A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Contain the combination of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams
The Bears have had struggles defending both of the Dolphins’ running backs, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, in years past. In 2006, Brown rushed for 157 yards on 29 carries for a 5.4 average as the Dolphins thrashed the Bears, 31-13, handing them their first loss of the season. Four years prior to that, Williams rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, an average of 6.9 yards per carry. The Bears have a noticeably better run defense than they have had in recent memory and should put up a much more respectable effort than in either of those two games. With Tyler Thigpen, the Dolphins’ third-string quarterback, likely to get the start due to injuries to Chad Pennington and Chad Henne, the Dolphins may be forced to run the ball more and even may include the Wildcat into their repertoire.
2. Max protect Jay Cutler
Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake, who is battling a hip injury, is expected to play Thursday against the Bears and he leads the team with 8.5 sacks, ranking him third in the league. As a side note, the Bears have already faced the two players ahead of him, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora. Matthews was held without a sack but Umenyiora had three. The Dolphins’ defense ranks 11th in the league with 23 sacks and has forced seven fumbles while recovering five of them. Even though the Bears’ offensive line has protected Cutler better since the bye week, the Dolphins will know what they’re up against and will send the pressure. Keeping Cutler healthy and providing him with enough time to make plays will be a necessity.
3. Continue to run a balanced offense
Since the bye week, Matt Forte has rushed 35 times for 118 yards and Chester Taylor has carried the ball 21 times for 46 yards. Neither player has run the ball particularly well, but it was the commitment to the run game that helped pave the way for success in their victories over Buffalo and Minnesota. I’m guessing that Lovie Smith got into the head of Mike Martz during the bye week and explained the need for Martz to call a more balanced game, and unless the Bears struggle mightily at running the football against Miami, I wouldn’t expect him to deviate from the game plan that has cut down on the amount of times Cutler has gotten hit and has helped lead to wins.
4. Replicate last week’s special teams effort
The Bears made a surprise move last week when they elected to put Devin Hester back to return kickoffs for the first time in a long time. The move paid off as Hester had returns of 32 and 68 yards. Hester also had a 42-yard punt return that set the Bears up with great field position. Even when Hester wasn’t returning the ball, his presence alone affected field position, as Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell kicked short and Rashied Davis fielded it and took it back to midfield. The Bears’ kick coverage did a good job of containing the Vikings’ dynamic Percy Harvin. Brad Maynard pinned the Vikings at their one-yard line late in the game. Robbie Gould missed his third field goal in a row, but he also converted on a pair of attempts. Special teams, probably even more so on the road, will be a major factor in the outcome of this game.