Tim Yotter: The Patriots, with a 36-7 win, snapped a five-game Chicago winning streak that put the Bears in the divisional driver's seat, but they beat another quality team, the Eagles, in the last month. What was the biggest difference between that loss to New England and win against Philadelphia?
John Crist: You know I like to dig heavily into the Xs and Os of the game, so aside from the Mother-Nature factor, I think the Bears matched up perfectly with the Eagles but terribly against the Patriots. Because Philadelphia features arguably the best deep passing game in the league, with Michael Vick's strong arm and the speed-merchant combo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Chicago's Cover 2 did a tremendous job taking away long throws down the field and forced Vick and Co. to put together 10- and 12-play drives all night long. New England, on the other hand, has unquestionably the premier short passing game in the NFL, which spelled disaster once Tom Brady realized he had all kinds of time in the pocket and could pick that scheme apart with easy completions underneath the linebackers and in front of the safeties.
It's sort of ironic since Vick threw for 333 yards and Brady did only slightly better than that (369), but the perception is that the Bears kept Vick in check but were completely dismantled by Brady – that's a product of the scoreboard.
TY: Obviously, Jay Cutler is playing better this year, but where does he still need to get better to fulfill some of the big promise he brought with him from Denver?
JC: Cutler seems to know how to deal with success, as he has played some of his best football of the season – not necessarily statistically, but more in terms of being efficient and not committing turnovers – when his defense is also performing near the peak of its ability. However, when his defense fails him early, the Bears are behind and everyone in the building knows he's going to be throwing on most every down, that's when he tends to lose patience and makes poor decisions with the pigskin. Especially in the red zone, when he feels six points just a play away, but he ends up firing the ball into double coverage and gets picked off to kill any sense of momentum.
For all the fantasy players out there, when Cutler was asked recently why he isn't putting up the numbers we saw during his career with the Broncos, he was quick to point out that Denver never had a defense like Chicago does and he had no choice but to try and score 30-plus points every week.
TY: The Patriots loss aside, the Bears are still much more accustomed to cold-weather games than the Vikings. If the game is indeed played at TCF Bank Stadium, in which areas do you think it will most favor the Bears, and what has been their reaction to the situation?
JC: The only advantage I see for the Bears if this game is played outside in harsh winter weather is that they're more used to it than the Vikings are, as their home games have been out of the nasty elements for almost three decades now. However, coach Lovie Smith prefers light-and-fast defenders instead of big and strong, which seems to fly in the face of being a cold-city franchise and playing home games outdoors on real grass – with Mike Martz's timing-based offense now in town, both sides of the football seem ill-equipped to play well at Soldier Field in December. Week 14's disaster against the Patriots is the lone evidence you need right now to make that argument.
As for what players were saying in the locker room prior to practice Thursday, both free safety Chris Harris and kicker Robbie Gould were quite vocal about not wanting to be subjected to a surface on the Minnesota campus that is going to be frozen solid and hard as asphalt.
TY: A short question that may require an in-depth answer: What has happened to the successful Chester Taylor from the Vikings?
JC: First of all, he was a better complement for a special back like Adrian Peterson, as Taylor excels at some of the things "All Day" tends to struggle with from time to time, like catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up blitzes to protect his quarterback. Taylor and Matt Forte, on the other hand, are almost identical players. They're decent runners and quality receivers, but neither of them has home-run speed – Forte has had some wheels this year, though – and both of them are below average in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Unfortunately for Taylor, his yards-per-carry average is way down because he's being asked to do the aforementioned short-yardage and goal-line stuff, which is made even tougher by the fact that he's running behind one of the league's worst O-lines.
TY: The Bears defense has been playing well, particularly the rush defense, but I'm curious about Julius Peppers' season so far. It seems like he may have started a bit slower, but his tackles are up in the second half of the season and he has six of his eight sacks in the last four games. What has happened, and is he still being switched from side to side?
JC: The statistics were lying in the first half of the season, when Peppers only had two sacks in his first nine games and people outside Chicago were wondering if he was worth that $91.5 million contract he signed in free agency. But he was still a menace off the edge, getting a ton of quarterback pressures, playing the run better than most expected and allowing Israel Idonije to blossom due to all those one-on-ones he was seeing. Even though the five-time Pro Bowler's numbers look a lot better now than they did at midseason, he's not really doing anything differently – tackles and sacks have finally started to come his way, that's all. And, yes, he's still being switched from side to side liberally during games.
According to Brian Urlacher, who is a former Defensive Player of the Year himself, he feels Peppers is deserving of that honor in 2010.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Tim Yotter is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com.
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