Bears wide receivers have had a problem recently with shrinkage – not in size, but in production.
Not once in the past three games – two of them losses – have the Bears' wide receivers combined for more than 70 yards. They also have not scored a touchdown in three straight games.
In each of the six previous games – four of them wins – the Bears got at least one touchdown from a wide receiver, and the group combined for over 100 yards each week, averaging 145 yards per game.
"We need to play better in the passing game. Especially in the second half [last week], we didn't play all that well," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "We just have to come back and have a great week of practice, and we'll get back on track."
The 6-5 Bears hope that happens Sunday night at the Metrodome, where they meet the 6-5 Vikings with first place in the NFC North at stake.
But Rashied Davis has exactly one catch in each of the past three games. Marty Booker hasn't caught a pass since Oct. 19. Devin Hester has 10 receptions in the past three weeks but for just 118 yards. Brandon Lloyd has three catches for 20 yards in the two weeks since he returned from a sprained knee.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner was asked if opponents have focused on taking the wide receivers out of the equation lately or if the Bears had made an effort to spread the ball around.
"Probably a combination of both," Turner said. "The way Green Bay plays and played us, they basically had press coverage on them with safeties over the top, so we knew we were going to have to go to our tight ends and backs more than we had been. We never really got in sync. We didn't get first downs and get going. So part of it's what they did, and part of it's our execution.
"Last week it was more our execution. We hit some things, but we missed some opportunities that we had to make some plays. So we've got to clean some things up and play better."
Orton thinks the problem can be solved with more attention to detail.
"I can't really point at one thing, just lack of execution," he said. "It's shown all year that when we execute and do the right things and do our job, we score points. And we have to get back to it."
And in a hurry, since almost nobody runs well on the Vikings. Minnesota's stout front four is anchored by twin terrors Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, who are the main reasons the Vikings are No. 2 in rushing defense in the NFL. But opponents have been successful throwing against the Vikings, who are No. 22 in passing yards allowed and No. 25 in interceptions but No. 6 in sack percentage.
Orton threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns in the 48-41 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field with a passer rating of 114.5, the second highest of his career. Orton isn't expecting another offensive shootout, but he wouldn't hate it.
"I don't see it going that way," he said, "but if it does, we'll be ready to go and hopefully we can score a lot of points."
To do so, they'll need to throw the ball effectively. The Vikings have held eight of 11 opponents to less than 80 yards on the ground, including the Bears, who struggled for just 53 yards on 22 attempts in the first meeting.
Conversely, four of the Vikings' past five opponents have thrown for more than 250 yards, including the Bears in their 48-41 victory, when wide receivers caught 8 passes for 125 yards, including Booker's 51-yard TD. Tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark combined for 9 catches and 133 yards in that game. But that was five weeks ago.
"The precision hasn't been there the last couple of weeks," Turner said. "We've got to get that back."
NOTES & QUOTES
"That was what we like to call a 'toe pick,' " Briggs said, laughing. "My toe got caught on the ‘ice,' and I fell. I don't know what happened. I tripped – poor return on my part."
But most of the day was anything but poor for Briggs and the defense, which allowed just 207 total yards and a season-low 3 points.
"Whatever it was that we wanted to do, we were able to do [last Sunday], and that's what we need to continue for the next five games," Briggs said. "It's going to be critical if we want to win these next five games to bring the right kind of energy – not only a want-to but a can-do, dominant attitude. We're going to have to be aggressive, be physical, and we have to take the ball away."
The Bears' four interceptions Sunday tied their team high. Briggs downplayed his two picks. He intercepted the first one while falling to the ground after the pass was tipped by Brian Urlacher.
"I was in the way of the ball when they threw it," he said. "That's really it. When you play your techniques the way you're supposed to, things happen." …
Orton put the overblown interest in the "Wildcat" formation in perspective.
"I think people make too big a deal of it," Orton said. "It's just another formation, just a different look you can give the defense and make them prepare for something. It's not rocket science by any means."
The Bears ran the gimmick, in which a player other than the quarterback lines up in the backfield and takes a direct snap from the center, in St. Louis for the first time. Devin Hester picked up 12 yards, and Matt Forte gained 4.
"It worked both times we did it," Orton said. "We have some great athletes that can get in the backfield, and [we] get them the ball and see what they can do with it."
The Bears don't call it "Wildcat," by the way. When Hester gets the ball it's called "Cane," as in the Miami Hurricanes, his college team. When Forte gets the call, the play is "Cajun," because he's from Louisiana and attended Tulane. …
Despite starting just four games this season, Graham, a fifth-round draft choice in 2007 out of New Hampshire, is sixth on the Bears with 51 tackles.
"Corey's played a lot of football," head coach Lovie Smith said. "We feel comfortable with him playing, as we do with Trumaine McBride, so we have a couple other guys that have played a little bit of ball. It's still hard when you lose your starter, a guy like Nate. But it's a long year. Injuries happen."
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