awful lot of comfort in the pocket from the Rams’ QBs. Too much time. An effective pass rush doesn’t just get a handful of sacks, it makes life difficult on the opposing quarterback for 60 minutes by making him hurry his throws and feel pressure all day.

Offensively, what worries me most is that the Bears dominated in the first half by scoring 24 points, but took their foot off the pedal in the second and only scored 3. I wasn’t looking for them to run up the score by any means, but there’s no substitute for game repetitions, and the Bears should have at least continued to run their normal offense and try to score points through the end of the third quarter.

It was nice to see Devin Hester used more in the offense since he was taken off kick return duties, but was his success due to facing a bad team? Or can the Bears really insert him into the backfield to take a direct snap more often against better teams? He’s not really great at getting separation or running crisp routes in the passing game, so we’ll have to see if this game’s success carries over and gives him confidence.

Keeping on the Hester theme, Danieal Manning, in his two kickoff returns, played exactly how I expected him to play, which is that he was determined and he hit the hole hard. Hester continued to struggle in his punt return duties. He’s got no confidence left and doesn’t know why he’s not the same kick returner. He’s even admitted it to several people, including the national media.

Well, I spent more time on the Rams than I had anticipated, but now I want to quickly discuss the upcoming Vikings game. Tonight, we’ll know for sure if this week’s game will be for sole possession of first place depending on if the Packers win or lose. I think they’ll beat the Saints and keep it a three-team race, but anything is possible.

Obviously, stopping Adrian Peterson is the Bears’ first priority when they take on the Vikings Sunday night. If they can’t do that, they have no chance. Running a close second is the pass rush. The Bears’ defensive backfield will get picked apart like they did the last time they faced the Vikings if the defensive line can’t get upfield and put pressure on Gus Frerotte.

Offensively, it’d be presumptuous to think that the Bears can once again score 48 points against the Vikings’ defense, particularly on the road in Minnesota. And running the football won’t be easy against their stout run defense, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL. Last time, Matt Forte rushed for just 56 yards on 20 carries. So, any rust that Kyle Orton might still have on his ankle — which, I don’t think there’s much of any — needs to be eliminated by Sunday night because the Bears need Orton badly. And the wide receivers, who’ve been decent at best all year, need to come up big.

You can say this about any week in an NFL season, so it may be a bit redundant, but this upcoming game is by far the most important of the season. By no means will I write off the Bears if they lose to the Vikings — even though some in the Chicago media will — but it definitely is better to be in control of your own destiny with 5 games to play than to have to scoreboard watch and rely on other teams to beat the Vikings and Packers. (For reference, the Packers play at home against Carolina this week, a team that can beat them, but I think the Packers will win).

Being 7-5 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North would look much better at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night than being 6-6 and a game behind both the Vikings and the Packers.