Bears at Rams: What to Watch for on Monday

The Bears (10-2) head to the Edward Jones Dome to face the Rams (5-7) in prime time action. Once again, the quarterbacks will be the lead story as Rex Grossman might be getting his final chance to clean up his act, and Marc Bulger plays for the first time since calling out his own teammates. Here are 10 things to watch for on Monday Night Football in St. Louis.

1. Will this finally be the game when Rex Grossman is benched?
Grossman got off to a red-hot start this season and had Bears fans almost convinced that he was the franchise quarterback they so desperately wanted. Almost. The former Gator has come back to reality the last few games, highlighted by an embarrassing display last week against the Vikings that produced an anemic 1.3 passer rating. Veteran backup Brian Griese has been saying the right things all season long, and head coach Lovie Smith might finally cave if Grossman has a poor first half against the Rams. Fortunately for Chicago, St. Louis is porous against the run - 31st in the league. Even though this game will be won with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson on the ground, another stinker for No. 8 just might be enough to cost him his job.

2. How will the Rams respond to Marc Bulger's criticism?
Bulger is having a very good season directing the St. Louis offense, but he has been beaten up all season long. He's been sacked 41 times and seems to be peeling himself off the turf more and more often lately. After a demoralizing home loss to the Cardinals last Sunday, the usually reserved Bulger boiled over to the media and questioned the desire of his teammates. It's quite possible that his team will respond and give the Bears everything they can handle before a prime time audience. However, they might also completely implode and lose every remaining game on their schedule.

3. Will Cedric Benson start to shoulder more of the load?
Although Jones is having a great season and will probably pass the 1,000-yard plateau in this game, Benson has looked like the better running back the last few contests. Jones has carried the ball 247 times as opposed to Benson's 98, so Benson probably has the fresher legs after 12 games. He showed some serious burst last Sunday against the Vikings when he bolted around right end and scored from 24 yards out, his fifth touchdown of the season. Jones will still be the starter because he has done nothing to lose his spot on the depth chart, but look for Benson to get more carries in the second half if the Bears have a lead. Jones can do more things in terms of catching the football and picking up the blitz, but in terms of straight-ahead power running, Benson has been too impressive to ignore.

4. Is the secondary in trouble if Nathan Vasher can't play?
The Rams have had their fair share of troubles on both sides of the ball, but as usual, they can still throw it with the best of them. They are currently seventh in the league in passing and would be even better if not for those 41 sacks. Bulger has an impressive passer rating of 90.2, and the combination of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce continues to be one of the better receiving tandems in football. The Bears are already drastically thin at safety after losing Mike Brown for the season and the recent injury to his backup, Todd Johnson. Nickelback Ricky Manning Jr. will start at corner if Vasher can't go, so look for the Rams to employ lots of three-and four-wide sets because they have to like their chances against the likes of Chris Harris and Dante Wesley in coverage.

5. Will we ever see Desmond Clark again?
GM Jerry Angelo took some heat for not grabbing a young tight end in the NFL Draft this past April, but the play of Clark in the early going made everyone forget about that. However, since racking up 86 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers in Week 8, he's been way too quiet. Clark caught just three passes for 38 yards a week later against the Dolphins and hasn't had more than two receptions in any game since. Grossman seemed to be playing his best earlier in the season when his veteran tight end was an integral part of the offense. If he can get back to taking what the defense gives him and quits forcing the ball into coverage, Clark should start to produce again.

6. Is there any way Tommie Harris can be replaced?
Harris is a one-of-a-kind talent and just might be the best defensive tackle in football, so replacing him is an impossible task. Tank Johnson will move over to play his three-technique tackle while Ian Scott starts again at nose tackle. Israel Idonije should get some more time in the interior, and youngster Antonio Garay will certainly be active on game day for just the second time in 13 games. Harris might not have been making many plays the last month or so, but he continually commanded double-teams and gave his line mates favorable one-on-one matchups. If the likes of Alex Brown and Mark Anderson are silenced on Monday night, the loss of Harris will probably be a big reason why.

7. Is Steven Jackson primed to have a field day running the ball?
Marshall Faulk was the focal point back when the Rams were still 'The Greatest Show in Turf', but in his absence, Jackson has emerged as a stud this season. He's gone over 1,000 yards for the second time and even leads the team with 72 receptions. He only had 62 catches combined his first two years in the league, proving just how far he has come as a recevier out of the backfield. It's no secret that the Bears have been beaten up on the ground, highlighted by the 192 yards that Minnesota totaled last Sunday. And now with Harris possibly out for the rest of the season due to knee and hamstring injuries, stopping the run could be the Achilles' heel that comes back to bite the Bears defense.

8. Can the Bears get to the quarterback again?
The Bears have done very little blitzing this season because the front four had been doing a wonderful job of creating pressure on their own. That being said, the group had been in a bit of a slump before breaking out against the Vikings last week with three sacks. The Rams have all kinds of holes along their offensive line with starters Andy McCollum and Orlando Pace lost for the season on injured reserve. Bulger has hit the deck 41 times this season, a product of a passing scheme that rarely keeps tight ends and running backs in to block. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is going to need linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher to help in coverage, so for the most part, the D-line will once again be asked to do the dirty work on their own.

9. Can Devin Hester possibly do it again?
He may not be the most high profile rookie in the league, but few have made a more immediate impact than Hester. The Miami product set a Bears record - and tied the NFL mark - with his third punt return for a touchdown last Sunday against Minnesota. When you include that 108-yard missed field goal return TD against the Giants in Week 10, he's scored four times on returns this season - tying another NFL record. One more may be too much to ask since opposing teams will go out of their way to kick away from him the rest of the year, but anything is possible on the lightning-fast turf at the Edward Jones Dome. He's also officially taken over for Rashied Davis on kickoff returns, so he'll be getting even more opportunities with the ball in his hands.

10. Will the Bears re-establish themselves as the best team in the NFC?
Despite having by far the best record in the conference all season long, the struggles of Grossman and the offense have many experts thinking the Bears could be one-and-done in the playoffs again. And with the Cowboys hitting their stride ever since the move from Drew Bledsoe to Tony Romo, Dallas looked prime for a Super Bowl run. But the Saints just hammered the Cowboys in Irving 42-17 on Sunday. If the Bears can get their passing game straightened out and improve defending the run, they'll have as good a chance as any team to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLI. A convincing win against an inferior St. Louis team would be a major step in the right direction.


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