(CBS) The Bears (0-3) host the Raiders (2-1) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game for Chicago.
Offense: Protect the edges
Protecting the quarterback to breathe some life into the passing game is an important key for the Bears against the Raiders, whose defense is built around second-year left defensive end Khalil Mack. With Mack stout against the run, the Raiders asked him to add weight, and he’s now a 270-pound wrecking ball.
Talented-but-troubled Aldon Smith is still a dangerous pass rusher off the edge, and he’s getting his legs back under him. Smith’s arrival has shifted the Raiders to more of a 3-4 look when he’s on the field. In their base look, the Raiders can get after it in the run game, with Justin Tuck still an impactful and consistent run defender. Former Seahawks Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith is a tackle machine, and big guys Dan Williams and Stacy McGee eat up space.
The secondary is led by soon-to-be 39-year-old Charles Woodson, who had an interception in Cleveland last week, but there are opportunities to gain some chunk yardage against Oakland. Tight ends are doing damage against the Raiders, with five catches of 25 yards or more. Overall, they’ve permitted 20 receptions for 298 yards and five touchdowns to tight ends in three games.
Defense: tackle to prevent yards after contact
Significant progress defensively was made for Chicago in Seattle, where the pass rush was awakened by the inside pressure of Jarvis Jenkins and the outside heat from Pernell McPhee.
The Bears made some big third-down stops as well and now look for consistent execution and playmaking on the ball. The unit will be tested by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. That year-one-to-year-two transition for young quarterbacks is huge, and Carr is making a big impact. Oakland gave him some weapons, and his numbers are exploding. He had a good rookie season and has guided the Raiders offense to 74 points combined in the last two games.
Rookie receiver Amari Cooper is off to a terrific start, complemented by veteran Michael Crabtree. Oakland’s running game has blossomed after finishing last in the league a year ago. Latavius Murray is coming off a 139-yard game in Cleveland, despite only 19 yards on his first 10 carries. A big and sturdy back with top-end speed, Murray is also a receiver out of the backfield. At fullback, Marcel Reese is an even better receiver and a factor in the passing game. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Reese is also the Raiders’ lead blocker and goal-line back.
All of Carr’s weapons need to be tackled to limit their post-contact yards and overall yards after the catch, which is a big part of their offense. The Raiders are seventh in yards after the catch, and Murray is fifth among running backs in yards after contact. The Bears defense has permitted the fewest yards after the catch in the NFL.
Special teams: Be vigilant
With the Bears’ kick coverage unit under the microscope, special teams coordinators will keep hitting Chicago hard in a variety of ways until the issues are fixed. A new concern this week is Taiwan Jones, who’s lightning fast with four returns of 25 yards or more. With weekly changes to the Bears’ roster, the personnel continue to change and so the continuity isn’t there yet for the Bears. Sebastian Janikowski still owns a strong leg and has made all five of his kicks. Marquette King owns a big leg and will be booming his punts for the Raiders. Only 32 punt return yards have been permitted on 12 of King’s punts. All in all, the improved play on kick coverage could erase an early concern through the first three weeks of the season.
Intangibles: Take back Soldier Field
Oakland coach Jack Del Rio grew up a die-hard Raiders fan, and he’s made an immediate culture change after a three-year run as a defensive coordinator for Bears coach John Fox in Denver. They know what each other is thinking and how they like to attack in each phase. The Raiders come in with more confidence than they’ve enjoyed in years, and the Bears have to make them start doubting themselves again, especially on the road. The win in Cleveland last week was only the third away from Oakland for the Raiders in the last 25 games, dating back more than three seasons.
The Bears have to start taking back Soldier Field, where they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games dating to last season.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.