By Dan Durkin-
A weekly glimpse at the Bears’ upcoming opponent, this week: Kansas City.
(CBS) Much like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, the possible feel-good Thanksgiving story of Kyle “Captain Neckbeard” Orton rolling into Chicago hanging out of the sunroof of a white limo while swilling a bottle of spirits to save the day for the Bears was foiled by the Kansas City Chiefs. This weekend, Orton gets his opportunity to try and save the Chiefs season, making his first appearance (and likely start) in Soldier Field since his departure in 2009. Let’s take a look at the Chiefs’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the key match-ups in a bounce-back game for the Bears.
Luck hasn’t been on the Chiefs side this season. They’ve lost three key offensive contributors (running back Jamaal Charles, quarterback Matt Cassel, and tight end Tony Moeaki), and their best defensive player (safety Eric Berry) for the season, making their 2010 AFC West Championship seem longer than a season ago. In the midst of a four-game skid, the Chiefs are searching for an offensive identity.
Head coach Todd Haley was evasive when pressed with questions about Orton starting in Week 13 against the Bears, but if you speak coach speak, it was obvious that Orton will get the nod on Sunday. Even though Orton provides a significant upgrade over incumbent Tyler Palko, this is a team that struggles to move the chains, averages 14 points a game, and is careless with the ball.
Just how bad was Palko in his two starts? 42 completions for 397 yards (six yards per attempt), six interceptions, one fumble, and no touchdowns. To globalize it, just how bad have the Chiefs been during their four-game skid? Since their game against the Dolphins on October 6th, the Chiefs have one touchdown in 45 offensive possessions, that means they’ve gone 15 of the past 16 quarters without a touchdown. Ouch.
The injury to Jamaal Charles was devastating. The Chiefs’ most effective running plays utilized Charles’ explosiveness to beat teams to the edge and create running lanes, then use his open-field vision to cut back through gaping holes in the defense. While the Chiefs have tried to cobble together some semblance of a running game using a number of running backs on the roster, none of them have been able to replace Charles’ production.
Whether it’s former Bear Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle, or scatback Dexter McCluster, none of them strike fear into an opposing defense like Charles did. Seeing how the Bears were able to neutralize the Raiders’ dominant run game last week on the road, it will be tough sledding for the Chiefs this weekend. Making the Chiefs and Orton one-dimensional in his first start in a new offense could be disastrous.
Orton does have some weapons to work with in the passing game. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is ultra-talented and should draw Charles Tillman in coverage, and Steve Breaston is a solid route runner with sticky hands. Bowe is as mercurial as he is talented. He seems to have a flare for the dramatic, but also has lapses in concentration where he will stop on a route, or drop a pass right in his hands. Either way, Bowe is the most explosive play-maker on the Chiefs roster, whom the Bears must have a sound game plan for.
Defensively, the Chiefs are playing excellent football. They have a legitimate superstar edge rusher in Tamba Hali, linebacker Derrick Johnson is finally playing like the player people envisioned, and even without Eric Berry, the secondary – in particular cornerback Brandon Flowers – is formidable. The Chiefs just put the clamps on an explosive Steelers attack last weekend, limiting them to 13 points and 290 yards. Seeing how poorly Caleb Hanie played in his first start, the Chiefs defense poses a huge challenge to the Bears offense.
While the Chiefs don’t have a punter as talented as Shane Lechler, Dustin Colquitt is a very productive punter. Colquitt is adept at hanging the ball high to allow his coverage unit to get down-field, is a solid directional punter, and has a 40 yard net average. The Chiefs also have two very talented and dynamic returners in McCluster and Javier Arenas, so the Bears must be disciplined in their coverage lanes.
As poorly as Caleb Hanie played last weekend, the Bears were still in a position to steal a win in Oakland. I expect offensive coordinator Mike Martz to have a better game plan this weekend, one which should look to exploit the Chiefs’ weak run defense. The Bears should dominate a pedestrian Chiefs offense and earn their eighth win of the season.
What to watch for when the Bears have the ball: Offensive Tackle J’Marcus Webb vs. Defensive End Tamba Hali. Hali is the best hand-fighter in the NFL, and utilizes a variety of moves and counter moves to collapse the pocket. Webb has improved this season, but given Hali’s disruptiveness, look for the Bears to keep in a tight end to help protect the edge. The drawback to this protection package is you have one less eligible receiver out running routes, and for a quarterback like Hanie who forced some passes and struggled to see the entire field, Hali’s impact could have a cascading affect on the Bears offense.
What to watch for when the Chiefs have the ball: Defensive End Julius Peppers vs. Offensive Tackle Barry Richardson. Julius Peppers was simply dominant last week in Oakland, and was the best player on the field, as he should be every Sunday. Peppers put his hand in the dirt and won battles primarily with bull rushes. Seeing how ineffective Richardson has been this year, look for the Bears to line Peppers up over the right tackle and force the Chiefs to keep in a tight end or running back to help chip on Peppers.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.