Our Early Look at da Bears …
Next up: The Vikings (8-5) and Bears (5-8) play at noon Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. They met Nov. 1, with kicker Blair Walsh kicking a 36-yard field goal as time expired to give the Vikings a 23-20 win, their first in Chicago since 2007.
Rankings: Offense 17th (350.2). Rushing 15th (113.5). Passing 20th (236.7); Defense 12th (341.5). Rushing 26th (125.7). Passing 2nd (215.8).
Points: Offense 22nd (20.9); Defense 18th (24.2).
Turnovers: T-21 (Minus-2). The Bears have 14 takeaways. Only five teams have fewer. They have even fewer interceptions (7) than the Vikings (8). Only four defenses have fewer than seven picks. The Bears have 16 giveaways. They’ve thrown the same number of interceptions (8) as the Vikings.
Did you know?: The Bears rank 30th in the league in average yards per carry (3.8). Matt Forte, who was injured early in the first Vikings-Bears game, is averaging 3.96 yards on 182 carries. Jeremy Langford has averaged only 3.5 on 113 carries.
Good Jay, Bad Jay: Ten years and 133 games into his career and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler remains a riddle to which no one knows the ending. Is he an elite quarterback who isn’t living up to expectations? Or is he an average quarterback who flashes occasionally? He’s 66-65 as a starter in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs. He has progressed in Year 1 under John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase. His interceptions are down to seven from a league-leading 18 a year ago. His sacks are down to 19 from 38. His passer rating ranks 17th (92.2), but is higher than his career rating of 85.8.
The last time: In the first meeting this year, Cutler completed 22 of 33 passes for 211 yards, a 21-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, no turnovers and a 94.4 rating. He also knocked over safety Harrison Smith at the goal line on a 4-yard touchdown run. Jeffery was targeted 15 times, catching 10 passes for 116 yards.
Teddy’s Time: When Cutler ran for his touchdown, the Bears led 20-13 with 4:55 left. From that point, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had struggled, completed 6 of 8 passes for 106 yards, a touchdown and 10 points in two drives. The defense also posted a three-and-out that took only 49 seconds off the clock.
Key injuries: 3-4 outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was a dynamic playmaker and emotional leader early in the season, but has missed the last two games because of a bum left knee. Willie Young, a 4-3 end a year ago, has stepped in and done well. He has a sack in four straight games. Lamar Houston, who rotates at outside backer, has five sacks in the past six games. Safety Antrel Rolle and tight end Martellus Bennett, a problem matchup for the Vikings in the past, have been placed on injured reserve since the first meeting. Receiver Eddie Royal, another key offseason acquisition, returned last week after missing a month. He caught three passes for 2 yards in the first meeting.
(Not so) Good as Gould: In his 11th season, Robbie Gould is the ninth-most accurate kicker in NFL history. But he’s also in the worst slump of his career. He has missed three straight field goals, including two uncharacteristic clutch misses. Two weeks ago, the Bears lost to San Francisco in overtime at home after Gould missed a 36-yarder as time expired in regulation. He claims he just rushed the kick and pulled it left. Last week, he missed a 50-yarder wide right that would have tied the Redskins with less than two minutes left in another loss at home. Granted, it was raining and Soldier Field was its usual mess, but those are the kicks that Gould has always made. Gould made his first 17 kicks this year. Then he missed three straight, made seven straight and has now missed three straight.
Snapper change: Some say Gould hasn’t been the same since long-snapper Patrick Mannelly retired after the 2013 season. He was Chicago’s long snapper for 16 seasons. This year, Thomas Gafford snapped in the first 11 games, but was released in favor of Patrick Scales. Scales has been the long snapper the past two weeks. The snaps reportedly have been good, but one has to wonder about the mental effect of changing snappers in season.
The film: I suppose the Bears can be encouraged about not getting destroyed down the stretch, as they were a year ago. But they just don’t possess the talent defensively or the consistency and power offensively to contend yet. That, and turnovers, are why they’ve lost four games by three points or fewer the past eight weeks. No other team has lost more games by that close of a margin. … Confidence also seems to be lacking. And I’m not just talking about Gould. The Bears won at Lambeau Field three weeks ago. They were 5-6. Then they lost at home to two teams — 49ers and Redskins — that were a combined 0-10 on the road before they got to Soldier Field. John Fox is 1-6 at home. Ouch … I never know quite how to feel about Jay Cutler. If I were a GM, he’d be too expensive and too maddening to hitch my career to. But, then again … You watch him improvise while throwing for 315 yards and a couple of touchdowns last week and you think, “Maybe I’m wrong.” He is playing better this season. Bears fans should be rooting against the rumors about offensive coordinator Adam Gase getting the Lions head coach job if it opens. … There just aren’t enough young, fast playmakers on this defense. I thought about this while watching Redskins TE Jordan Reed run all over the building catching nine balls for 120 yards. … I think it’s good that the Vikings don’t have to face Bennett, the big tight end. But Zach Miller, playing with a fractured rib, caught five passes for 85 yards and has 18 catches for 278 yards and five TDs the past six games. He seems to have a connection with Cutler.