The Chicago Bears have been much better on offense this season than most of the experts predicted coming out of training camp, although they've taken a step back in recent weeks.
Sure, the Midway Monsters dominated a repugnant Rams team this past Sunday 27-3 in St. Louis, but that was just seven days after getting steamrolled by the Packers 37-3 in Green Bay. The offensive slowdown can be traced back to Week 9, when Kyle Orton sprained his ankle on the last play of the first half against Detroit. Rex Grossman was forced to take over the next six quarters, and Orton hasn't quite been himself since returning to the lineup in Week 11.
That being said, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, the most recent addition to a star-studded defensive line in Minnesota, doesn't see much of a difference in the Chicago passing game now and when he first faced the Bears on Oct. 19.
"It's hard to tell," Allen said via conference call Wednesday at Halas Hall. "Both the St. Louis game and the Green Bay game were pretty one-sided – Green Bay obviously being in favor of Green Bay, and St. Louis being in favor of Chicago. And the run game was pretty prevalent. It doesn't look like it's much different. It looks about the same."
Allen, a Pro Bowler for the Chiefs in 2007 before being acquired by the Vikings this past offseason in exchange for a first-round draft pick plus a pair of third-rounders, is doing well his first season in Minnesota. One year after leading the NFL with 15.5 sacks, the former Idaho State Bengal has 8.0 sacks and a pair of safeties through 11 games. Lining up next to a combo of Pro Bowl defensive tackles, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, has allowed him to see more one-on-one blocking then he'd become accustomed to in Kansas City.
One would think that getting all that help from the Williams Wall up front would make Allen's job much easier, but the transition did have a few bumps in the road.
"It took some getting used to," he said. "In Kansas City, I was used to people playing off of me, just going out there and making plays and doing what I had to do to help our team win the game. And here, it's been nice knowing you've got two guys inside. Sometimes it cuts down on the tackles you get because they're grabbing them up before anybody gets out to you. But it's been a blast, and it's driving me to get better."
Bears fans would love to have a defensive end with Allen's motor chasing enemy quarterbacks, especially since the pressure from the front four has been inconsistent at best. Sure, Tommie Harris and Adewale Ogunleye each registered a pair of sacks against the lowly Rams, but was that more a product of their strong play or the result of a bruised and battered St. Louis offensive line? In Minnesota's first matchup with the Bears back in Week 7, journeyman passer Gus Frerotte put up a season-high 298 yards through the air and looked quite comfortable standing in the pocket.
There has been speculation around the Windy City that many of the Bears' highly-compensated defenders have lost their killer instinct after receiving those monster paydays, although Allen – he signed a contract with Minnesota guaranteeing him a jaw-dropping $31 million after getting dealt – doesn't appear to be motivated by money.
"I think players put more pressure on themselves before they get their contract," said Allen, "and that's why you usually see big numbers in contract years. They're trying to play for that money, I guess. But for me, I put so much pressure on myself to be the best at what I do. The money is nice, but it's not my main focus. It's not my main goal. I've got goals in football that are way bigger than money."
Sunday's evening tilt at the Metrodome could very well decide the NFC North this season. Both the Bears and Vikings sport identical 6-5 records, although Chicago holds a slight edge thanks to a 48-41 shootout victory over Minnesota the first time around. While the Packers are still looming at 5-6, they're going to need some help to get back in the race.
Allen was asked whether or not the loser of Sunday's game can still come back to win the division in the end.
"I don't know," he said frankly. "I'll be honest with you: This is a pretty huge game. This game is going to come down to sole possession of first [place]. I'd say they can, obviously, because there's still four more games to play after this one, but whoever wins this game is going to have a decisive advantage in the NFC North."
The Vikings have played better defense of late and won three of their last four games, although they haven't resembled the Super Bowl contender they were billed to be before the season.
"I'm happy with the way we've played," Allen said. "We can always play better. Until you shut every team out and hold them to minimal yards all around, you've always got room for improvement."
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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