Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

Bears vs. Chargers Week 9 Ultimate Game Preview

Our comprehensive game preview for the Monday Night Football contest between the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers.

Game Information

Who: Chicago Bears (2-5) vs. San Diego Chargers (2-6)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Radio: WBBM Radio 780 AM and 105.9 FM

Series History

The Bears and Chargers will meet for the 12th time. The Bears hold a slight 6-5 edge in the all-time series, which includes the last meeting in 2011, a 31-20 victory at Soldier Field. Chicago has won five of the last six in the series. The Chargers are 4-2 in games played in San Diego against the Bears, winning the last meeting there, 14-3, in 2007.

The Bears are 2-0 against AFC opponents this season, defeating the Raiders at Soldier Field, 22-20, in Week 4 and the Chiefs in Kansas City, 18-17, in Week 5.

The Monday Night Football game is the first of two scheduled prime-time contests on national television for the Bears this season. Chicago is 28-36 all-time on Monday Night Football, including 13-24 on the road and 0-2 in San Diego on Monday night. The Bears were 1-1 last season on MNF and are 12-4 on the broadcast since 2006.

Bears-Chargers Connections

-Bears head coach John Fox was San Diego's secondary coach from 1992-93. The Chargers' defense was second in the NFL in interceptions (47) during those seasons.

-Wide recevier Eddie Royal spent three seasons (2012-14) in San Diego, accumulating 132 receptions for 1,643 yards (12.4 ypr) and 16 TDs in 41 contests with 16 starts.

-Head coaches Mike McCoy and John Fox coached together in both Carolina and Denver. Fox was head coach at both locations while McCoy served as the Panthers quarterbacks coach (2002-0), adding the role of passing game coordinator from 2007-09, and the Broncos offensive coordinator (2010-12).

-While in Carolina, McCoy also coached with Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu, who coached the Panthers tight ends (2003-06) and offensive line (2007-08) and with Bears assistant defensive backs coach Sam Garnes, who was a traning camp intern with Carolina in 2007.

-Chargers secondary coach Ron Milus held the same role in Carolina (2009-10) and Denver (2011-12) under Fox.

-While in Denver, McCoy and Milus worked again with Garnes and Magazu, along with Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase from 2009-12, as Gase served as the team's wide receivers coach (2009-10) and quarterbacks coach (2011-12), defensive backs coach Ed Donatell (2009-10, secondary), defensive line coach Jay Rodgers (2009, coaching assistant; 2010-11, defensive quality control; 2012, defensive line) and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers (2011-12, same role).

-Fox was defensive coordinator of the Raiders in 1995 when Chargers special teams coordinator Kevin Spencer was the special teams coach in Oakland.

-Fox was the secondary coach at Utah in 1982 when Chargers wide receivers coach Fred Graves held the same role at the school.

-Fox spent his teen years in the San Diego area and attended Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, Calif. He played defensive back at San Diego State (1976-78), graduated from the school with a bachelor's degree in physical education and a secondary education teaching credential. He got his collegiate coaching start at the school in 1978 as a graduate assistant.

Head Coach Comparison

121-94 (.563) Regular Season Record (pct.) 20-20 (.500)
8-7 Playoff Record 1-1
14th Years as NFL head coach 3rd
1st Years as team's head coach 3rd
4-1 * Career Head-to-Head 1-4 *
8-5 * Career vs. Team 0-0

* Includes Divisional Playoff Game following 2013 season

Injury Report

The Bears will have to make do without RB Matt Forte (knee) and WR Eddie Royal (knee) on Monday Night Football, as both starters have been ruled out.

Rookie Jeremy Langford will start in place of Forte. 

"I think for a guy that’s in his first year in the NFL, I’ve been surprised of how quickly [Langford] has picked everything up," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said this week. "The way that he’s [performed] in pass protection has been very impressive. Anything in the run game is easy for him, obviously being a running back. His ability in the passing game, too, it’s rare to be able to have a guy that can come in and do all three phases of a running back."

C Hroniss Grasu (neck) is doubtful, which means the interior of Chicago's offensive line will be the same as it was last week: LG Vladimir Ducasse, C Matt Slauson, RG Patrick Omameh.

The following Bears are questionable: 

OLB Pernell McPhee (knee)
ILB Shea McClellin (knee)
TE Zach Miller (shoulder)
LT Jermon Bushrod 

McPhee did not practice this week and will be a game-time decision. 

"The knee has been bothersome and we're trying to get him ready for the game," head coach John Fox said on Friday. "That's the key in any week of preparation and we feel good about that. We'll just continue to evaluate that until Monday night."

If Bushrod can't play, Charles Leno will make his sixth straight start at left tackle. 

After missing last week, McClellin's questionable designation is a good sign, although I still expect him to sit out this week. 

WR Cameron Meredith (ankle) and ILB LaRoy Reynolds (knee) are probable. 

Nickelback Bryce Callahan has been completely cleared from his concussion and will start against the Chargers. The wheels fell off last week after Callahan left the game, so his return is a big boost for Chicago's secondary.

For the Chargers, T King Dunlap (ankle), ILB Denzel Perryman (biceps), ILB Manti Te'o (ankle) and C Chris Watt (shoulder) have been ruled out.

Doubtful for San Diego are G Orlando Franklin (knee) and TE Ladarius Green (ankle).

The following Chargers are questionable:

DT Corey Liuget (foot)
CB Patrick Robinson (concussion)
S Darrell Stucky (hamstring)
CB Jason Verrett (groin)
S Eric Weddle (groin)

Probable are CB Brandon Flowers (knee) and TE Antonio Gates (knee).

Head-to-Head Comparison

20.0 (27th) Points Scored 23.9 (14th)
333.0 (27th) Total Offense 423.3 (1st)
109.9 (16th) Rushing Offense 86.4 (29th)
223.1 (22nd) Passing Offense 336.9 (1st)
28.9 (29th) Points Allowd 28.4 (27th)
342.3 (9th) Total Defense 362.9 (19th)
128.0 (29th) Rushing Defense 124.6 (27th)
214.3 (4th) Passing Defense 238.3 (13th)
0 (T-17th) Turnover Ratio -6 (27th)

The Cutler Files

Jay Cutler is coming off a solid outing against the Vikings last week, in which he completed 25 of 33 pass attempts for 211 yards and 1 TD. He didn't light up the scoreboard against Minnesota but his 66.7 completion percentage and 94.4 QB rating were both second highest in any game this season.

More importantly, he did not commit a single turnover - the first time this year he's accomplished that feat. In fact, Cutler has thrown just one interception his past three starts. So while his passing numbers aren't off the charts, his decision-making, pocket presence and overall accuracy are at arguably the highest levels of his career.

And he's done it all with a banged up, patchwork offensive line and a receiver corps that just can't stay healthy.

Under new quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, Cutler is taking incremental steps toward weekly consistency as a game manager. In six starts, he's thrown just four interceptions and has just five total turnovers. His judiciousness with the football cannot be understated in terms of its importance to the offense.

GP/GS Att. Comp. Yds TD INT Rating
Cutler Career vs. Chargers 6/6 228 141 1,527 9 7 81.9

Bears on Offense

Matchups to Watch

WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Jason Verrett
Jeffery is coming off a two-game stretch in which he's combined for 18 receptions, 263 yards and 2 TDs. After missing four games with a hamstring injury, Jeffery has been nearly unstoppable. Jason Verrett has been very good in coverage this season but he's giving up 19.4 yards per reception against, so deep balls have been an issue for him. At 5-10, Verrett is five inches shorter than Jeffery, giving the Bears a distinct advantage on 50/50 balls beyond 20 yards. The Bears will likely do their best to match up Jeffery on CB Brandon Flowers, who has struggled this season (five TDs allowed through eight games) but even against Verrett, Jeffery should have the advantage.

OLB Melvin Ingram vs. OT Kyle Long 
The Chargers rank 18th in the NFL with 15 team sacks. Nearly half of those have come from outside linebackers Melvin Ingram (3.0) and Jerry Attaochu (4.0). DE Corey Liuget has 2.0 sacks and provides occasional pressure up the middle - although he may not play due to a foot injury - but the Chargers depend heavily on their two edge rushers to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Ingram and Attaochu rotate at both ends of the offensive line, meaning right tackle Kyle Long will see a healthy dose of both pass rushers. Long has allowed a team-high three sacks this season and 15 QB hurries (per Pro Football Focus). By comparison, he gave up just 13 QB hurries and no sacks playing every single offensive snap at right guard last year. If Long - as well as either Jermon Bushrod or Charle Leno, whoever starts at left tackle - can't contain San Diego's disruptive outside linebackers, Cutler will struggle to find his rhythm. 

Keys on Offense

-RB Jeremy Langford will make his first career start under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Luckily, he faces one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, a San Diego unit giving up 124.6 yards per game on the ground. The Bears want to see if Langford can handle the full-time load, so expect him to get a Matt-Forte-like 20-plus touches, as the Bears feel comfortable with him on 3rd down and will use him in passing situations. Ka'Deem Carey should also get a handful of touches and, if he makes the most of them, could earn more snaps later in the game, especially if Langford has a slow night. 

-With Eddie Royal out, Marquess Wilson will again resume his role as one of the top two wideouts on offense. It's a role in which Wilson has grown accustomed, as Jeffery and Royal have combined to miss six games this season. Wilson has had four games of 50 yards or more, including back-to-back six-catch, 60-plus-yard games in Weeks 4 and 5. With Jeffery and Royal in the lineup the last two weeks, Wilson has caught just three passes as the club's No. 3 wideout. Yet on Monday night, Wilson should see a healthy uptick in targets, especially with San Diego's defense rolling safety help in Jeffery's direction. Wilson may end up the wildcard in this game if he's able to take advantage of his opportunities. 

-Chargers two-time first-team All-Pro safety Eric Weddle is questionable and could miss his third straight contest because of a groin injury. That should have TE Martellus Bennett licking his chops. Bennett has been a disappointment this year but he's going to continue to get a large share of targets each week. San Diego has already ruled out LB Matei Te'o and if Weddle can't play, that would further soften up the middle of the defense, an area of the field in which Bennett should be able to dominate. 

Bears on Defense

Matchups to Watch

TE Antonio Gates vs. LB Christian Jones
The Bears will use a combination of linebackers and safeties to cover Antonio Gates, who even at 35 is still one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game.

"[Gates] and ... Rivers have great karma," Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week. "They read the option routes. They’re always on the same page. It doesn’t matter how well you run or don’t run. You’ve got to cover the guy and he has a great catch radius. And he and Rivers have been playing catch for a long time. So they’re really good. It puts stress on the linebackers and the safeties, whoever is involved in covering them in the different defenses."

Christian Jones will again be the focal point of Chicago's defense if Shea McClellin is unable to play. In that scenario, Jones will spend a lot of time covering Gates. Jones has been solid in coverage this year, where he makes good use of his size and athleticism. If he can corral Gates, it would go a long way toward limiting this high-octane Chargers passing attack.

OLB Pernell McPhee vs. RT Joe Barksdale
Joe Barksdale is San Diego's best pass blocker, while Pernell McPhee is Chicago's best edge rusher. This is the matchup that will have the biggest impact in terms of how effective the Chargers will be on offense. If McPhee can collapse the pocket regularly, Phillip Rivers won't be able to get comfortable in the pocket, which is important for a player of his caliber.

Keys on Defense

-The Chargers suffered a big blow with the season-ending kidney injury to WR Keenan Allen, who was on a record-breaking pace this year. Gates will pick up some of that slack but he's already one of their top options. That means receivers Malcom Floyd and Stevie Johnson will see a substantial increase in targets going forward. The Bears have the 4th-ranked pass defense but that's all smoke and mirrors. In reality, this secondary hasn't been able to stop anyone and that's unlikely to change this week. Rivers is going to get his but the big key will be turnovers. Chicago's secondary has just one interception this year but if they can find a way to create a few turnovers, the Bears will have a great shot at an upset victory.

-RB Danny Woodhead is short and slow but he's the engine that makes San Diego's offense go. He's extremely dangerous as a pass catcher out of the backfield, which is going to put a lot of stress on Chicago's linebackers on underneath routes. If Woodhead has one of his typical eight-catch games, that will help the Chargers move the chains on a regular basis. The Bears must make sure Woodhead doesn't beat them on third down.

-First-round running back Melvin Gordon has done very little this season. He's averaging just 47 yards per game and has yet to score a touchdown. Yet make no mistake, Gordon is a supremely talented ball carrier with the speed and explosiveness to make a defense pay, especially if they're too focused on stopping Rivers and the passing game. NT Eddie Goldman needs to be a stout inside, while the linebackers must make sure to set the edge and keep Gordon from turning the corner.

Prediction: Bears 27, Chargers 24

The Chargers have a dominant passing attack but that's about all they do well. They can't run, they can't stop the run and their secondary has been overworked. Even their special teams have struggled - San Diego has 1 total punt-return yard this year.

The Bears have improved this season, particularly on defense, and Cutler is playing at a high level. If he keeps the ball out of harm's way, the Bears can pull out the prime-time road victory.

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