By Bryan Dietzler
The 4-5 Chicago Bears will be at Soldier Field this Sunday to take on the seemingly reeling 7-2 Denver Broncos. The Bears are coming off a well-played and solid victory over the St. Louis Rams while the Broncos lost their second game in a row in losing to the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only did the Broncos lose that game but they lost their starting quarterback, Peyton Manning, for a period of time and it is known that Manning is not going to play in the game this Sunday. Instead, the Broncos will start backup Brock Osweiler and hope that he can carry them to victory.
The following is an in depth look at the matchup between the Bears and the Broncos in their game this Sunday. There is some insight into individual player performances that have to take place in order for the Bears to win this game as well as unit performances. There is a look at the injury factor and how that might play out in this game as well as a final score prediction.
The Bears offense exploded against the Rams last Sunday and hopes are high that this kind of offensive performance can continue this Sunday. The Bears racked up solid numbers against one of the NFL’s better defenses and will play another tough defense when they face the Broncos. Both the running game and the passing game did well as the Bears were able to find balance in both and they will hope that continues in the game this Sunday.
In the passing game, quarterback Jay Cutler is having one of his better seasons since coming to the Bears. He is keeping the mistakes to a minimum, he is finding his open receivers and his mechanics throwing the ball have improved. He is also changing plays at the line of scrimmage that are coming out positively and is doing a pretty good job overall. He has reliable targets at the tight end position and has used wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to the best of his abilities in several games this season. Whether it’s the offense that Adam Gase is calling or the fact that Cutler just might finally be getting better remains to be seen but the passing game has gotten better this season.
In the passing game, the Bears are averaging 238.1 yards through the air per game. The Broncos defense is allowing teams to gain 182.8 yards per game through the air so the Broncos pass defense is pretty stout. Will the Bears be able to pass the ball against the stout Broncos defense? In playing the Rams last week, another team with a strong pass defense, the Bears found that quick passes and screen plays seemed to work best so the Bears may want to try them out in this game. The Broncos have a stellar pass rush but they may be missing one of their key members in De’Marcus Ware this Sunday so the Bears may get lucky and not have to be concerned about him.
Jeffery has been limited this week in practice with injuries so he may or may not play in this game. He played hurt in the Bears game against the Rams and wasn’t that affective although he wasn’t targeted that much because he was well covered by the Rams secondary. The Broncos have a pretty good secondary that might be able to lock down Jeffery in this game. If that becomes the case then Cutler is going to have to look to others to catch the ball. He has had good success throwing to his tight ends (Zach Miller and Martellus Bennett) as well as the running backs. With this kind of defense and the way it gets pressure, we may see a similar game plan like the Bears did against the Rams.
Running the football was supposed to be tough against the Rams and the Bears worked their magic against them and had a pretty successful day running the football. On a per game basis, Chicago is rushing for an average of 114 yards per game which isn’t that much but has been enough to get them by. The Broncos are holding opponents to just 94.6 yards of rushing per game so the Bears may find it difficult to run the ball. Granted they did have success against the Rams tough run defense last week but this is a different team and a different set-up so the Bears may not have much success running the ball against the Broncos this week. But they are going to try to establish the ground game and see how far they can get.
We might see running back Matt Forte back in action this week. The Bears coaching staff has sort of “hinted” that he might be returning and that would be good news for the Bears. Jeremy Langford has done very well in Forte’s absence and if Forte does come back the Bears might be able to have a one-two punch that they could throw at the Broncos defense and see if any one of the two running backs has success against this stout run defense. If Forte does not go in this game then the Bears do have a quality duo in Langford and Ka’Deem Carey but will they be able to get the job done on the ground? This will be a tough test for the Bears running game.
All eyes are on Hroniss Grasu as the Bears may have to use the same offensive line combination that they have used in the past few games due to Grasu’s injury. If the Bears have to go with this lineup they should be ok because this lineup has done pretty well over the last few games. If Grasu does come back and plays then the Bears could be better off as they will put their players (like Matt Slauson) back in their natural positons. With this the Bears could have some success in the running game and in pass protection. Hopefully the line will be able to play well and give the Bears opportunities up front.
As mentioned, the Broncos will be starting Osweiler at quarterback this Sunday in lieu of Manning. Osweiler, in relief of Manning, had a decent enough game against the Chiefs last Sunday and with a full week of practice he should be much more prepared to take on the Bears this Sunday. Osweiler is a tall athletic quarterback that can move and the Broncos coaching staff is going to build a game plan that takes advantages of his strengths. Osweiler is somewhat of an unknown in this game and it will be tough to tell just how he might play and how he will perform. Will he perform like an experienced quarterback or will he make the mistakes and have the jitters that most backup quarterbacks starting out do? The Bears will hope it’s the latter.
With Manning in the lineup, the Broncos offense is averaging 245.7 yards per game which is a pretty good average. The Bears defense is giving up 217 yards per game through the air so the defense has been keeping teams from gaining a lot of yards on them through the air. In their last game, against the Rams, they played a team with a relatively ineffective quarterback and kept him at bay for the most part. As mentioned, they come into this game playing a quarterback that they aren’t sure about so this will be interesting.
Chicago may be playing this game without one of their star pass rushing threats in Pernell McPhee. McPhee missed the last game with a knee injury and really didn’t practice this week. In his place, outside linebackers Lamar Houston and Willie Young played pretty well but McPhee is hard to replace. He often draws the attention of double teams and the offense concentrates on trying to stop him because he is that good. He is one of the best, if not the best, defender on the Bears at this time. So not having him in the lineup would be a detriment.
If the Bears are going to have success on defense they need to pressure Osweiler and force him to make bad throws that could lead to incompletions or interceptions. This would be the best way to throw him off his mark and give the Broncos passing offense problems. They also need to blanket their wide receivers and so far this season both Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller have done a good job of covering opponents pass catchers and knocking down passes. Porter had a good game knocking down passes against both the Chargers and the Rams game and he could get more opportunities here.
Look for the Bears to pressure Osweiler and try to keep him from completing a lot of passes to his receivers, tight ends and running backs. If they can get to him, knock him around a little and throw him off his game then they should have success on defense. If they allow him to sit back and pick off the defense then it’s going to be long day.
The Broncos lead running back is Ronnie Hillman. He is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. The Broncos as a team are averaging just 86 yards per game on the ground so the Bears, who are allowing teams to rush for an average of 118 yards per game may give up a few yards but that total is a little deceptive. Chicago held star rookie running back Todd Gurley to under 50 yards in their previous game and this team is stout against the run. Look for the Bears to do a good job of containing the run in this game forcing the backup quarterback Osweiler to pass the ball more. This could play into the Bears game plan and they could handle the Broncos offense well.
This is going to be an interesting game. Bears head coach John Fox and most of his staff come from Denver after having coached there the previous few seasons so they know this team well. That should play into the Bears advantage. Not having Manning starting should also be an advantage for the Bears as they will not have to play one of the best quarterbacks in league history. So quite frankly this game should be pretty even. But the Broncos defense is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Bears will have their work cut out for them trying to overcome this tough unit.
Assuredly there is going to be a bit of a revenge factor for Fox and the Bears in this game. Also, keep in mind that this is the first time that Cutler has faced his former team since they traded him to the Bears several years ago. So there is a huge motivation to win this game coming from many different angles. If the Bears can overcome the Broncos defense and keep Osweiler from beating them then they have an excellent chance of winning this game and gaining their third win in a row. And playing at home, the fans are going to be behind the Bears here and they are going to want to get a win for the fans. This could easily be another win for the Bears.
Prediction: Chicago 24 Denver 13