Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Behind Enemy Lines: Bears now curious in Josh McCown's long-term potential

Posted by: under Vikings, Bears, NFC, Packers, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen Updated: December 29, 2011 - 9:39 AM

As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game at Mall of America Field, we asked Sean Jensen, who covers the Bears for the Chicago Sun-Times, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know

 
1)      The Bears have nothing at stake this weekend, but plenty to play for.
Like the Vikings, Chicago won’t put a ton of stock in the final result of Sunday’s game. But the Bears will use the regular-season finale to make critical evaluations at key positions. They will look to measure depth at cornerback and on the defensive line. Most of all, they want to see more from quarterback Josh McCown, who spent a chunk of this fall coaching high school football in Waxhaw, N.C., before being signed in November and making his first NFL start in four years last Sunday in Green Bay.
 
McCown played well, completing 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jensen was thoroughly impressed with the quarterback’s arm strength, athleticism and ability to make difficult throws.
 
“This is a key question for the Bears,” Jensen said. “Was Sunday’s game a fluke? Or can McCown come back and have another strong performance? If so, they’d have to seriously look at him as their No. 2 quarterback behind Jay Cutler heading into 2012.”
 
That McCown even has this opportunity is undeniable proof that the Caleb Hanie experiment was a disaster. Hanie made four starts after Cutler went down with a broken thumb and was shockingly inept.
 
Said Jensen: “What you’d expect from any quarterback who’s on an NFL roster for them to make routine throws – the simple outs, the dump offs to the running back. And Caleb Hanie failed to make routine throws. … After training camp and the preseason, I thought he was a very competent No. 2 quarterback. But the thing you have to wonder about is whether he didn’t prepare himself correctly to make that leap into the spotlight.”
 
The curiosity in Chicago now revolves around whether McCown can establish himself as a more reliable insurance policy going forward.
 
2)      The Vikings may be kicking themselves for ever letting Kahlil Bell go.
The Bears’ current starting running back began his career in the Twin Cities, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. But the Vikings cut Bell before that season began.
 
Bell hasn’t exactly emerged as a superstar since landing in Chicago – he has 102 carries over three seasons. But he’s made the most of the opportunities he has gotten. And last week against the Packers he had 23 carries for 121 yards with four catches for 38 yards.
 
“What I like most about him is his cut-back ability,” Jensen said. “He stops on a dime and is able to explode in and out of his cuts. He has pretty good vision. He’s hard to take down. But the quickness he shows in making those cuts is phenomenal.”
 
Bell has been open in discussing his resentment toward the Vikings for not giving him more of a chance to shine. And while he would have had little opportunity to play much behind Adrian Peterson, Jensen can’t help but wonder if Bell would have been worth stashing as a back-up.
 
“You have to wonder if somebody in the Vikings’ organization is asking, ‘What if?’” Jensen said. “They’ve had so many issues trying to find that back-up running back. What if they had Kahlil Bell still there and they didn’t have to draft Toby Gerhart in [2010] and they then had that extra second-round draft pick? Now, heading into their offseason, they have to address the running back position yet again. Because there’s no guarantee Peterson will be ready for the start of 2012.”
 
3)      The Bears have had the wind knocked out of them with a deflating five-game losing streak.
Let’s not forget, in the middle-third of the season, Chicago may have been the second hottest team in football. Starting with a 39-10 destruction of the Vikings in Week 6, the Bears won five consecutive games over quality competition by an average score of 32-17.
 
Yet only a few hours after downing San Diego 31-20 at Soldier Field on Nov. 20, the Bears got word that quarterback Jay Cutler had broken the thumb on his throwing hand.
 
“The team was really rolling,” Jensen said. “The defense was starting to come around after a slow start. Devin Hester was doing what Devin Hester does. And they were putting up 30-plus points per game. They were hot. And then an hour-and-a-half after that San Diego win, the Cutler news comes out and everything started to unravel from that point forward.”
 
Now, the Bears have lost five straight and are out of the playoff chase. They’ve been left shocked, demoralized and feeling as if this was a wasted season with so many major playmakers already deep into their careers.
 
“Particularly on defense, a lot of the key players are into their 30s,” Jensen said. “So that window is closing.”
 
4)      Even without a Pro Bowl invitation, defensive end Julius Peppers can’t be ignored.
The NFC has three worthy Pro Bowl representatives at defensive end in Jared Allen, Jason Babin and Jason Pierre-Paul, three standouts with a combined 52 sacks. So Peppers, with 10 sacks this season, didn’t get snubbed in that regard.
 
The Bears also have three Pro Bowlers on their defense in linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman. But Peppers remains a force, one sack away from joining Allen in the 100-sack club. And admirably, he has played through injuries this season.
 
“I don’t know how he does it,” Jensen said. “It shows you how strong and talented he is. He has, however, slowed down a bit the last few weeks.”
 
In the first meeting with the Vikings, despite playing on a sprained knee, Peppers recorded two sacks and three quarterback hurries.

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Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
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Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 97 FINAL
Portland 104
Houston 115 FINAL
Denver 111
Indiana 100 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
NC A&T 55 FINAL
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
TX A&M-CC 73 FINAL
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
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Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
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Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
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Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
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Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
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New Mexico 76
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Pepperdine 53
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UNLV 75
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Oregon 79
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Washington 86
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Louisiana
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Texas-El Paso
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Colorado State
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Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
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Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
UNLV 84
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NC Central 52 FINAL
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Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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