KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Caleb Hanie has thrown six interceptions in two starts in place of injured Jay Cutler, but Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said part of the issue has been being too conservative with the offense. He wants to be more aggressive in getting Hanie throwing downfield early. Unfortunately, that will require doing it without the threat of RB Matt Forte (knee) and in the face of Denver's strong pass rush. Martz could be throwing a smokescreen because it's a field position game against Tim Tebow. Chicago's Cover-Two typically prevents many completions over the top and the Bears will bank on the defense playing strong assignment football against the Broncos' read-option.
FAST FACTS: Chicago has 17 takeaways in its past six games. ... Denver has scored 17 points or less five times during its 6-1 record the past seven games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Caleb Hanie has been sacked 11 times in his two starts, not a number that will cause much optimism for the Bears on Sunday against a Broncos' defense that is No. 9 in sack percentage.
QB Caleb Hanie
In the seven previous games, Jay Cutler was sacked a total of just nine times.
Part of the blame for the increase in sacks is on Hanie. Without the experience of Cutler, he isn't as adept at avoiding the rush, stepping up in the pocket to let the rush fly past or buying additional time in the pocket by side-stepping the rush.
"If I need to move around a little bit, that's what I'll do," Hanie said. "But I'm going to try to make as many plays as I can in the pocket and get the ball to our guys."
Hanie would obviously feel more confident in the pocket if he weren't running for his life, as he was vs. the Chiefs. As bad as the protection looked, line coach Mike Tice said it's important to keep it in perspective.
"We had a lot of guys play good," Tice said. "We had one guy that had an off day."
Right tackle Lance Louis was responsible for four of the Chiefs' seven sacks, but he had played well in the previous six games there after shifting from right guard. The Bears could have tossed Louis a lifesaver, but they let him sink.
"We could have helped him a little bit with some of the protection things we did," Tice said. "After that first (sack), after he got nailed on that (tackle-end stunt), he went into a little bit of a technique funk. He didn't really dig his way out of it, and it kind of snowballed a little bit. He'll bounce back. He'll be fine.
"I'm not down on him. I think he's down on himself a little bit right now. But I don't think he should be. He's got to bounce back and we've all got to bounce back."
The burden on the line only gets heavier now, with the loss of injured running back Matt Forte on top of Cutler's absence. Backup running backs Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell can help fill the void left by Forte's absence, but they can't do it without the offensive line.
"We have to do our jobs first and foremost," Garza said. "When our two most explosive offensive guys go down, we have to do our jobs and get the running game going and help protect Caleb. We have to give him the time to set his feet and make those throws. It's up to us to do our job regardless of who's on the field."
It certainly won't get any easier for Louis. He has to contend with AFC sack leader Von Miller this week. Fortunately for the Bears, Miller's effectiveness could be diminished in his first game back after missing one game following thumb surgery.
If the Broncos' rookie is anywhere close to 100 percent, he will get extra attention from the Bears throughout the game. Louis will get help from tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, and Barber and Bell will be kept in as extra protection or asked to chip at Miller on their way out into pass routes.
"He's a phenomenal player," Tice said of Miller. "We're going to know where he's at at all times. This guy is pretty (darn) good. He's special."
The line's mental approach has to be that last week is in the past.
"Everyone's hung up on the numbers all the time - seven sacks," Tice said. "But I'm not; you can't be. We just have to bounce back. We've got a game this week and we've got to move on."
Failure to do so could leave the Bears with a third straight defeat and a hole too deep to climb out of in the playoff race.
Willis McGahee admittedly wasn't a huge fan of running the option when the concept was introduced by Broncos' coaches, since he'd never done it before.
RB Willis McGahee
Greg Smith/US Presswire
But McGahee quickly warmed up to the concept, once he mastered the proper footwork and saw results. The debut performance in Week 9 that saw him run for 163 yards and quarterback Tim Tebow 118 did a lot of the convincing this might just work.
"When Tim gets up in there in yards, I work even harder because I can't have a quarterback outrush me," he said.
Now, regardless whether Denver employs a straight two-back set, as it did often vs. Minnesota last week, or stays with the read-option plays, he's producing results - given Denver's commitment to him regardless of approach.
McGahee has six 100-yard games this season heading into Sunday's game vs. Chicago, which ties him with Buffalo's Fred Jackson for the NFL's top mark. He's 10th overall in rushing in the league, despite hand and hamstring issues that kept him out of one game and limited him to 16 carries in two others.
Not bad for a player that in October turned 30, an age when running backs are supposed to begin the downward career spiral.
"I didn't have any expectations. My goal was just to come in and play," McGahee said. "Everything else was a bonus. I never doubted myself or felt I couldn't do it, I just wanted an opportunity."
McGahee combined for 209 carries the last two seasons with Baltimore, before signing with Denver as a free agent. He'll likely surpass that total this year alone, with 182 attempts and four games left, though McGahee has missed two practices this week in preparation for the Bears with a knee issue.
McGahee has called the issue minor and said there was no way his status was in doubt this week. "Unless I'm having surgery," he said, adding, "I'm not."
One of the more telling statistics this season has been McGahee's and Denver's late-game rushing performances. He and Tebow rank second and third in the NFL with a 5.8 per-carry average in the final quarter and overtime.
"Tim complements me because they not only have to worry about him, they have to worry about me, too. It really works out and helps each other," he said.
Denver's averaging 42 rushing attempts during its five-game winning streak, which has the cumulative effect of wearing down defenses and perhaps setting up late-game success. On the other hand, McGahee and Tebow both are getting exposed to those in-game hits, which should also have a detrimental effect late.
He said, "There's a lot of determination and energy we bring to the running game. They're going to make their tackles and hit us, the point is to make them do it the whole game. That's the mentality, not just for me, the o-line and the receivers, too."
McGahee has runs of 24, 17, 24, 16, 24 and 17 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime over the last five weeks.
Denver, in total, has 12 such runs during that span - four by Tebow.
"I was never one of those backs that comes out and jumps an 80-yarder the first play," McGahee said. "I'm always the guy that as the game goes on I get better."
--NT Anthony Adams (back) went through a full practice on Thursday.
S Craig Steltz
Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
--CB Charles Tillman (quad) was a full participant in Thursday's practice and will play Sunday.
--LB Brian Urlacher (quad) went through a full practice Thursday and will start Sunday.
--RB Matt Forte (sprained knee) is out.
--SS Major Wright (shoulder) did not practice Thursday and is not expected to play Sunday.
--S Craig Steltz will start if Major Wright does not play. Steltz took over at halftime last week and wound up with a career- and team-best 10 tackles.
--WR Demaryius Thomas, fresh off his 144-yard, two-TD game vs. Minnesota, said that earlier in the season past injuries still played with his mind. No longer. Thomas made a cut in the open field to shed a defender last Sunday, which showed him once and for all that his foot, Achilles and ankle issues were behind him.
--LT Ryan Clady was a limited participant in Thursday's practice after missing Wednesday. It would be an upset if Clady doesn't play. He has never missed a NFL game and has a streak of 60 pro starts.
--RB Willis McGahee (knee) sat out a second straight day of practice but continues to insist that his injury is minor and that he'll play Sunday. Every time this season he's practiced on a Friday he's ended up playing.
--WR Eddie Royal (concussion) still hasn't been cleared to resume practice and it appears unlikely he'll play Sunday. Quan Cosby would handle returns and Demaryius Thomas and Matt Willis would then take Royal's receiving snaps.
--S David Bruton (Achilles) continues to follow the recent protocol of sitting out Wednesday, then returning Thursday as he nurses his injury enough to play on game days.
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