A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Oakland Raiders.
1. Stop the run
The Raiders have become a more rounded team since acquiring quarterback Carson Palmer mid-season, but their offense still goes as its running game does. Oakland has the No. 3 rushing offense in the NFL with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. McFadden is the more dynamic of the two backs but he has been out with a foot injury since Week 7. If he can’t go, Bush is more than capable of shouldering the load as he averages 4.3 yards per carry and has scored 5 touchdowns this year. Taking away the opponent’s strength and limiting the amount of time the Bears defense is on the field will be vital in the final six games of the season.
2. Don’t get predictable on offense
Jay Cutler is down right now and the reigns have been passed to Caleb Hanie, who has never started an NFL game. He’ll have had a full week to prepare for the Raiders, but having him start his first NFL game in a notoriously tough road game on the west coast is certainly not ideal. Teams had begun stacking the box to stop Matt Forte even before Cutler went down with an injury, so we know what the remaining teams on the schedule are going to do with Hanie at quarterback. The important thing is for Mike Martz not to get predictable in his play calling. Hanie is a mobile guy, so call some bootlegs or other plays designed to use his athleticism. Keep the routes simple and have him complete some short passes to gain confidence. If they have to dink and dunk their way down the field, so be it. Just don’t completely resort to the run game or put the offense in third-and-long situations.
3. Collapse the middle of the pocket and make Carson Palmer move
Palmer is a good quarterback but he’s never been a mobile player, certainly not now at the age of 31 with a bad knee and having undergone multiple surgeries. A quarterback like him thrives within the confines of a secure pocket and he does not make plays on the move under pressure. The key to making him uncomfortable and neutralizing his effectiveness will be a strong performance from the interior of the Bears defensive line. The rotation of defensive tackles, whether it be Henry Melton, Amobi Okoye, Stephen Paea, or Matt Toeaina, needs to get some kind of push up the middle to force Palmer to move one way or another. If Julius Peppers gets time on the inside this week, that should certainly help as well.
4. Protect the football and play a full 60 minutes
Now, more than ever, is protecting the football critical to winning games for the Bears. They’re not likely to have an offense that can move the ball with regularity or put up he quantity of points they had been all season, unless Hanie plays much better than we’re all expecting. The Bears need their offense to do one of two things with the ball each possession: put points on the board or re-establish field position so Adam Podlesh can pin the Raiders offense deep in its own end. Hanie can’t be throwing interceptions or fumbling the ball away and putting the Bears defense on its heels. The Raiders are going to be sending heavy pressure at him to test the mental part of his game and see if he knows what to do with the football in those situations. Finally, the Bears have to play a complete game. They’ve typically been a first- and fourth-quarter team this year, starting the game strong and finishing that way, too. Oakland is going to make some kind of run in this game and the Bears have to be able to withstand it and finish them off.
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