Bears vs. Dolphins: What to Watch for Sunday

The 7-0 Bears will take on the curiously 1-6 Dolphins on Sunday. The Monsters of the Midway have exceeded expectations so far in 2006 and look to be the team to beat in the NFC, while Miami has been an utter disappointment all season long. Here are 10 things to watch for at Soldier Field as we hit the halfway point of the campaign.

1. Is Rex Grossman all the way back from the Arizona game?
Grossman was nothing short of awful a few Mondays ago in the desert, completing just 14 of 37 passes against an unspectacular Cardinals defense and turning the ball over a ridiculous six times. Back at the friendly confines of Soldier Field last Sunday against the 49ers, the former Gator once again looked like the quarterback that was getting MVP consideration around the league, hitting 23-of-29 for 252 yards and a trio of TD passes. Grossman's passer rating at home is a fiery-hot 124, but he's also faced four soft defenses along the lakefront so far. Miami may be a disappointing 1-6, but they are still a very solid defensive team and currently 4th in the NFL defending the pass. If the offensive line continues to protect him so well – Grossman didn't hit the turf once against San Francisco – he should continue to succeed.

2. Is Mark Anderson already Lawrence Taylor reincarnated?
If there was one position that the Bears probably needed the least amount of help coming into this season, it was along the defensive line. But proving that there is no such thing as having too many talented players, Anderson, a fifth-round pick out of Alabama, leads the team with 7.5 sacks. He has at least one sack in four consecutive games and was just named the NFC Rookie of the Month for October. The Bears matched a contract offer from Buffalo after `05 to keep reserve defensive end Israel Idonije in Chicago, but Anderson is starting to squeeze Idonije out of the rotation behind Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. GM Jerry Angelo has been very impressive finding defensive talent in the later rounds of the NFL Draft, and Anderson already looks to be another success story.

3. Can Thomas Jones continue to keep Cedric Benson on the sideline?
For a while there, it appeared that the Bears had a running-back-by-committee situation brewing. Although Jones was obviously the starting tailback, Benson was beginning to get more and more action earlier and earlier in games. But the last three dates at Soldier Field, Jones has 24, 21, and 23 carries while Benson got only one carry in Arizona and eight last week, most of them in garbage time. Benson may in fact be the more talented player, but the coaching staff has 100% faith in what Jones brings to the offense. Sometimes it seems that Benson is only getting action in the early going to keep him happy and quiet, but when it's crunch time, Jones seems to be the guy from start to finish.

4. How extra motivated will Adewale Ogunleye be on Sunday?
Ogunleye came to Miami as an undrafted free agent from Indiana. Just three seasons later, he was the AFC leader with 15 sacks. Unable to come to terms on a much deserved contract extension, the former Hoosier was traded to the Bears for Marty Booker and a draft pick that eventually became talented linebacker Channing Crowder. This will be Ogunleye's first opportunity to play against the Dolphins, so he has been a popular target for the media this week up at Halas Hall. Even if he doesn't necessarily exude a little more effort than usual on Sunday, it might appear that way because the Miami offensive line is in shambles right now.

5. Can Desmond Clark keep up his blistering pace?
Clark had another big game last week, leading the team with six catches for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He is starting to generate some buzz as a Pro-Bowler this season, and deservedly so. Based on the numbers, he's arguably the most productive tight end in the NFC. And not only has he been a real weapon for Grossman, he's also a fantastic blocker and can essentially be a third tackle in the running game. Miami defends the pass very well, but if Clark can occupy the middle of the field, he can make life much easier for the likes of Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian on the outside.

6. How will Todd Johnson respond to a second consecutive start?
Johnson will be in there for the long haul with Mike Brown on injured reserve for the rest of the season. The hard-hitting safety played pretty well last week, forcing two fumbles in a victory over the 49ers. As expected, he was solid in run support but wasn't challenged too much by the San Francisco passing game. Joey Harrington put the ball in the air a silly 62 times last time out, and with tailback Ronnie Brown almost assuredly to be neutralized on the ground, look for the Dolphins to fly the friendly skies once again. Receiver Chris Chambers and tight end Randy McMichael are players that can give Johnson trouble, so it will be interesting to see if he's up to the task.

7. Will the passing game continue to be so evenly distributed?
Logic says that you have to have an alpha dog receiver who can beat double-teams and come up with a big third-down catch in the two-minute drill. Muhammad was brought in from Carolina to be that guy, and while he's shown flashes of still being the No. 1 target through the air, Grossman has done an incredible job of sharing the wealth. Muhammad leads the team with 32 receptions on the season, but both Berrian and Clark are right on his heels with 26 apiece. All three have had big games so far, making it especially tough on opposing defensive backs to focus on just one of them. If Grossman continues to take what is given to him and only take chances when the odds are in his favor, expect to see the ball spread around very liberally.

8. Can the Bears keep getting pressure on the QB without blitzing?
Ron Rivera's warriors are currently 8th in the NFL in sacks with 21 in seven games. Much more impressive, the overwhelming majority of those QB takedowns have come at the hands of his defensive front. It's one thing to get sacks via blitzing corners and safeties, but that approach will leave a defense exposed and prone to giving up big plays. Linebacker Lance Briggs has the lone sack on the season that was not produced by a D-lineman. Harrington has been much better avoiding pressure than Daunte Culpepper was when he was under center, but Miami's offensive line should be overmatched on game day.

9. Any chance the Bears have a letdown with a big road trip looming?
The Bears will make or break their season in Weeks 10-12 when they play the Giants, Jets, and Patriots away from Soldier Field. Not every club in the NFL is forced to play three consecutive road games, much less three straight trips out East for a Midwest team. Week 10 in New York will have extra significance considering it was moved to Sunday Night Football on NBC and could very well determine home-field advantage in the NFC this postseason. But after the Week 6 near-disaster in Arizona, don't expect to see Lovie Smith's club looking ahead. They should be ready to take care of business at home and move to 8-0.

10. Will the Dolphins ruin an undefeated season again just like 1985?
Unless they bring back Dan Marino and get an Irish-lucky deflected touchdown catch by Nat Moore, don't expect it to happen.

JC


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