Welcome to the preview edition of Tale of the Tape. While I've been focusing my efforts at looking back at classic games, for this in-season series, I want to look back at more recent games and try and predict how the Bears will match up against their opponent for the week. Since this would be a fruitless and foolish task for the preseason, I was going to use a classic game - the 2009 matchup between the Bears and the Vikings at Soldier Field - as a test run. Follow me below the fold to look back at how we matched up against Brett Favre and his traitorous companions and to provide feedback as to what you would like to see me look at tape-wise in the future. Onwards!
Here's how it will work. I will break down the tape phase by phase, looking at key plays made by each squad, players who stood out to me, and make a prediction on what will happen in the upcoming game based on how we did last time. Without further ado...
Lovie Smith was brought in to provide the Bears with a defense that could hold up against the likes of a Brett Favre, and he did a good job, at least for the first half. The D managed to blank the Vikings for the first thirty minutes by taking away the running threat of Adrian Peterson - no easy feat - and with a pass rush that kept Favre on his toes. Tommie Harris was a surprising force in the middle and showed flashes of his former greatness, at one point providing the push up the middle to flush Favre in the waiting arms of Marcus Harrison. Another time, Harrison flustered Favre so much that he simply dropped the ball onto the ground, a fumble which led to a Robbie Gould field goal. Then, in the second half, Brad Childress dropped the pretense of a run game and let #4 open things up, which allowed the Vikings to tie things up 31-31 as the fourth quarter wound down. Without Brain Urlacher in the middle, receiver Sidney Rice and TE Shiancoe were able to make big plays up the seam of the zone coverage. Also, when the pass rush wasn't getting to Favre, he was able to drop short passes over the top to Chester Taylor and slant-route recievers that went for big gains. We've all seen this movie before, but it's especially frustrating when the man you know can take away these short plays is sitting on the sideline watching.
Play of the Game:
After the game went into overtime, things were looking bleak for the Bears. After both teams went three-and-out on their opening possessions, everyone (at least in the ESPN booth) was still expecting Favre to march the ball down the field one more time to add to his legend. Favre, however, couldn't do it alone and was getting big help from Adrian Peterson. With the ball on about the thirty, Peterson took the run outside and was going for big yardage after Hunter Hillenmeyer took a bad angle on his pursuit. With the secondary man coming down on hi, Peterson slowed up just enough to allow Hillenmeyer to sneak up from behind and punch the ball out. Bears recover, and you'll have to read about the rest in the offense section.
While Hunter made the play of the game, this game was Tommie Harris'. His consistent pressure up the middle slowed up the Vikings ground game, kept Favre contained and nervous, and he frequently flushed out Favre into the arms of a waiting defensive end, be it Marcus Harrison, Corey Wootten, or Israel Idonije.
Watch for Rod to find new ways to bring the heat on Favre. While the biltz in this game was not as effective as it could be, the corner and safety blitzes were very good weapons against the Vikings offensive line. Also, after they spent a lot of plays attempting to blitz the A gap, watch for the Bears to fake the up-the-middle blitz and drop into short coverage to take away the dink-and-dunk plays that Favre made his living on in this game.
This game, while meaningless for the Bears, was a coming out party for Jay Cutler. His first season with the Bears was essentially a flop and Bears fans were ready to run him out of town on the proverbial rail, so Jay needed to show the home crowd just why we gave up so much to bring him to Chicago. While the O started slow, they looked great once they got their feet under them, with both Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu (playing for the injured Devin Hester) making big catches down field. The biggest surprise of the game, however, was the offensive line's pass blocking: Jay finally had the time he had needed all season to wait for his men down field to get open! Forte also had a good game, benefitting from there being only one half of the Williams Wall on the field (Kevin was sidelined). Overall, no one expected the Bears to be able to put up 31 points on this Vikings squad, and they get the A+ from this Bears fan.
Play of the Game:
Again, the real magic happened in overtime. After the defense stripped AP of the ball, Cutler took over on the Vikings 41. Instead of taking the safe route - a route which led to a 48 yard miss by Robbie Gould earlier in extra time - Cutler wound up and looked deep. Devin Aromashodu was on a go route and had a step and a half on his man, made a quick adjustment to the ball, reeled it in a few yards shy of the end zone, and carried it in the rest of the way. The classic deep-shot after a turnover is always a sweet play, especially when it means that you don't have to listen to ESPN fluffing Brett Favre for another quarter.
Player of the Game:
Swallow your drink before you keep reading, because the offensive player of this game was Chris Williams. He was able to match up one-on-one with Jared Allen play after play, holding him to no sacks for the entirety of the game. Draft bust? Probably. Good for one game? Thankfully.
More of the same, please! If the Bears can get play this good out of their offensive line and keep Jay off of the Soldier Field "grass," it's going to be a long day for the Vikings. Watch for the team to continue to exploit matchups with our speedy receivers (Knox and a healthy Hester) and our big guys in the middle (Olsen, Dez Clark, and Aromashodu). A healthier Matt Forte would also be a big help and would allow the o-line a bit of a break in fending off the Vikings pass rush.
Other than Gould missing an overtime field goal, the special teams were as special as ever. Sidney Rice wasn't able to get much on his returns - his best one didn't cross the 40 - and even without Devin Hester, the Bears continually enjoyed great field position behind the running of Earl Bennett and Daneal Manning. You can't ask for much more than that, but even so, we got a couple of nice coffin corner punts out of Brad Maynard to ice the special teams cake. Another Grade A performance on this phase.
Play and Player of the Game:
This would have been another Favre love-fest after his final fourth quarter touchdown if it wasn't for every Chicagoan's favorite Canadian, Israel Idonije. He got just enough of a hand on the Viking's first extra point to block the kick and thusly provide the Bears with an overtime win. All apologies to Jonathan Toews, but Izzy's my guy.
The runback that Manning almost popped for a touchdown would have been points on the board if he had the speed of a Devin Hester. Watch for Tim Shaw to continue to make big plays on the kick coverage team as well. And Robbie, how could you miss one inside 50? Take a lap and then a couple more practice kicks! While the Vikings might have a big threat in Rice, the Bears coverage had no problem containing him and shouldn't be troubled by him this week either.
That is the general format I am planning to follow, except using games that would actually be relevant to that week's game (i.e. for week one, I will look back to our game with the Falcons from last year to see how we matched up and predict what we will do this year). Let me know if you like this idea, hate it and want me to go back to waxing poetic about John Shoop, or if you would like to see other elements of the game broken down in the writeup. In the future, I would like to focus more on individual plays, so as not to step on other Steve's toes, but I had to spend yesterday popping out a deer-sized dent from the hood of my car instead of thinking about football. As always, thanks for reading, and see you back here next week for a return to From the Archive.