Lovie Smith has to decide who his quarterback will be Sunday in Seattle, but he also sounds like a coach prepared to make adjustments to a sputtering running game that has exhausted his patience.
For now, Brian Griese's left shoulder injury is being called a sprain, and there's a good chance his condition could make the quarterback decision an easy one for Smith. Bears players who have been unable to finish games in the past have rarely played the following week.
"Whenever you don't finish the game, you are concerned about it," Smith said. "I don't know if [Griese] will practice Wednesday, if he'll be able to go this weekend or anything like that."
If Griese is healthy enough to play, the quarterback question becomes more interesting.
"If he's cleared medically," Smith said of Griese, "he should be ready to go."
But Smith later backed off a tad, stopping short of promising the next start to Griese, who has started six games since Rex Grossman was benched after the third game.
"If [Griese] is cleared medically," Smith said, "then we'll go from there."
The situation, for now, is as clear as mud.
"It's unclear who's going to start Sunday," admitted Smith, who said he doesn't have to make a decision until just before game time. "We finished with two guys that could play [vs. the Raiders], Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, so that's really what we're dealing with right now."
Grossman has the momentum of a game-winning, 59-yard touchdown pass and a passer rating of 109.8 against the Raiders, the highest by a Bear since his 114.4 against the Rams last Dec. 11.
"I like what Rex did in the game," Smith said. "Whenever you come in like that in a hostile environment and lead your team to a win, you have to take notice, and I definitely took notice.
"It showed that Rex has been paying attention. All of the players that you dress, you assume that they're ready to go in, and that's how it was with Rex. But Rex has prepared that way. You're disappointed when you're not the starter, but you have to prepare like you could end up coming in and playing, and that's what he's done, and I think that's what we saw from the way he played."
Whoever lines up at quarterback, he will be dealing with a running attack that hasn't done much to take the pressure off the passing game. The Bears are 30th out of 32 teams in rushing yards with an average of 78.8 per game. They are dead last with an average gain of 3.0 yards per carry, and they remain the only team in the league without a run of at least 20 yards.
Cedric Benson's average is down to 3.0 yards after a disappointing 29-carry effort vs. the Raiders that produced just 76 yards, a 2.6-yard average and a long gain of nine yards. And that was against a Raiders team that has allowed as many yards per carry (4.8) as any team in the league. Only three teams have allowed more rushing yards per game than Oakland's 144.2.
"We're not pleased with where our running game is right now," Smith said. "I know you guys (the media) are going to ask me about the yards per carry, and I'm going to say we need to improve that, too.
"But what I do like about the running game is the amount of carries (34) we had. That normally will put us in position to hit some big passing plays, which led to the win at the end of the football game."
But when a team averages just 3.0 yards per carry, it only has the luxury of running the ball 34 times when its defense is dominating the opponent as the Bears did in Oakland. The Bears might be able to live with getting 3.0 yards per carry from Benson, but only as long as the defense allows just six points per game.
So how about more carries for backup Adrian Peterson?
"Whenever you dress three running backs, you assume that you could use all three of them," Smith said. "They all do some good things. We're not pleased with our running game. We need to make improvement with it – Adrian, Cedric and Garrett [Wolfe], also."
It's hard to blame Peterson, who's averaging 4.4 yards per carry but has just one more carry all season than Benson got against the Raiders. Wolfe lost four yards on his only carry in Oakland and has rushed just six times all season for a total of two yards.
NOTES & QUOTES
DE Adewale Ogunleye couldn't have picked a better time to come up with a huge effort.
DE Adewale Ogunleye
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
He tied his personal best with three sacks Sunday, vaulting him into a tie for the team lead at seven with Tommie Harris and helping keep the Raiders out of the end zone in a game the Bears had to win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
"When you need to make a run, you need your best players to step up," head coach Lovie Smith said. "You need guys who are your captains leading you, and that's what Wale did. He stepped up and made big plays. He's capable of playing that way, and we'll need that type of play in this stretch."
Still a postseason longshot at 4-5, the Bears know they need to run off a string of victories to have a chance at the playoffs after a poor start that left them in a difficult position but not yet out of contention.
"The biggest thing is not to lose confidence in yourself," said Ogunleye, who is on pace to better his sack total of 10 in 2005 – his best as a Bear. "There's always going to be downers in life, but we have to rally together, fight together and good things will happen."
Ogunleye has been much more than a pass-rush threat for the Bears this season. He led the team's defensive linemen by a wide margin with 34 tackles after eight games, and he led the way again against the Raiders with six solos.
"He had a great game, and he's a great player for us," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "He really came to work last week and during the open date, as did all the defensive players and they did a great job."
Ogunleye said the Bears still have a long way to go to rebound from their 2-4 start. But if he and the defense continue to play as effectively as they did in limiting the Raiders to just 193 total yards and taking the ball away three times, he said they'll have a chance in every game.
"We're still in the corner we've been talking about the past four or five weeks," the seven-year veteran said. "I'm sure there's stuff we've got to get better on. But we got some turnovers today, which was huge for us. That's something that we need to build on. We have to get a streak going." …
The Bears still can't run the ball, even against the Raiders, who came in with the third-worst run defense in the NFL, allowing 152.5 yards per game.
The Bears needed 34 attempts to get 78 yards on the ground, staying in line with their 78.9-yard average.
"I'm sure they were pretty determined to pick up their run defense [since] everybody's been getting good yards on them," said Cedric Benson, who got 29 carries but just 76 yards (2.6-yard average). "It's what most teams come in and do against them. We came in wanting to do the same thing. We didn't get the type of numbers we wanted, but we managed the game and stayed in it." …
Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin said early in the week his team would kick to Devin Hester, and it did, with great success.
The Raiders challenged Hester and the Bears' return team, and the Raiders won. The NFL's leading punt returner totaled 14 yards on six Shane Lechler punts, and he added just 34 yards on two kickoff returns. Hester heaped praise on the Raiders special teams after they heaped tacklers on him.
"It just seemed like they wanted it [more] than us," Hester said. "Every kickoff, every punt, their guys gave 110 percent. We've got to go in and watch film and see what our mistakes were and try to get better for next week."
Hester said he was surprised at first the Raiders went through with their challenge, and he said their early success gave them added confidence.
"The more their coverage teams showed that they could come down and contain our return game, I said [to myself], 'Well, they're going to continue to kick it to you.' They played a better special teams game than we did."
The only time Hester was able to break free, on a 64-yard punt return late in the third quarter, it was called back because of a holding penalty on Brendon Ayanbadejo.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
QB Rex Grossman is expected to start Sunday vs. the Seahawks after replacing injured Brian Griese (sprained left shoulder) in the Week 10 victory over the Raiders. Grossman's 59-yard TD pass with 3:11 left beat Oakland. … QB Brian Griese's condition has not been updated, except for coach Lovie Smith calling the injury to his left shoulder a sprain. But, since Griese could not return to the game after the second-quarter sack that sidelined him, chances are he won't be available this week. … LB Hunter Hillenmeyer remained on the field in most nickel situations Sunday, and he responded with an unofficial team-best seven tackles. The Bears usually bring in nickel CB Ricky Manning Jr. to replace Hillenmeyer in passing situations. … RB Adrian Peterson could play a bigger role in the run game, which continues to stumble with Cedric Benson averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. Peterson, a career backup, has averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first five seasons. … CB Trumaine McBride, a seventh-round pick who started his fourth game in Week 10, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble and held Raiders WR Jerry Porter to two catches for 22 yards.
REPORT CARD VS. RAIDERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus – The aerial attack was lethargic for most of the game, first with starter Brian Griese, and then with Rex Grossman, who came on in relief after Griese suffered a sprained left shoulder. But the frequently maligned Grossman came through with a perfectly thrown 59-yard TD pass to Bernard Berrian (four catches, 89 yards) for the winning points with 3:11 remaining. WR Muhsin Muhammad (four catches, 87 yards) had his biggest yardage game of the season.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus – Thirty-four carries produced just 78 yards (2.3 yards per carry) against one of the NFL's worst run defenses, including 29 carries and 76 yards by Cedric Benson. The Bears' long run of the day was just 9 yards, a problem all season for a team with a long run of just 16 yards through nine games.
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus – The Bears allowed just 80 net passing yards. The Raiders' longest completion all day was just 14 yards, and the Bears sacked Josh McCown four times, three by DE Adewale Ogunleye, and intercepted him once (Danieal Manning). McCown completed just 14 of 27 passes. Ogunleye got a strip on his last sack, which gave the Bears the ball at the Raiders 3-yard line and set up the clinching TD.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus – Take away a 24-yard run by McCown on the first snap of the game off an option play, and the Bears allowed just 89 yards on 28 carries, including 81 yards on 23 carries by Justin Fargas, who also lost a fumble.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus – Devin Hester was shut down by the long kickoffs of Sebastian Janikowski and long punts by Shane Lechler, coupled with outstanding coverage by the Raiders. Hester had 14 yards on six punt returns and 34 yards on two kickoff returns, but he had a 64-yard punt return nullified by a holding call. The Bears coverage units played well.
COACHING: C – The Bears stuck with the running game, even though the numbers were unimpressive, and that helped manage the game and keep the defense fresh enough to shut down the Raiders and keep them out of the end zone. SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer played more snaps in nickel at the expense of nickel CB Ricky Manning Jr., and the ploy worked exceptionally well, considering the Raiders' 80 passing yards. The running game still needs major improvements.
- Comparing Urlacher to Butkus and Singletary
- "New" Soldier Field vs. "Old" Soldier Field
- Reliving the 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980
- An excerpt from Cindi Dammann's Tailgating Tales
- Getting to know LB Jamar Williams
All of that plus much more in the latest issue of ...
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