By Mark Potash email@example.com November 19, 2011 3:45PM
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is recovering from a groin injury, but he's ready to handle more work. | Jack Dempsey~AP
Updated: November 19, 2011 4:08PM
CHARGERS AT BEARS
Time: 3:15 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field.
TV: Ch. 2 (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM
Line: Bears by 3 1/2.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
Matt Forte and Marion Barber were stuffed by the Lions last week, running for a combined 91 yards on 34 carries, including Forte’s 40-yard run after the Bears had taken a 34-6 lead. But even with a new starter in Edwin Williams at LG, Forte should regain his form. The Chargers are 24th in rushing defense (128 yards per game, 4.5 yards per carry) and have allowed 327 yards and 4.9 ypc in the last two games. On Nov. 10, Raiders backup Michael Bush rushed for 157 yards and a TD on 30 carries against them. Jay Cutler hasn’t run much this season, but he’ll have chances in this one.
In the air
Nine completions might be a great day for Tim Tebow, but they represented the second-fewest of Cutler’s career in complete games when he was 9-for-19 for 123 yards last week. But after playing a minor role against the Lions, Cutler should be in attack modeagainst a Chargers defense that has given up big pass plays all season, including 41, 46 and 55 yards Nov. 10 against the Raiders. Earl Bennett has 11 catches for 176 yards in two games since returning from an injury. But the rest of the Bears’ WRs have a combined 111 receiving yards, so Cutler might want to spread it out a little bit.
Cutler has thrown only two INTs in his last five games (152 attempts), but he’s had some near-misses. Weddle is tied for the NFL lead with five INTs, but opposing QBs have a 92.6 rating against the Chargers this sesaon.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
The Chargers aren’t nearly the threat they were with LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, but Ryan Mathews (117 carries, 543 yards, three TDs) and Mike Tolbert (73, 282, four) aren’t going to go down by themselves. Lesser backs have given the Bears trouble, and with so much attention paid to Philip Rivers, Mathews in particular can take advantage. He’s recovering from a groin injury that limited him to six carries against the Raiders, but he’s healthy enough to handle more. The Bears have been better against the run recently, but they still are 29th in yards per carry (5.1).
In the air
Rivers has been among the top three in the NFL in passer rating the last three seasons (101.8, 104.4, 105.5), but he’s 19th this season (80.2) with 13 TDs and 15 INTs, including three returned for TDs. The Bears are third in the NFL with 13 INTs, including nine in their last three games. Charles Tillman contained Calvin Johnson last week but will be challenged by Vincent Jackson (35 catches, 635 yards, six TDs). Vincent Brown has emerged as a big-play threat with nine catches for 176 yards in the last two games. Mathews and Tolbert have a combined 70 catches for 692 yards and two TDs.
Gates, a seven-time Pro Bowler, isn’t having his best season, but he’s still dangerous and has 22 catches for 277 yards and two TDs in four games since returning from a foot injury. Graham is replacing injured nickel back D.J. Moore.
The Bears should have a decided edge with Devin Hester and Johnny Knox against Chargers coverage units ranked 26th in punt returns (13.7 yards) and 27th in kickoff returns (26.5). Hester had an 82-yard punt-return TD last week, his third TD of the season. But the Chargers don’t punt often (27 times), and Mike Scifres ranks fifth in the NFL in net average (41.9). The Bears lead the NFL in punt coverage (3.5 yards) and are ninth in kickoff coverage (22.3).
The Bears’ defensive line has been spotty overall but better lately and will have a chance to build on that momentum against a Chargers offensive line that might be without three starters, including four-time Pro Bowl guard Kris Dielman. The Bears have been pretty good at taking advantage of backup linemen, and All-Pro Julius Peppers has been moving around more to find the weaknesses. The Chargers will adjust to protect Philip Rivers. The Bears need to respond.