Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Dolphins (11.18.10)

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Faced with the prospect of having to play two games in five days, the second of which on the road after a short week of preparation, the Bears dominated the Dolphins in Miami on Thursday night, 16-0.

It was a bit of a nostalgic night for the Bears, for several reasons. The stadium showed highlights of the Dolphins’ victory over the Bears in the 1985 season, their only loss that year, during pregame. The Bears also were in Miami for the first time since Super Bowl XLI, surely with bitter tastes still in their mouths after losing to the Colts in that game. And after 60 minutes of a complete effort from all three phases, the Bears picked up their first shutout since they defeated the New York Jets, 10-0, in the Super Bowl season of 2006.

There was one other bit of nostalgia Thursday night and that was the formula for success.

Prior to the Bills game three weeks ago, I wrote an article making an argument that the best way for the Bears to have success on offense was to “get off the bus running.” My basic premise was that just because the Bears have a talented quarterback like Jay Cutler, it doesn’t mean they have to forcibly use him if it’s not working out. I said it makes more sense to keep Cutler healthy and let the defense win games.

The Bears began running the football regularly beginning with that Bills game and have done so ever since. By no coincidence, they have won three straight games due to the commitment to the run game, a great defense, and solid special teams.

Matt Forte ran the ball 25 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. His total yards would have been higher, but he lost a few yards on the last drive of the game because the Dolphins defense crowded the line of scrimmage as the Bears tried to run down the clock. Chester Taylor had 11 carries but managed just 10 yards.

On a side note, I must say I’m pleased with the discrepancy in the results from Forte and Taylor. I like Taylor, and he’s a good, third-down change-of-pace back, but I’ve become agitated by the number of Bears fans who have jumped off Forte’s bandwagon, claiming he doesn’t have anything left in the tank and that his rookie season made him a one-year wonder. Forte has great vision, a good second gear, has nice leg drive, and finishes forward most of the time. Given a better line, he could have a 1,200-yard season like he did his rookie year.

Thanks to success moving the ball on the ground, Cutler had an efficient, workmanlike game. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 156 yards. He had one ill-advised throw that resulted in an interception when he threw off his back foot and across his body. Again, going back to the “game manager” formula — and I hate that term, but that’s the best way to describe it because fans are familiar with it — Cutler made plays when he needed to, rather than when Martz wanted him to.

The offense did a service for the defense by sustaining long drives and keeping the defense fresh by winning the time of possession battle by 15 minutes. The main reason the offense was able to execute long drives was because they once again were able to convert on third downs.

This game was won early and it was the defense that set the tone. They were put on their heels immediately after the Dolphins returned the opening kickoff just past midfield. The Dolphins got a quick first down but then punted three plays later. Tyler Thigpen was sacked by Henry Melton on that drive, the first of six times Thigpen would go down. Brian Urlacher — who set the franchise’s all-time tackle record — and Israel Idonije each added a sack and Julius Peppers finished with three sacks after coming into the game with just two.

Due to the Bears’ pressure from the front four, the secondary was able to sit back and play the Cover 2 the way it was intended to be played. Two plays stand out in my memory more than others. The first was a Peppers tipped pass that Charles Tillman picked off. The second was on a fourth down in the fourth quarter when receiver Davone Bess caught a Thigpen pass momentarily until Danieal Manning laid the wood on him in midair — cleanly and legally — and jarred the ball loose to turn the ball over on downs. Those are the kind of plays you want to see from the secondary.

Tommie Harris made all of one tackle but it’s worth mentioning. In the second quarter, Harris got a terrific jump off the line and blew right past the blocker to stop Ricky Williams in the backfield for a loss of three yards. It was the kind of play you remember seeing from Harris in his prime — again, nostalgia — but a play which is becoming fewer and far between from him. The fact that he did it against a depleted offensive line can’t go unnoticed, though.

The Bears defense played so well that the Dolphins barely attempted to run the football with Williams and Ronnie Brown. The two combined for 6 carries for 11 yards. In fact, the Bears had more rushing plays (40) on offense than the Dolphins had net rushing yards (39).

Devin Hester was back to return just one kickoff — to open the second half — due to the fact that the Dolphins didn’t score all game. Miami purposely kicked it away from him and Rashied Davis fielded it and returned it to the 30-yard-line. Hester also had four punt returns with a long of 24 yards. Robbie Gould returned to his consistent, steady form by converting three field goals, one from 50 yards. Brad Maynard eclipsed his average with four punts for a 42-yard average. Aside from that opening kickoff return, the special teams played a good game.

Despite the win and the 7-3 record, skepticism remains, of course. Critics and naysayers will point to the fact that Miami had a third-string quarterback in the game, had a hurt Jake Long at left tackle, lost many of their offensive linemen to injuries, and had top receiver Brandon Marshall exit the game with a hamstring injury late in the second quarter. While all that is true, what more could you have asked for than a shutout? The Bears can’t help who is on their schedule and it can’t be held against them when an opponent suffers so many injuries. The Bears did what they had to do to win the game and they dominated in doing so.

For those who keep saying they want to see the Bears beat a good team before they jump on the bandwagon, you’ll get your chance a week from Sunday when the Eagles come to Soldier Field. Michael Vick received a heap of praise — and rightfully so — for his ridiculous performance Monday night over the Redskins. But Vick is 0-3 against the Bears, and I’m not convinced he’s the real deal yet. Pay close attention to Sunday night’s game when Vick and the Eagles play host to the Giants. It’ll give us a good preview of the upcoming opponent.

The Bears have matched the win total of what many fans and analysts had predicted before the season, and they did so in just 10 games. Even I predicted just eight victories and they could certainly get that mark against Philadelphia. With extra rest and an additional day of practice next week, not to mention with how dominant the defense and special teams are playing and how efficient the offense has been, there’s no reason to believe they can’t beat the Eagles.

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