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: Are the Bears who we thought they were?

Posted by: under Vikings, Bears, NFC, Packers, Super Bowl, Jared Allen Updated: November 21, 2012 - 10:10 PM
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Chicago at Soldier Field, we asked Jeff Dickerson, who covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN-1000, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
 
1) The Bears are who we thought they were. Or are they?
 
After a 51-20 destruction of Tennessee on Nov. 4, Chicago improved to 7-1 and was receiving plenty of seemingly justifiable praise as a Super Bowl front runner.
 
The Bears defense was legit. Their special teams were delivering consistently. And the offense seemed serviceable at the very least.
 
But now, Chicago has been humbled in consecutive losses to Houston and San Francisco. Which, of course, leads to inevitable skepticism about how good they really are.
 
The Bears’ record this season against teams that currently have winning records: 1-3.
 
“Yes, they beat Indianapolis,” Dickerson said. “But they played them in Week 1 with a rookie quarterback making his first start. So I don’t really count that. The Colts were not the team then that they are now.”
 
And in games against top competition – at Green Bay in Week 2, vs. Houston in Week 10 and at San Francisco this past Monday – the Bears are winless, outscored 68-23.
 
“It’s justifiable to ask, are the Bears really a legitimate contender or did they get fat and happy on a very easy schedule?” Dickerson said. “We’re going to find out there.”
 
Dickerson thinks the Bears defense is “a proven commodity” trying to carry the load for a questionable offense that has yet to prove it can consistently move the ball and score against quality defenses.
 
2) If a deep playoff run is going to happen, the Bears’ defense will propel it.
 
First, an attempt to explain that eye-popping takeaway figure – at 30 and counting through 10 games.
 
“The Bears just expect it,” Dickerson said. “And how do you really expect takeaways when so much of it is just luck and chance? But somehow they do it. And this year, I can’t remember more than one or two times where they’ve missed an opportunity for an interception or a fumble recovery. Every chance that’s come their way, they’re capitalizing.”
 
Cornerback Tim Jennings leads the NFL with eight interceptions. Charles Tillman has forced a league-most seven fumbles.
 
In all, 11 Bears have either had a pick, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery. Five defensive players have scored touchdowns, including Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs, who have each scored twice.
 
Tillman has received the most publicity this season and even had President Obama giving him a nod as Defensive Player of the Year a few weeks ago. Tillman is in his 10th season now, has 36 forced fumbles for his career and continues to be a force.
 
“I appreciate his consistency,” Dickerson said. “And I admire his toughness. The way he forces fumbles, he’s going to change the way the game is played on defense. The punch is going to be a bigger part of the game going forward. So you can call Tillman a trend setter. … But he’s always been this good. He’ll get beat at times. Yet he’s very resourceful, very consistent and so long as he can still run, he’s going to keep playing.”
 
As far as any potential defensive flaws that were exposed by the 49ers in their 32-7 drubbing of Chicago on Monday, Dickerson believes covering tight ends can be an issue at times. San Francisco’s Vernon Davis was targeted eight times and caught six passes for 83 yards, including an early 3-yard TD.
 
3) The Bears’ offensive line has issues. Big ones.
 
Just ask Jason Campbell, whose first start Monday subjected him to six sacks and 11 hits. San Francisco used a four-man rush for almost the entire night and the Bears couldn’t handle it.
 
Then, the 49ers notched their final score on a safety in which they only rushed three and still forced a Campbell fumble.
 
“So five [guys] couldn’t block three,” Dickerson said. “It was pitiful.”
 
The Vikings don’t need an exhaustive search to find evidence that Chicago left tackle J’Marcus Webb can be vulnerable. Remember last season’s finale when Webb provided quarterback Josh McCown little protection from Jared Allen? Allen had 3.5 sacks and was in the backfield all day.
 
There were also the struggles Webb had in Week 2 against Clay Matthews in Green Bay which led to quarterback Jay Cutler’s haughty on-field meltdown and a wave of controversy that took over Chicago for several weeks.
 
But even worse news for the Bears, Webb isn’t the only tackle struggling. Wisconsin product Gabe Carimi, in his second season, has also been a turnstile at times on the right side.
 
Chicago used a first-round pick on tackle Chris Williams in 2008 in hopes of solidifying their offensive front. And that experiment bombed. Now the selection of Carimi in Round 1 last year is looking perilous, too.
 
“The guy was injured most of last year,” Dickerson said. “And he’s a very good run blocker normally. But his pass protection leaves a lot to be desired. So the fear now is whether he’s a bust. I hesitate to throw that label on a guy this early. But the way he’s playing, that’s what people in Chicago are talking about. It’s possible they go into the offseason desperately needing two new tackles and a new left guard.”
 
Go figure. The Bears have a trio of playmakers in Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall that could be as solid as any QB-RB-WR trio in the league and yet they can’t solidify the offensive line.
 
4) Marshall may be the Bears first Pro Bowl receiver since Marty Booker in 2002.
 
The Bears traded for Marshall last March with a belief that his reunion with Cutler could be fruitful and relatively drama-free. So far, so good. Marshall has 69 catches (second best in the NFC) for 925 yards with eight touchdowns. His chemistry with Cutler is obvious. And he’s a weapon defenses have to be aware of at all times.
 
Yes, there’s the occasional emotional flare-up. During Monday’s beatdown in San Francisco, for example, Marshall admitted to becoming overheated with frustration on the sidelines.
 
But the Bears are willing to live with those episodes so long as a) they’re infrequent; and b) Marshall continues to be a force as an outside receiver.
 
Marshall’s three-TD effort against Tennessee was proof of his ability to make big plays. He also had three clutch catches for 28 yards on a game-winning drive in the final minutes against Carolina in Week 8.
 
“He’s a volatile guy and that’s not going to change,” Dickerson said. “When he doesn’t get the ball, he’s not that pleasant to be around. But on the whole, he’s been terrific. He may not have great hands and will drop some passes. But he’s a great receiver. He can go up and get the ball. He’s a reliable playmaker. And I think the Bears are thrilled with how he’s produced.”

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Tennessee 13 FINAL
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
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
New York 97 FINAL
Chicago 103
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Houston 90
Milwaukee 108 FINAL
Sacramento 107
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Golden State 114
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Montreal 1
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 6
Edmonton 3 FINAL
San Jose 4
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
Canisius 60
Temple 82 FINAL
Delaware 62
FIU 58 FINAL
Long Island 69
Lehigh 65 FINAL
Quinnipiac 80
South Alabama 54 FINAL
Richmond 65
Seton Hall 89 FINAL
South Florida 69
Ga Southern 76 FINAL
Stetson 67
Yale 57 FINAL
Vermont 56
Cleveland State 54 FINAL
Virginia 70
Wright State 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 56
Nicholls 54 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 79
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Rider 62
Idaho State 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 75
Oakland City 52 FINAL
Austin Peay 76
Eureka 38 FINAL
Bradley 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Charlotte 75
Connecticut 56 FINAL
Duke 66
Southern Miss 46 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Coastal Carolina 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Montana State 53 FINAL
South Dakota 55
LSU 79 FINAL
UAB 70
Ohio 69 FINAL
Evansville 81
CS-Dominguez 50 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 72
Walla Walla 39 FINAL
Idaho 86
DePaul 59 FINAL
Oregon State 90
Nevada 65 FINAL
Pacific 69
Portland State 40 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Bakersfield 56 FINAL
Utah State 57
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
USC 96
St Francis-PA 52 FINAL
Duquesne 92
Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
IUPUI 95
Delaware State 52 FINAL
Detroit 74
Tenn Temple 48 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 68
West Virginia St 58 FINAL
Radford 52
Fairfield 47 FINAL
Seton Hall 79
Dartmouth 44 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Ball State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 59
Jacksonville 61 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Trine 45 FINAL
Western Mich 81
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Lipscomb 72
Samford 56 FINAL
Tulane 57
New Orleans 55 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Incarnate Word 61 FINAL
TX-Pan American 65
Ark-Little Rock 42 FINAL
South Dakota St 67
CS-Northridge 77 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Santa Clara 88 FINAL
Oregon 92
(19) Oklahoma St 55 FINAL
Weber State 49
Washington 69 FINAL
San Diego State 48
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
New Mexico 84
(10) Louisville 65 FINAL
Grand Canyon 51
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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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