The Chicago Bears raised their record to 8-3 this afternoon after a 28-10 victory over the visiting Minnesota Vikings. The Bears are still tied atop the division with the Green Bay Packers, who hold the tiebreaker and play the New York Giants this evening. Minnesota now falls two games out of the NFC North lead.
Chicago will host the Seattle Seahawks next week, before finishing the campaign with three of their final four games on the road.
The Bears won on the scoreboard today but, injury wise, it was a bloodbath. Chicago lost five players during the game: Devin Hester (concussion), Matt Forte (ankle), Chris Spencer (knee), Lance Louis (knee) and Charles Tillman (ankle).
The worst injury to watch was Forte's, who was bent over backward by the Vikings in a pile of players. Coach Lovie Smith said both Louis and Spencer have knee sprains.
Notes from Week 11
-Chicago's offense goes where Jay Cutler takes them. When he's bad, he can single-handedly de-rail the team. Yet when he's good, like he was today, he can be one of the most effective passers in the game. Cutler finished the contest 23 of 31 for 188 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT, good for a QB rating of 86.5. He also scrambled three times for nine yards, taking unnecessary hits in the process. Of the many things Cutler must work on if he's ever going to become an elite quarterback, sliding when you're in the open field should be at the top of the list – especially when you were just concussed two weeks ago.
-As usual, Brandon Marshall was Cutler's main target all afternoon. He targeted Marshall 17 times. The player with the second most targets was Earl Bennett, who had four. As has become all too familiar, Cutler consistently looked Marshall's way on almost every pass play, forcing balls into coverage. Luckily this week, none of those balls were intercepted – his only pick came on a play where Marshall was wide open and the ball bounced off his hands – yet that won't always be the case. If he continues to stare down Marshall, it could cost the Bears mightily when their season is on the line.
-It was good to see Bennett finally getting involved in the offense. He caught all four passes thrown his way, racking up 45 yards in the process. If Bennett can ever develop into the player we all expect him to be, Chicago's offense could take the next step. Although that will never happen for as long as Cutler continues to laser Marshall each and every game.
-For the second week in a row, and three of the last four weeks, Chicago ran the ball more than they passed it. OC Mike Tice called 39 runs compared to just 31 passes. Yet those 39 runs netted just 113 yards, good for 2.9 yards per carry. That is not going to cut it going forward. The dedication to the run is commendable but if the line doesn't start opening holes, it won't mean much.
-Michael Bush got 21 of those carries, good for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Yet his long run, which was the longest run for the Bears all game, was eight yards. Right now, there is little explosiveness in Chicago's rushing attack, which will worsen if Forte is forced to miss time.
-Speaking of the offensive line, the Bears did some major shuffling today. After elevating Chris Spencer and Jonathan Scott to the starting lineup this week – and demoting Gabe Carimi in the process – Chicago was forced to further mix it up during the game. When Spencer went down, Edwin Williams was inserted at left guard. When Louis went down, Carimi had to slide inside and play right guard. Carimi said after the game it was the first time in his football career he has ever played guard.
The thing is, the front five that played the majority of the snaps today (LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Spencer, C Roberto Garza, RG Carimi, RT Jonathan Scott) was outstanding in pass protection. Cutler was sacked just once, and that on a play where he held the ball too long. Other than that, he had plenty of time to throw.
Carimi wasn't subjected to speed rushers out on an island, where he's been exposed this year for his lack of lateral agility. Inside, he was able to be a pure mauler, which is his specialty. If it's up to me, Carimi stays inside at guard.
Williams started seven games last season and proved to be the best pass blocker on the team. He did the same today, providing superior protection inside. If Louis misses time, Tice should strongly consider keeping today's front five intact.
-Chicago's offense did a very good job on third downs today, an area in which they have struggled all season. They converted 11-19 third downs, and even went 1-1 on fourth down.
-Chicago's defense had another very strong outing, holding the Vikings to just 258 total net yards. Minnesota QB Christian Ponder was 22 of 43 for 159 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, good for a passer rating of 58.2. He was sacked twice: once by Henry Melton on the first play of the game, and a half sack apiece for Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin.
-Running back Adrian Peterson was able to pick up 108 yards on 18 carries, yet much of that came in the second half when the Bears had a comfortable lead. In the first half, AP was held to just 25 yards rushing.
-Chicago had success against Peterson due in large part to the play of Major Wright, who was all over the field in this one. Wright lined up mainly in the box and served as the club's fourth linebacker. His fearlessness in attacking Peterson, and his sound tackling, helped stifle Minnesota's rushing attack when it mattered.
-No Vikings receiver had more than 55 yards receiving, as Chicago's secondary was outstanding for most of the contest. S Chris Conte picked up the only interception of the game, his second of the season, returning it 35 yards and nearly breaking it for a touchdown. The Bears' defense also recovered two fumbles, ending the game +2 in turnover ratio, which has always been a recipe for success under Lovie Smith.
-LB Nick Roach is the forgotten man in Chicago's defense, yet he was outstanding in this game. He led the club in tackles (7) and forced a fumble. He gets little recognition but Roach's play on the field has been above average all season.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.