Chicago Bears vs. Denver Broncos: 5 Things to Watch
For the second week in a row, the Bears offense, run by Caleb Hanie, came up short. Though Hanie was able to put points on the board in his first start against the Oakland Raiders, Hanie and the rest of the offense looked lost against the lowly Chiefs.
The Bears caught some breaks last week with the Lions, Falcons and Giants all losing, allowing the Bears to maintain their position as the first wild-card team in the playoffs. In order for the Bears to hold on to that position, they need this offense to finally connect.
Here are five things to watch this week as the Bears travel to Denver to take on the surging Broncos.
Eliminating Caleb Hanie's Mistakes
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In his two starts this season, Caleb Hanie has thrown six interceptions to just two touchdowns. No offense or team can look to be successful if they average three turnovers a game. The Bears defense has played great in these past two games, only allowing two touchdowns (one being a fluke Hail Mary pass).
All day Sunday, Hanie looked more rattled than he had at any time in his first start against the Oakland Raiders. Obviously the loss of Matt Forte did not help the cause, but Hanie needs to understand that this is not like practice, you need to get rid of the football as quickly as you can. Of the seven sacks that the Chiefs had on Sunday, a majority of them were a direct result of Hanie holding onto the ball too long.
The Bears have been steadfast in their support of Hanie, going as far as to not even bring in a proven playoff winner such as Donovan McNabb or even listen to Brett Favre's "desire" to play for the Bears. It is Hanie or bust, and in order for the Bears to right the ship, Hanie needs to understand his limitations and make better decisions on the field.
The Running Game
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In the last month, the Bears have seen both their starting quarterback and now running back go down with injuries.
Sunday against the Chiefs, Matt Forte hit the ground after a hit to his knee by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson that resulted in a second-degree sprain of his MCL. As of right now, the timetable for Forte's return is somewhere in the two to four-week range. In the meantime, the Bears will need to rely heavily on both Marion Barber and Khalil Bell.
The seven-year veteran Barber is no stranger to a starting role, having started 41 games and racking up 52 touchdowns throughout his career. Barber is quite a bit different from Forte's east to west running and does not have the same sort of agility that Forte possesses. He has always been known for his in between the tackles style of running. Barber also likes to lower his shoulder and hit the hole. Despite being his size, he does have short-term speed bursts that allow him to get past the first level of defenders.
Another running back who looks to get much more playing time is three-year veteran Khalil Bell. Bell has not had much playing time other than special teams in his career, but he will be remembered for the 72-yard run he had in his rookie season against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bell has a skill set more closely resembling Matt Forte's. He has a bit more quickness so look for the Bears to try and utilize screen passes with him, much like they did with Forte in the past.
It is no secret that a good running game is a young quarterback's best friend. In order for the Bears to win not only this game, but games down the road, both Barber and Bell will need to step up.
Containing Tim Tebow
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The biggest story of this NFL season has been the play of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. In Tebow's seven starts this season, the Broncos are 6-1 and are currently tied for first place with the Oakland Raiders at 7-5.
Coming out of college, Tebow was seen as not much of a quarterback prospect but more of an h-back/tight end. The Broncos stunned many by drafting Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft. After poor play by starting quarterback Kyle Orton, Tebow made his starting debut against the Miami Dolphins in Week 7.
With Tebow's unconventional abilities, head coach John Fox has utilized Tebow's strengths and implemented an option style offense. For years, it was believed that an option offense would not work in the NFL due to the incredible speed and athleticism that defensive players possess. Tebow is very balanced in his rushing/passing attempts, averaging nearly 10 rushes and 10 passes per game.
One big reason for the Broncos' success of late, has been Tebow's ability to reduce turnovers, having thrown for just one interception and losing only two fumbles.
In order for the Bears to contain Tim Tebow, they have to be disciplined and maintain their gaps. Up and down the board, each position will need to do its job. If the defensive linemen can get pressure on Tebow and force him out of the pocket, it is up to the linebackers to finish.
Plain and simple, in order to stop this Denver offense, they need to stop Tim Tebow.
Better Offensive Line Play
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All season long the biggest question mark of this Bears team has been the offensive line.
The offensive line has had its ups and downs and its share of movement. An opening day offensive line that had J'Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi, has seen two of its starters go to injured reserve (Williams and Carimi) and has watched Lance Louis flip from right guard, to left guard, to right tackle.
The offensive line that is in place now (Webb, Edwin Williams, Garza, Chris Spencer and Louis), has played relatively well together until last week. While not entirely their fault, the offensive line did give up seven sacks to a Chiefs team who came into the game last in the league in sacks.
Anytime a young inexperienced quarterback is in the pocket, protection should be a No. 1 priority. Hanie does have a tendency to hold onto the ball for far too long, but the offensive line needs to do a better job of giving him the extra time he needs, especially against a Broncos team that is fifth in the league in sacks (33).
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In many ways, the Bears and Broncos are very similar teams. They have young quarterbacks who they rely on not to make mistakes, tough defenses and good special teams.
So far this season the Denver Broncos have the third best kick-return average with 27.8 yards/return and the third best punt-return average with 14.5 yards/return.
Both Eric Decker and Eddie Royal have returned punts for a touchdown and in order for the Bears to limit the Broncos' success offensively, they will need to limit the big returns from the Broncos' special teams.
There is no secret that Devin Hester is the most electrifying return man in the game. This season he has returned one kickoff and two punts for a touchdown, as well as leading the NFL in average punt returns yards (18.1).
In what could be a close game with two stingy defenses, the special teams might become the deciding factor.