By Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) This week starts a strange stretch of games for the Bears.
In the next four weeks, they will play every team in the AFC West. It leaves the Bears with some opportunities to pick up some wins but they must be aware of some speed bumps along the way. The Chargers are up first. They have a ton of injuries but still present some dangers. Here are the matchups that I’m looking at:
Julius Peppers vs. Chargers O line: Last week, Philip Rivers was sacked six times. Beyond that, he got knocked down quite a bit. The Bears as a defense are ranked third in the NFL with 37 quarterback knockdowns. Kris Deilman is already on IR. Marcus McNeil is out for Sunday. Last week when McNeil left the game, Brandyn Dombrowski filled in for him. He gave up four sacks and 10 quarterback pressures. The nice folks over at profootballfocus.com have Dombrowski listed as having the two worst single-game grades they’ve ever given out. As much fun as it’s been to see Peppers work against guards the last few weeks, I’m not sure there’s a reason for him to bounce. They’ll be plenty of opportunities for him on the outside. Expect to see a tight end kept in and a back chip to try and slow Peppers down, who has four sacks in his last four games.
Mike Scifers vs Devin Hester: Scifers is the Chris Rongey of punters, meaning that he routinely outkicks his coverage. With that being said, when he’s asked to kick the ball high and allow his coverage team to work for him, he’s pretty good at it. Here’s what he told the Chargers website about dealing with Hester.
“He is going to go down as probably the best punt returner/kick returner to ever play in the NFL. It’s a great challenge for me as a punter to have a great day and a great challenge for us as a unit to stop him. I think we’ll approach it the same way we approach everyone else. We’re going to play our game, I’ll try and get the best punts off that I can with the best hang time and allow for our guys to cover the best they can. Again, it’s going to be a great challenge. Come Sunday I think that we’ll be ready for it. We’ve proven up until this point that we can overcome a lot of stuff and get better week-to-week. This is just another week for us to get better.”
There aren’t many weaknesses to Hester’s game, but forcing him to make decisions on fair catches might be the Chargers best defense against him. Going high is the best way to insure that. Trying to angle it out of bounds has proven difficult for opposing punters and usually ends up giving the Bears great field position.
Mike Tolbert vs Bears Defense: If you haven’t seen Tolbert, he’s fun to watch. He’s a bowling ball with legs. A tough, downhill runner who is a pain to deal with. He searches out contact and bounces off tacklers. According to Stats Inc., Tolbert has 53.3 percent of his yards this season after contact. That leads the AFC West, which has a couple of really tough backs in it. He is the type of back that the Bears have issues with. He’s a squatty-body back: 5-foot-9-inches, 247 pounds, so he has the low center of gravity. The Bears will have to make sure that they don’t just arm tackle because he runs through them.
Ryan Matthews is the “lightning” to Tolbert’s “thunder” and he has the ability to get to outside and is almost as difficult to bring down as Tolbert.
Phillip Rivers vs Cover-2: Last week, the Raiders were able to get pressure on Rivers without a ton of blitzing. They dropped guys into coverage and forced River to try and march the Chargers down the field. With all of the injuries and new personnel on the offensive line, that was difficult. Rivers started seeing ghosts. He rarely was able to set his feet and go down field. The Bears have mixed up their coverages very nicely over the last month, but this may be the type of game where they can sit in Cover-2 and frustrate the opposing quarterback.
Follow me on game day on twitter (and notice the new handle) @LaurenceWHolmes. I’ll do my best to keep you updated on everything that is going on.