So will they or won't they?
When the Chicago Bears look to complete the home-and-home series sweep over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Soldier Field, will they attempt to do it their traditional way with a healthy dose of Thomas Jones or will they follow the lead of New England, Miami, and even Arizona and play an NFL version of arena football where the running game is all but abandoned?
The New England Patriots got the anti-rush ball rolling by throwing 43 times while running just 14 en route to routing the Vikings. A few weeks later, Miami did the same in a win over the Vikings by launching an air assault with 42 passes complemented by 14 runs. Arizona waved the white flag in their backfield just moments after kickoff and attempted 51 passes and just five runs.
So, again, we ask the question: Will Chicago run, or will they instruct quarterback Rex Grossman to throw early and often?
"We normally do what we do," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "You know where we are as a football team. Now within our system, of course, you have to be able to lean toward your pass if that's what's working during that night or day. Right now you look at the Vikings, and I think they're leading the league as far as stopping the run, run defensively, yards per carry and just yards per game, so that poses some problems for us when we're a running football team, but we'll keep all of our options open."
Vikings head coach Brad Childress expects to see more of the same, a wide-open brand of football that will force Minnesota to shore up their nonexistent pass rush and stop the big play.
"I know Lovie… From his perspective he'd like to be able to run the football, but he knows you can't run it all the time," Childress said. "You have to be able to move it through the air as well. They are typically a more balanced team. Do I expect to see any empty sets or Grossman in shotgun? Yeah, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't."
Safety Darren Sharper expects to see more of the same. "I wouldn't be surprised if they came out and passed like Arizona did," he said.
Unlike Bears teams of the past, the Bears have a potent aerial attack. Chicago has a dual threat of big-play receivers in Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian. Muhammad has 46 catches for 632 yards and four touchdowns; Berrian has 32 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Desmond Clark, a historical thorn in the Vikings' side, has 33 catches for 447 yards and four touchdowns.
They have a balanced attack. Jones has rushed for 945 yards (4.0 average) and four touchdowns. The Bears covet the opportunity to win the ground game and dominate time of possession.
"I think they're really going to come out and try to establish the run," linebacker Ben Leber said. "I think that's their mentality and that's the mentality of this division. We expect them to come out running. First and foremost it's about the run and once we stop that we'll have to stop the pass."
But considering the Vikings run defense is tops in the league and their pass defense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams, the Bears might want to launch an air attack.
"At this point, I imagine teams will do that," linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "Earlier this season I wouldn't have thought (opponents) would do that but now, yeah, I can see them doing this the rest of the season."
Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas thinks the 31st ranking is misleading.
"When you come in and a team like Arizona runs the ball four or five times you can look at the stats and see we're last in passing but we're seeing more pass attempts per game by any team by far and then they don't run," Thomas said. "We'll see how it goes. If they keep coming at us with the pass we'll keep doing our thing and trying to get the ball into the offense's hands as soon as possible.
"Our name precedes us. We always talk about stopping the run first and that's what we do. That's why a lot of teams are coming at us from a different angle and we might see that from here on out."
Opinions Vary on Bears' Expectant Strategy
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