Smith: 'We're a hard combination to beat'

Bears vs. Packers may be the NFC North rivalry that gets the most publicity, but Bears vs. Vikings has produced the most hostility the last few years. Week 3's trash-talking feud between Rex Grossman and Darren Sharper has added some fuel to Week 13's fire. Bears head coach Lovie Smith addressed the media after practice on Thursday, and Bear Report was there to hear what he had to say.

The Chicago Bears (9-2) will face a division opponent for the first time in nine games when the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) come to Soldier Field.

The Bears defeated these same Vikings 19-16 back in Week 3 when Rex Grossman hit Rashied Davis with a 24-yard scoring strike with just 1:58 to play in the fourth quarter. It was the first fourth-quarter touchdown pass of Grossman's career and helped his team sweep the NFC North en route to a 3-0 start to the season. Head coach Lovie Smith can clinch back-to-back division titles with a win on Sunday.

Smith was happy with what he saw on the practice field Thursday and seems to be hopeful for some cold weather come game time.

"We had a good day," Smith said. "Of course, we've finally gotten some good Chicago Bear weather. A good chance to go outside and learn how to move around in those types of conditions. Of course, I talk about how big this game is. After you go on the road three weeks, you just can't wait to come back home and play at Soldier Field, and that's where we are."

The Bears were fortunate to escape with that win earlier in the year at a rambunctious Metrodome, but Smith is hoping the Soldier Field crowd will give his team the upper hand this time around.

"I can recall the last time we went up to Minnesota," Smith remembered. "They're crowd was really into it, and I'm asking our crowd to do the same thing. We're a hard combination to beat. I'm talking about our offense, defense, special teams, and that fourth phase – our fans. Normally they are there from the start screaming and yelling, starting off with the pregame warm-ups to the introduction and then throughout the game. I'm asking the fans to come out and give us as much support as they normally do, and we'll try to do our share."

Smith doesn't necessarily think that a dome team like the Vikings will be at a disadvantage since both teams have to play in the cold, but small adjustments have to be made in order to play well.

"You just have to get used to it as much as anything," he said. "Right now, we don't have coats on. You go outside, [and] you feel the weather. It's a little bit colder. You have to let your body adjust to that a little bit. The field is also wet right now. There's a good chance it will be slippery and things like that. It's a good chance for the quarterbacks to get some practice throwing a heavy ball, the receivers to catch that heavy ball, and for the DBs to learn how to plant and drive, get their feet underneath them on a wet surface. All of those things."

Incredibly, the Bears are tops in the league in forced fumbles (16) and second to Baltimore in interceptions (17). Smith's cover-two defensive scheme is predicated not only on takeaways but turning those takeaways into points. The Bears are the only team in the NFL to force at least two turnovers in every game this season and forced five from New England last Sunday in Foxborough.

Smith has seen his share of turnover-happy defenses throughout his career, but he was asked if this is the best team he's ever seen at taking the ball away.

"It would be hard for me to say yes on that," he admitted. "One year when we were in St. Louis, we had 46 takeaways. But our team right now, it's fun watching them. I think we've gotten at least two every game. That's hard to do. Sometimes you have a big game and [then] you don't have any, but they've been consistent throughout. If you come to our practice, though, you'll see the same thing. It's not like it's happening by chance. I haven't seen a lot of turnovers in there. I mean they've been takeaways. It is definitely fun to watch."

The Arizona Cardinals completely abandoned the running game last Sunday against the Vikings, as rookie quarterback Matt Leinart threw the ball 51 times and amassed 405 yards passing. All this despite the presence of Edgerrin James in their backfield, he of the four 1,500-plus yard rushing seasons and $30 million free agent contract. Tom Brady and the Patriots spread Minnesota out with four- and five-receiver sets back in Week 8 and shredded a secondary that ranks 31st defending the pass.

Smith was asked if he still wants to be a running football team when facing a team that stops the run so well.

"You say we want to be a running football team," he repeated. "No, we are a running football team. We run the football each week. We'll run the football this week. It's as simple as that. We don't really care what's happened in the past with other people and what they do. We're a running football team. Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson. We run the football."

Blasphemous as it may be to compare Jones and Benson to Sayers and Payton, Smith's running game has emerged as one of the best in the league. The rushing attack will be tested on Sunday because the Vikings surrender just 56.6 yards per game on the ground. They may be short-handed, however, with mammoth defensive tackle Pat Williams listed as doubtful with a knee injury.

JC

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