Facing a crucial stretch beginning with Sunday’s home game against the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field in order to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, the Chicago Bears will rely on five key players to find success.
1. QB Josh McCown. McCown returns to lead the Bears offense after Cutler re-injured himself in last week’s loss to Detroit. McCown has demonstrated a veteran’s presence, making smart decisions with the ball and displaying the athletic skills necessary to move around the pocket. He’s been a calming influence on the field and in the locker room, giving many Bears fans a reason to want to ride the hot hand of McCown. He faces a major challenge this week though, facing a Ravens defensive line that exerts considerable pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
2. RB Matt Forte. Less than a week removed from one of his best games, Forte followed it up with one of his worst days as a pro, picking up just 36 yards, a 1.8 yards per carry average, against Detroit.
Forte didn’t get much help from his offensive line, however, he moved tentatively and spent too much time going laterally rather than hitting the hole hard and getting what he could. The Bears need a steady diet of Forte to keep the Baltimore attack unit guessing.
3. Bears offensive line. Lauded by many for a much improved performance in keeping Bears quarterbacks upright and clean, this unit struggled against two top Lions defenders in Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. This week, they’ll be challenged by the likes of Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Haloti Ngata. Center Roberto Garza and guard Matt Slauson struggled last week, while rookie right tackle Jordan Mills is battling a minor injury and may be hitting the rookie wall. The lack of a ground game against Detroit allowed the Lions to aggressively attack, something the Ravens will look to exploit as well if Chicago can’t keep them off balance.
4. CB Zach Bowman. Bowman replaces the injured Charles Tillman, and though he’s been solid in relief, he’ll probably be targeted by Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Bowman can hold up as long as the Bears generate a pass rush, something that’s been rare this season. He’s a decent tackler with size, but prone to biting on play-action fakes and getting beat deep. Look for Baltimore to challenge the Bears downfield and force Bowman and the secondary to make plays.
5. S Chris Conte. Conte played his best game of the season last week against Detroit, a positive sign for a injury-ravaged defense. His tackling still leaves much to be desired, but the Bears need a playmaker in the back end with the loss of Tillman for the balance of the regular season. Baltimore RB Ray Rice is having a subpar year, but remains one of the Ravens key offensive pieces. The Bears will need to stay fundamentally sound and gang tackle the slippery Rice to force Baltimore into passing situations. Conte’s ability to play run support and provide coverage help to either Bowman, Tim Jennings, or to the linebackers, could tell the tale.
Paw Prints: The Bears have elevated DECheta Ozougwu (Cheh-ta Oh-ZOO-Gwoo) to the active roster from the practice squad and waived LB Larry Grant.
The 6-2, 255-pound Ozougwu appeared in two contests for the Bears last season recording two tackles. Ozougwu will wear No. 95. He has been on Chicago’s practice squad this season since September 24…..This will be the fifth meeting between the two clubs. The Bears and Ravens have split the series at 2 wins apiece. Baltimore won the last meeting, 31-7 in the snow in December of 2009, when the Bears committed six turnovers.