Defense Must Lead Chicago to Playoffs

When you throw in a poor 30 minutes at Detroit in Week 13 and then four awful quarters against New England in Week 14, the Bears haven't played well on defense in three of their last four halves.

With the Vikings mathematically eliminated and desperately seeking a healthy QB, and with the Packers uncertain of the status of their concussed Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Bears' path to the playoffs seems lined with rose petals.

The Bears catch another break this week because their game against the Vikings will be moved to the University of Minnesota. As poorly as the Bears played in inclement weather against the Patriots, they should be much more comfortable in the elements than the Vikings, who have a significant home-field advantage in the now-unplayable Metrodome.

The Packers have the unenviable task of going to New England to play the Patriots, with Rodgers in shaky health after leaving early in last week's loss to the Lions. The Packers couldn't score on the Lions without Rodgers, which doesn't bode well for them against the Patriots, who are playing better than any team in the NFL.

So the Bears are truly in the driver's seat.

But just getting to the playoffs won't be considered much of a success for the Bears if they don't win at least one game, and that most likely hinges on the defense, which was beginning to look dominant before a three-game swoon.

It's not just the 36 points and 475 yards they allowed to the Patriots last Sunday. Two weeks earlier, they "held" Michael Vick to 333 passing yards and 44 rushing yards. Even in the week in between, the Lions had 20 points and 302 yards with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton running the show in just his second NFL start.

That kind of defense won't do it in the playoffs for the Bears. Their offense has gotten better throughout the season, but it's not the kind of unit that can be counted on at crunch time, what with a mediocre-at-best offensive line and a running game that doesn't do much more than keep the opposing defense honest.

The Bears need their defense to return to the dominating play it exhibited in victories over the Panthers and rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The defense needs to swarm all over a decent team as it did against the Dolphins when they were down to their third-string quarterback, Tyler Thigpen.

With pass rusher Julius Peppers and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs all playing at a Pro Bowl level, the Bears have the potential to dominate opposing offenses, and they might need to with an offense that only flashes big-play ability occasionally.

The defense must carry the Bears in the postseason. But unless it regains the earlier form that propelled it to the top five in the NFL in total yards, rushing yards and points allowed, the Bears' postseason journey will be a short one.


QB Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

PLAYER NOTES
QB Jay Cutler had one interception in the previous three games before he was picked off twice against the Patriots. ...

RB Matt Forte gained 25 yards on nine carries against the Patriots, his least productive game in seven weeks. He still is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which would be a career best. ...

RB Chester Taylor's last 50 carries have produced just 87 yards over the past six games, during which time his longest gain is 10 yards. ...

WR Johnny Knox has a total of five receptions for 50 yards in his last two games combined, for an average of 10.0 yards per catch. He had been averaging over 19.0 yards per catch but is down to 17.6. ...

WR Earl Bennett is easily the Bears' leading receiver over the past three games with 14 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He has one reception for 30 or more yards in each of those games. ...

TE Greg Olsen has exactly one catch in each of the past three games for a total of 20 yards. He had 13 catches in the four previous games. ...

WR Devin Hester had three catches for 18 yards in the past two games after picking up a season-best 86 yards in the game just before that. ...

Urlacher has double-figure tackle totals in five of the Bears' past six games and 2.5 sacks in his last four games. ...

Peppers has six sacks and six quarterback pressures in his past four games. ...

CB Charles Tillman was limping badly after Sunday's game, but Bears coach Lovie Smith said he was not aware of any injury and that he expected Tillman to practice Wednesday. ...

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is expected to return to practice this week following arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago, but it might not be Wednesday, since he has an extra day to prepare before the Monday night game.


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