By Mark Potash firstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2011 5:16PM
Quarterback Tyler Palko (4) will start against the Bears, but former Bear Kyle Orton figures to play at some point. | Charlie Riedel~AP
Updated: December 3, 2011 6:26PM
CHIEFS AT BEARS
Time: Noon Sunday at Soldier Field.
TV: Ch. 2 (Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM
Line: Bears by 7. Total: Bears by 37.
When the Bears have the ball
On the ground
The Bears not only ran the ball well last week against the Raiders (6.4 yards per carry), but they continued to develop an effective 1-2 combination with Matt Forte (12 carries, 59 yards) and Marion Barber (10 carries, 63 yards), which pays dividends in December. The Chiefs are 26th in the NFL in rush defense (134 ypg), but they make you earn what you get; their longest rush allowed is 35 yards. If the Bears, who are ninth in the NFL in rushing (122 ypg), can run, the big question is whether they’ll settle for controlling the game on the ground or try to develop Caleb Hanie in the passing game.
In the air
Hanie was put in a tough spot in his first NFL start, but he’ll have a lot more factors in his favor this time. He’s at home, has one start under his belt and will be facing a defense that ranks 20th in the NFL and is last in sacks with 13 in 11 games. Linebacker Tamba Hali (seven sacks, 23 pressures) is formidable, but the Bears usually can handle that kind of singular threat. Defensive backs have 13 of the Chiefs’ 14 interceptions. After Johnny Knox accounted for 145 of Hanie’s 254 passing yards against the Raiders, it’ll be up to Roy Williams and Earl Bennett to step up against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have only 13 sacks, but they apply pressure and create confusion by putting six and seven players on the line, forcing the offense to figure out where the pressure is coming from. That’s a big part of Garza’s job.
When the Chiefs have the ball
On the ground
Even though Jamaal Charles has been out for the season since Week 2, the Chiefs still are 10th in the NFL in rushing behind a combination of Jackie Battle (104 carries, 456 yards, one touchdown), Dexter McCluster (81, 364, 0) and ex-Bear Thomas Jones (91, 289, 0). But they were held to 90 yards on 34 carries by the Steelers last week, when right guard Ryan Lilja (head injury) was replaced by rookie Rodney Hudson. Lilja is questionable for Sunday. The Bears have improved from 22nd to eighth in rush defense in the last six games, allowing an average of 68 yards and 3.6 yards per carry.
In the air
Chiefs coach Todd Haley said Tyler Palko is his starter, but it’s hard to believe ex-Bear Kyle Orton won’t end up with a majority of the snaps against the Bears. The left-handed Palko has thrown six interceptions with no touchdowns in the last two games in place of injured Matt Cassel, with passer ratings of 49.9 against the Patriots and 40.9 against the Steelers. Orton at least has the experience to take advantage of some pretty good threats: Dwayne Bowe
(55 catches, 819 yards, four touchdowns), Steve Breaston (43, 600, two) and Jonathan Baldwin, the latest star from Aliquippa, Pa.
The Chiefs gain a lot of their rushing yardage after contact, which allows them to develop a rhythm with the no-huddle offense. Solid tackling, a strength of the Bears’ defense, is the best way to stop this offense in its tracks.
At 7-3 last week, the Bears seemed to have room to give Caleb Hanie one mulligan in his first game as Jay Cutler’s replacement, and he used it against the Raiders. Now he’s under pressure to produce and might have to deal with inclement weather. In general, quarterbacks in his situation improve in their second starts — usually by making fewer mistakes. That’s all Hanie seemingly has to do against the Chiefs, who have lost four in a row.
The Bears put Caleb Hanie in a tough spot against the Raiders with poor field position (10 of their 14 drives started inside their 20). Devin Hester, who leads the NFL in punt returns (19.5 yards) and is xpected to be 100 percent for the first time in a month, has a chance to break one against a Chiefs punt-coverage unit ranked 25th in the NFL (12.7 yards). Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop has made his last 15 field goals. Bears kicker Robbie Gould is 23-for-25, including 5-for-5 from 50 yards or longer.