Who: Chicago Bears (0-3) vs. Oakland Raiders (2-1)
Where: Soldier Field
When: Noon CT
Radio: WBBM (780 AM & 105.9 FM)
The Bears and Raiders will meet for the 14th time on Sunday. The Raiders hold a 7-6 edge in the all-time series.
The Raiders won the last meeting, in Oakland, 25-20 in 2011. The series is tied 3-3 in games played in Illinois, with Chicago winning the last two played at Soldier Field in 1996 and 2003 - which was the first win at then-newly renovated Soldier Field. The 12 years since last playing a regular-season game at Soldier Field currently marks the longest time away from Soldier Field by an opposing NFL team.
Raiders offensive line coach Mike Tice spent three seasons with the Bears, first as offensive line coach (2010-11) before being named offensive coordinator in 2012.
J'Marcus Webb, who will start at right guard for the Raiders, started 44 of 46 games played in three seasons with the Bears (2010-12), starting at both right and left tackle, after being selected by Chicago in the seventh round (218th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft. Bears OLB Lamarr Houston was drafted by the Raiders in the second round (44th overall) of the 2010 draft and started 60 of 64 games over four seasons in Oakland.
Bears head coach John Fox was the Raiders' defensive coordinator for two season in 1994-95. The Raiders were 8th in the NFL in total defense (314.0 ypg) and tied for 12th in scoring defense (20.6 ppg) during his tenure. Oakland DT Chester McGlockton and CB Terry McDaniel garnered Pro Bowl honors in both seasons under Fox.
Fox was in his first season as head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2002 when Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio was his defensive coordinator. The two would connect again in Denver when Fox was the Broncos head coach and Del Rio was the team's defensive coordinator from 2012-14.
Head Coach Comparison
|JOHN FOX||JACK DEL RIO|
|119-92 (.564)||Regular Season Record (pct.)||70-72 (.493)|
|14th||Years as NFL head coach||10th|
|1st||Years as team's head coach||1st|
|8-2||Career vs. Team||1-1|
For the Bears, QB Jay Cutler (hamstring) and WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) are both listed as questionable. Cutler was able to push off and throw with no issues this week but I never saw him run. Whether or not he can run, and how likely it is he'll reinjure his hamstring if he does have to scramble out of the pocket, will likely be the deciding factor in whether or not he plays. He's a true 50/50 game-time decision.
Jeffery, on the other hand, is very unlikely to play. I watched him the past two days and he was still walking gingerly. I belive he'll miss his third straight week.
Also questionable are DL Ego Ferguson (knee), DL Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle), DL WIll Sutton (elbow), CB Alan Ball (groin) and P Patrick O'Donnell. The Bears yesterday signed P Spencer Lanning, which makes O'Donnell very unlikely to play.
LT Jermon Bushrod (concussion/shoulder) has been ruled out. Charles Leno will make his first career start in place of Bushrod.
For the Raiders, the following players are out: DE Benson Mayowa (knee), CB Keith McGill (foot) and DT C.J. Wilson (calf).
The following Raiders are questionable: LB Ben Heeney (hamstring), RB Taiwan Jones (foot) and S Charles Woodson (shoulder).
Probable for Oakland are DT Justin Ellis (ankle), DE Khalil Mack (hip), RB jamize Olawale (ankle) and DE Justin Tuck (knee).
|BEARS (NFL RANK)||RAIDERS (NFL RANK)|
|15.3 (31st)||Points Scored||25.7 (10th)|
|294.3 (28th)||Total Offense||387.7 (7th)|
|132.0 (T-6th)||Rushing Offense||105.0 (17th)|
|162.3 (31st)||Passing Offense||282.7 (7th)|
|35.0 (32nd)||Points Allowed||28.7 (28th)|
|331.0 (11th)||Total Defense||414.7 (32nd)|
|135.7 (T-28th)||Rushing Defense||91.7 (13th)|
|195.3 (6th)||Passing Defense||323.0 (30th)|
|-1 (T-17th)||Turnover Ratio||0 (T-14th)|
The Cutler/Clausen Files
Cutler's status is up in the air. He's healthy enough to throw the ball but he's definitely not 100 percent, which puts him at risk of worsening the hamstring injury. It's going to come down to how he feels Sunday morning.
If Cutler plays, this game could easily turn into a shootout. Before his injury, Chicago's offense was humming against the Cardinals, scoring touchdowns on two of its first three possessions. Coordinator Adam Gase has done a good job of building his gameplans around the strengths of his players and having Cutler under center would allow him to open up the playbook, particularly on down-field throws.
Yet even if Jimmy Clausen has to play, this won't be a repeat of last week's embarrassing shutout against the Seahawks. Seattle has had the No. 1-ranked passing defense the past two years in a row, while the Raiders come in ranked 30th against the pass. In addition, Clausen will be at home, instead of the intimidatingly difficult CenturyLink Field.
“It’s frustrating because quarterbacks want to throw the ball down the field," Clausen said. "But that’s not our job to make the game plan. It’s the coaches’ job and it’s our job to go out and execute it. I feel good. If I go out there Sunday and my number’s called, I’ll be ready to go. Getting that start last Sunday in a hostile environment in Seattle really helps.”
The one thing Gase said he regretted about last week was not taking more deep shots in the second half against Seattle.
"The second half was one of those ones where we were right where we wanted to be and I probably should’ve been more aggressive calling it," said Gase.
So even if Clausen starts, don't expect the same run-intensive game plan the Bears deployed last week. Clausen will get his opportunities if he has to start, although Gase obviously won't put all of the pressure on his backup quarterback's shoulders.
"Each guy has a different skill set and whatever one goes, we’ll use that guy’s best assets," Gase said.
With that said, Clausen's best asset is Matt Forte, so expect Gase to lean on the run game early, which should open up some play-action opportunities later in the game.
Bears on Offense
Matchups to Watch
LT Charles Leno vs. OLB Aldon Smith
Charles Leno technically started one game last season but that was only because he was on the field in a three-tackle formation on the first play of the game. In reality, he's making his first NFL start this week at left tackle. Leno will get a healthy dose of Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks in 2012. He's dealt with substance abuse issues the past two years but he's been given a second chance in Oakland. The Raiders are so high on Smith, they transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense to best utilize his skill set. The last time Chicago faced Smith, he posted three sacks. Leno spoke confidently this week in his ability to shut down Smith, something that has to happen if the Bears are to have any shot at moving the ball through the air.
WR Eddie Royal vs. CB D.J. Hayden
Through three games, Royal has 11 catches for just 66 yards and no touchdowns. He's been held back by poor quarterback play and the absence of Alshon Jeffery, who always commands the majority of attention from opposing secondaries. Royal has a good opportunity to break out of his slump this week against D.J. Hayden, who has struggled so far this year. Hayden has a 68.4 completion percentage against and a 121.6 QB rating against, while allowing a whopping six touchdowns (per Pro Football Focus). Hayden works outside in base sets but moves inside to the slot on passing downs. That's a matchup Royal must exploit.
Keys on Offense
-The Raiders' secondary is one of the league's worst. They are ranked 30th against the pass and even allowed Josh McCown to throw for 340 yards last week. At first blush, the best strategy is to regularly push the ball down the field. The problem is that Chicago's secondary is even worse and the Raiders' offense can put up points in bunches. The Bears don't have the firepower to beat the Raiders in a shootout, so ball control will once again be a necessity.
The Bears have had success all year on the ground and are ranked 6th in the league in rushing. Forte is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and needs to again be the focal point of the offensive attack. Yet Jeremy Langford also needs to be involved. The rookie has shown good explosiveness but he didn't get a single touch last week. Langford is a weapon, one that should not be ignored two weeks in a row.
-Through three games, opposing tight ends have caught 20 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns - which includes "heavyweights" Crocket Gillmore (5-88-2) and Gary Barnidge (6-105). Obviously, the Raiders are softer than Chris Bosh in the middle of the field and they've faced no one with the athletic ability of Martellus Bennett. With Jeffery hobbling, Bennett has failed to pick up the slack this year, averaging just 3 catches for 37 yards through three games. If he doesn't have more than 100 yards receiving in this game, something went wrong.
-OLB Khalil Mack is one of the most explosive young defenders in the game. He already has 2.0 sacks on the season and has benefited greatly from the attention Smith receives on the other side of the line. RT Kyle Long leads the team in QB hurries (6) and has already given up three sacks. He's learning a new position and is playing with a big, awkawrd cast, so he should improve, but right now, he's not the rock solid player he was as a guard. Long needs to have his best game of the year, otherwise Mack is going to wreak havoc in Chicago's backfield.
-32-year-old DE Justin Tuck has proven this year he still has plenty left in the tank. He's been a force against the run and he leads the team with 4 QB hits. With Tuck and NT Dan Williams, the Raiders are strong up the middle and are by no means easy to run on. That being the case, LG Matt Slauson, C Will Montgomery and RG Vladimir Ducasse need to work in tandem and with power in order for the Bears to establish the run.
Bears on Defense
Matchups to Watch
CB Kyle Fuller vs. WR Amari Cooper
Cooper, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, has stormed out of the gate his rookie season. The 6-1, 210-pound Alabama product has 20 catches for 291 yards (5th most in the NFL) and a touchdown. He's developed an immediate rapport with QB Derek Carr and has already torched both Jimmy Smith and Joe Haden, two of the best cornerbacks in the league. Fuller will see plenty of Cooper in this game and must build on his solid performance last week. Opposing quarterbacks have a 130.7 QB rating when throwing at Fuller. If Carr has that much success throwing at him, Cooper is going to have a field day.
OLB Pernell McPhee vs. RT Austin Howard
McPhee is coming off a 2.0-sack performance against the Seahawks and now gets a shot at Howard, who has allowed a sack and three QB hurries this season. The Raiders have strong pass blockers on the left side of the line, so the Bears have to get pressure from the right side. That will be on McPhee's shoulders. He needs a repeat peformance of last week in order to keep Carr uncomfortable in the pocket.
Keys on Defense
-RB Latavius Murray finished Week 3 ranked fourth in the NFL with 248 rushing yards. The first-year starter has been very effective as the team's workhorse ball carrier, averaging a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. The Bears rank 28th in the league in rushing but that's an inflated stat given how poor the offense was last week, thus wearing down the defense in the second half. Otherwise, Chicago's run defense has been much improved over last season. If the front seven can shut down Murray, or at least limit him, that will go a long way toward making the Raiders one-dimensional, which will be a necessity.
-Bears fans are fully aware of the holes in J'Marcus Webb's game. Not surprisingly, Oakland's starting right guard has been a sieve in pass protection this year, giving up a sack and 7 QB hurries through three games. Jeremiah Ratliff is questionable with an ankle injury but if he does play, he has to take advantage of Webb and force him to do that turnstyle thing he used to do in Chicago. Abusing Webb and collapsing the pocket in the quarterback's face is a great way to force Carr into some hurried throws.
-Chicago's defense can't sleep on Michael Crabtree, who is a quality No. 2 receiver. He takes a backseat to Cooper in the passing game but Crabtree still has big-play potential if you take him for granted. In Week 2 against the Ravens, he posted 9 catches for 111 yards. Alan Ball is questionable with a groin injury but letting him sit may not be such a bad thing, as opposing quarterbacks have a 150.0 QB rating when throwing at Ball. If he can't go, Tracy Porter will likely get the start.