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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Houston 1 Top 7th Inning
Miami 1
Philadelphia 1 Bottom 6th Inning
Minnesota 6
St. Louis 3 Top 6th Inning
Detroit 2
Baltimore 7 Bottom 6th Inning
NY Yankees 1
Boston 7 Bottom 6th Inning
Tampa Bay 5
Toronto 3 Bottom 6th Inning
Pittsburgh 4
Atlanta 1 Top 6th Inning
Toronto 3
Washington 1 Top 7th Inning
NY Mets 6
Chicago Cubs 3:05 PM
Cincinnati
San Diego 3:05 PM
Texas
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Seattle
Colorado 3:05 PM
Chicago Cubs
Cleveland 3:05 PM
Milwaukee
Oakland 3:05 PM
Chicago WSox
Los Angeles 3:10 PM
LA Angels
Kansas City 3:10 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 6:00 PM
Charlotte
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
Golden State 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
Oklahoma City 8:00 PM
Utah
Denver 9:00 PM
Portland
Nashville 4 3rd Prd 9:48
Washington 3
Arizona 0 3rd Prd
Pittsburgh 0
San Jose 2 3rd Prd
Philadelphia 1
Anaheim 3 3rd Prd 17:53
NY Islanders 1
NY Rangers 1 3rd Prd
Boston 4
Tampa Bay 0 2nd Prd
Detroit 0
New Jersey 6:00 PM
Carolina
Florida 6:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Toronto
Los Angeles 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Columbus 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 8:00 PM
Colorado
Dallas 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Arizona 5:09 PM
Wisconsin
Canisius 6:30 PM
NJIT
Notre Dame 7:49 PM
Kentucky
San Jose 2:00 PM
New England
Orlando City 3:00 PM
Montreal
Los Angeles 6:00 PM
D.C.
Sporting Kansas City 6:00 PM
New York City
Red Bull New York 6:30 PM
Columbus
Portland 7:00 PM
Vancouver FC
Colorado 7:30 PM
Houston
Seattle 7:30 PM
FC Dallas
Texas 54 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 105
Dayton 19 1st Half 6:06
(8) Louisville 18
(16) Duke 3:30 PM
(4) Maryland
Gonzaga 6:00 PM
(6) Tennessee
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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 NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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