By Laurence Holmes–
Let me first say that I’m against the Thursday Night Game. I think it’s unfair to players. Usually guys don’t start feeling normal again until Wednesday. I find incredible hypocrisy in the NFL handing out stiffer fines for devastating hits. Their rationale is that they are trying to make the league safer. Then why force teams to play on a short week? Sure, the NFL is trying to get a handle on head injuries. They’re researching the effects of head trauma on players and they’re doing a good job of it. Then why would they ask teams to increase the collisions in a 4-day span? And then there’s the issue of the 18-game season, but I digress…
Bears Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
The Bears offensive line has done a good job of keeping Jay Cutler upright. Because of that, he’s been able to make plays. Cutler is also taking off more when the pocket breaks down, adding much-needed yards to the run game. What I can’t figure out is whether the Bears line is actually better or their last two opponents did a bad job of attacking them. Buffalo can’t get after the QB and the Vikings really didn’t blitz. I do think there is value in continuity and Roberto Garza being back does help and has helped.
As I write this, Cameron Wake and his 8.5 sacks is going to be available to play. In fact, he’s not even on the injury report. That’s not good for the Bears. Where you may see this manifest itself is in coverage sacks. Vontae Davis is as physical a corner as there is in the league. Sean Smith is a corner in a wideouts body (6’3, 214lbs). Their safeties, Yeremiah Bell and Chris Clemons make plays on the ball and know how to hit. The Bears catch a break because Clemons tweaked a hamstring and won’t play. Johnny Knox turned his ankle on Sunday. He’s not 100%. Look for Earl Bennett to pick up some of the slack.
The Bears have been better on 3rd down, but last weeks the numbers are a bit skewed. Here’s what I mean: Cutler & Crew went 11-for-19 on 3rd down. That’s 58%. They even scored a touchdown on a 3rd & long. All of that is really good, but inside of those numbers is a problem.
Cutler threw two of his picks on 3rd down, including the awful one in the end zone. Cutler was only sacked once. Guess on what down it was on…Yep, 3rd down. There was another play where Jared Allen pushed him out of bounds for no gain. So keep that in mind when the Bears are talking about how successful they were on 3rd down.
I really like that Mike Martz has figured out that the run game has value. Even if your backs are only averaging a little over 3 yards, the threat of a run game helps. Kellen Davis’ touchdown came off of play-action. So expect the Bears to keep the run/pass balance will stay around 50/50. Watch out for Karlos Dansby. He’s a tackling machine.
Bears Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
My hope is that the Bears aren’t looking too hard at the injury report. On Sunday night, it seemed as if Jake Long wasn’t going to play. Well, as I write this, Jake is going to suck it up and play with a dislocated shoulder. Apparently, the Dolphins medical staff popped it back in and now it’s a pain tolerance issue. He’ll have a harness to support his left shoulder. As much as I admire the toughness that is on display here, I totally endorse the Bears lining up Julius Peppers and a blitzer on his outside shoulder and see how he handles it.
Tyler Thigpen will start at QB for the Dolphins. He made a couple of big throws in relief last week including a touchdown. He’s athletic and plays with confidence…bordering on being cocky. It’ll be hard to take your eyes off of Brandon Marshall (who’s having hamstring issues), but don’t sleep on Davonne Bess. He’s super consistent (1o yards a catch for his entire career).
I expect to see the Dolphins run some Wildcat, but if they asked me I would advise them not to do too much of it. The Bears defense is too fast for it to work against them. The only exception is red zone and goal line. The Bears will have to be mindful that Ronnie Brown can actually throw.
Neither Brown nor Ricky Williams have popped a big run in weeks. The Bears have the 2nd best run defense in the NFL. This will be another big test, but the Bears walk in having handed Adrian Peterson one of his worst performances of his career.
Devin Hester is excited to be going home. Bears fans should be excited that he’s back on kickoff return. The way he’s playing right now makes him the best offensive weapon the Bears have. His mere presence leads to field position. I don’t expect the Dolphins will give him many opportunities in the punt game, but they won’t have much choice on kickoff. It’s strange to say this, but Robbie Gould has been inconsistent lately. This game could be tight…can’t afford misses.
When I asked Greg Olsen about the challenge of playing on a short week, he told me, “It’s the same for both teams.” Here’s the thing; it’s not. It’s more difficult on the road team. Miami will get an extra practice because they don’t have to travel. Maybe that’s the difference between Thigpen looking like a 3rd string quarterback and looking competent.
The Bears are winning turnover battles. Defense and special teams is making this team look for real. Short week equals a sloppy game and Miami is a tough squad, but the Bears defense is too good. BEARS 21 DOLPHINS 20