Scouting report: Chicago Bears

Still waiting for a second Super Bowl win after 31 years but British Bears fan Michael Salter hasn't given up hope. He previews tomorrow's match-up with the Ravens.

How did you become a Bears Fan?
Ahhh, the heady summer days of 1986… It was the 3rd August, the summer stretched out before 12-year-old me into what seemed like eternity. Little did I know that that day promised to ruin my life! I was friends with the boy next door and wandered around that Sunday evening to find him staring at the screen, where a team in white were being hit very hard by a team in dark blue. I was watching the American Bowl at Wembley.

Being 12, I wanted to support the winning team. That was the Bears. I did not know they had just won the Super Bowl, nor could I have known that 31 years later I would still be waiting for a second Super Bowl victory. If I had any conception that there lay ahead of me winters of disappointment and frustration, springs of optimism, summers of hype and Autumns of crashing down to reality… you know what, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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As I type, I am wearing my Hester jersey. On the walls is a signed Devin Hester jersey and a photo of him rounding the Colts kicker on his way to a touchdown on the opening kick-off of Super Bowl XLI – an act which had me dancing around [Ravens Flock UK editor] Shane Richmond’s front room! Next to that is a signed Brian Urlacher jersey. Throughout the study is various Bears paraphernalia and my soon to be born son has his first Bears item ready for his homecoming. If he’s a Packers fan he can live in the shed!

How do Bears fans tend to feel about the Ravens?
I think Bears fans feel some empathy for Ravens fans. The teams are very similar in their model: strong defense, so-so (at best) offense. We are envious of your front office, though. Until Ryan Pace took over two years ago, our front office resembled a clown car full of disaster. Our draft record was poor; we looked on enviously at Ozzie’s ability to amass draft picks.

It will be Interesting to see if both Urlacher and Ray Lewis get into the Hall of Fame this year!

What games between our teams stick in your memory and are there any memorable players who have played for both teams?
The stars were in alignment and I found myself in Chicago on the weekend of the Bears v Ravens in 2013, when Shane was in the US visiting family. We got ourselves some tickets and walked to Soldier Feld to witness a game that even a football diehard would have difficulty remembering but for one-thing: the tail-end of a hurricane that hit Chicago and caused a three-hour suspension of play. For three-hours Shane and I stood, crammed into the walkway under the West Stand of the ground, not able to move as the rain battered down and the wind howled. The game ended in OT with a Bears victory 23-20.

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There seems to be something of a hostage-exchange going on between the Bears and Ravens in terms of players and coaches: Mike Singletary played for  us and coached your LBs; Jim Harbaugh played for us and you; the aforementioned Devin Hester played for us and… um… put on your uniform; Bobby Engram was a steady WR for us and now coaches your WRs; Pernell McPhee came to us in free agency a couple of years ago and, when healthy, is an absolute beast at OLB.

But I think we can all agree that the highpoint has to be Marc Trestman. Having taken Lovie Smith’s 10-6 team and promptly crashed it into an 8-8 wall (followed by 5-11 in his second year) he left the shores of Lake Michigan to take up the role of offensive coordinator for you. Bizarrely, his love of tight ends did not seem to carry across to Baltimore. I hear he quickly became part of the annual Cull of the Coordinators in Baltimore.

How has your season been so far?
The season so far has assumed the usual cycle: summer hype (there were whispers of the playoffs) foundered on reality. For the third year running injuries have decimated our team, most frustratingly at the positions we were already thin at: WR and ILB. There have been high points: beating the steelers, right?!? We also should have beaten the Falcons in week one but Jordan Howard dropped a pass which was right in his hands when he was uncovered at the goal line!

Little did we know then that the real Mike Glennon would appear. He was sold to us as a game-manager; it turned out he was a turnover machine (eight in 11 quarters). He was also the king of the checkdown, often turning down a 10-yard pass to an open WR or TE on third and eight in favour of a pass to the RB behind the line of scrimmage. It got so bad that against Green Bay, when we were down 28 points and so, traditional logic dictates, had to pass, GB went cover 1 and cover 0 for long periods and put eight in the box to stop the run! They were not at all worried about us passing.

Twitter and the net has been on fire over dropping Mike Glennon to the bench (a wish they got last week) and the promotion of first-round rookie Mitchel Trubisky to starting QB. His first week: against a good Minnesota D on Monday night… No pressure Mitch! By all accounts he did well. Yes, it was a simplified gameplan for him that appeared to remove half of the field from his decision making processes, and there were some rookie errors, but if we are really seeing the emergence of the Bears’ QB of the future then I can accept that.

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What would you say are the keys to this Sunday’s game?
Our O-line has been strong and provided Glennon with good, clean pockets. Many of Glennon’s sacks came from him not feeling the pressure. Trubisky can certainly can move, so what this does mean is that we fans will be denied the football equivalent of the Easter Island statues in QB play this week. If Glennon and Flacco were both playing, I doubt we would see any positive rushing yards between them!.

If the Bears line can protect consistently against the Ravens and give Trubisky time then it could be entertaining. Tarik Cohen (a 4th round rookie RB) has the ability to take the ball all the way every time he touches it. With Trubisky’s accuracy and ability to keep plays alive with his mobility, it could be a long day for your defence. That said, Trubisky does not have many WR options. This week the Bears promoted Tanner Gentry to the active roster. He’s a rookie WR who developed a great rapport with Trubisky during the preseason.

As far as the Bears D is concerned, on its day it can be a frightening front seven. Leonard Floyd is having a strong second season at OLB and Akiem Hicks (DE) is really living up to the contract extension the Bears gave him recently. The back end is something of a work-in-progress, but is improving and has three good corners. It’s been described as “bend-but-don’t-break”, which I think is a polite way to say it gives up yards consistently and kind of ignores the fact that we got tonked by the Buccaneers and Packers. However, Glennon’s turnovers didn’t help!

Having seen the Ravens “play” at Wembley this year I think the edge is with the Bears. However, 31 years of Bears fandom have taught me that if there’s a way to lose a game, the Bears will find it, and a rookie QB going up against a D that creates turnovers could be a recipe for disaster for the Bears. Especially when Suggs is breathing down your neck! My heart says Bears by three. My head, however, says Ravens by 7 with a big day for your defence confusing Trubisky.

Top photo: John W Iwanski

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