Anyone that grew up with a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo is intimately familiar with the famous line that ended a match in Mortal Kombat. Whenever you had your opponent beat, their character would wobble around helplessly while you had a few seconds to perform a lethal finishing move. (You could also technically perform a "Babality" or "Friendship" move, but those were totally lame.) My personal favorite was Liu Kang's dragon fatality in Mortal Kombat II. A quick combo of down, forward, back, back, high kick on the controller would unleash this beauty:
(image via giphy.com)
When I was 12, there were few things that entertained me more than the mindless 16-bit gore I could unleash on my helpless foes. (After all, there's really no coming back from a dragon biting off the entire top half of your body.)
The Bears are currently represented by the helpless kayoed Rayden pictured above. Chicago has lost three games in a row by an average margin of 27.3 points. They gave up 106 points in the last two games alone. Picked by many to be a dark horse contender before the season, Chicago sits alone in the NFC North cellar through nine games. The team's ugly slide has spawned these recent headlines in Bears SB Nation site Windy City Gridiron:
- FIRE EVERYONE
- How bad are the 2014 Chicago Bears?
- Should the Chicago Bears bench Jay Cutler?
- Jared Allen thinks Bears are "still not out of this"; team doctors check him into Chicagoland psychiatric hospital
At least Cutler gave Marshall a chance to make a play on this pass. Take a look at this deep attempt to Jeffery in the second quarter last week. Cutler has plenty of time, a clean pocket, yet airmails the pass by a good five yards.
That's the type of pass you'd expect an inexperienced rookie to miss. After all, we should know--that looked an awful lot like the pass Teddy Bridgewater missed to a wide open Cordarrelle Patterson against Washington. Of course after missing so badly, Cutler reacted like he always does--by seemingly not giving a crap about it.
Not giving a crap, or at least the appearance of giving less than two shits, has been one of the knocks on Cutler throughout his career. The "Smokin' Jay Cutler" attitude tends to get blown out of proportion, but leadership and intangibles play a big part of being an NFL quarterback no matter how much you try to downplay it. For someone so talented and surrounded by so many weapons, you'd think Cutler would have a better career record than 59-54 with an 85.3 quarterback rating. (For comparison: superstar Matt Cassel has a career rating of 80.1.) Cutler's flippant "whatever" demeanor may not mean as much as some pundits would like you to believe, but it sure seems to rub off on the rest of his team when things aren't going well.
Things really aren't going well on the defensive side of the ball for Chicago lately. (Duh.) A good sign that you might have some room for improvement on defense? When you're allowing Jordy Nelson, the opposing team's biggest deep threat, to get behind you wide open twice in less than four minutes.
The Bears definitely screwed the pooch here. But if you look at the play, the coverage might have been blown just before the snap. As the Bears showed blitz, Rodgers appeared to check out of the play, which made Lance Briggs change the defensive alignment at the last second. Chicago wasn't set when the ball was snapped, Tim Jennings didn't get a bump on Nelson, and Brock Vereen was way too far away from the play to prevent Nelson from strolling into the end zone. Ultimately it was Rodgers' recognition of the defense and the Bears' late reaction that led to the easy score. Tom Brady had the Chicago defense scrambling like this during their Week 8 blowout as well. Can Teddy Bridgewater exploit the Bears defense like this? Perhaps, but probably not to the degree that Brady and Rodgers did. The bye week can't give you the innumerable mental reps those two vets already have.
But even blown coverages need some time before they're exploited, and the Bears pass rush usually gives plenty of that as well. Our old pal Jared Allen will always be a fan favorite in Minnesota regardless of how he finishes his career. I certainly miss having Allen around for Training Camp interviews but I can't say I miss him much on the field. Everson Griffen will do that--especially when the new guy has 7.5 more sacks, more tackles, more hurries, and more hits. Jared hasn't been as invisible as his numbers would suggest, but how to neutralize him should look familiar:
Just let Allen over-pursue around the edge and watch him run himself out of the play. Since Allen doesn't quite have the closing speed he once did, getting to the quarterback and finishing plays off has become trickier. However, once again, Minnesota's personnel might not be ideal for exploiting a Chicago weakness. Jared Allen lined up against Matt Kalil every day in practice for the past two seasons. He knows exactly how that turnstile operates. Throw in the added motivation of playing his old team and Jared just might show us he still has something left in the tank on Sunday.
Overall, the Bears still have an offense with no leadership and a defense that can't cover potato salad with 10 rolls of plastic wrap. Sounds like the perfect recipe for the Vikings to climb back to .500 if you ask me. And yet--gulp--I still think the Bears are going to win this game.
The Vikings have lost six straight in Chicago, their second such losing streak of this very young century. They have turned the ball over 17 times in the latest six game stretch. (The only time the Vikings didn't turn the ball over in Chicago since 2008? They still lost 39-10.) As I've mentioned the past couple weeks, the Vikings literally can't afford to turn the ball over--they're 0-4 in games where they've coughed up the ball this season. For whatever reason, the minute the Vikings set foot on Soldier Field, the ball suddenly becomes harder to hold onto than the greased up deaf guy from Family Guy.
And as awful as Cutler has looked against the Packers in his career, he has been pretty great against the Vikings:
|Opponent||Career W-L||Comp %||TD||INT||AY/A*|
* = Adjusted Yards/Attempt, which takes touchdowns and interceptions into account instead of only yards.
Yes, there is a new regime coming down from Minnesota this year, which means these past results shouldn't really dictate future returns. After all, we have a shiny new head coach making a big batch of chicken salad out of chicken shit that's been handed to him this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Vikings lead the NFL in sacks, and nothing gets Cutler to mope around faster than getting hit a few times. And if it's close, we don't have to worry about Devin Hester scoring a back-breaking return touchdown this year!
Listen, I love Teddy Bridgewater and the direction he's heading, but we can't assume that he's going to pick up where Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers left off the past two games. We have already seen the Patriots and Packers offenses in person--the Vikings clearly aren't on that level. We also can't assume that the recent skid means the Bears are on the same level as the Buccaneers and Redskins, the NFC bottom feeders that the Vikings barely edged for their current two-game run. I really want to believe that this Vikings team can break the Soldier Field Funk and finish the Bears off once and for all, but I just can't shake the feeling I had as I was watching the slaughter in Lambeau last Sunday:
"Can you believe this is the same Bears team that got destroyed in Green Bay last week?" The announcers in next week's game. I just know it.— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) November 10, 2014
I really, really, really hope I'm wrong and we get to see all sorts of Cutlerface while boos rain down from the stands early and often. I'm just not sure that this young Vikings team knows how to pull off the down, forward, back, back, high kick on their controllers yet.
Bears 27, Vikings 23
And now for the rest of my Week 11 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
DOLPHINS over Bills
Miami is the darling of all the prominent advanced metrics sites, yet they're currently 11th in the AFC standings. Somewhere Chris Berman is chortling "eeehhhhhhh...and that's why they play the games, Teej....ehhhhh...Bachman-Turner Overdrive..." to himself.
Falcons over PANTHERS
Atlanta vs. the NFC South: 3-0. Atlanta vs. real football teams: 0-6. Lucky for them, their opponent this week falls in the first category.
SAINTS over Bengals
It makes sense that Andy Dalton sucks in prime time games. Gingers don't traditionally handle intense light very well.
BROWNS over Texans
Broncos over RAMS
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 8-2 on the season after I picked Arizona to beat this St. Louis team last week. And since it really doesn't matter who the Rams start at QB, how about the Gratuitous Picture of the Week?
"Up and down the field, Manning will march / So watch our backs do a St. Louis Arch!" (image via stlouisrams.com)
Seahawks over CHIEFS
Don't look now, but the defending champs are in real trouble if they lose this one--Seattle has Arizona twice, San Francisco twice, and Philadelphia left on the schedule. And I would be *super bummed* if I had less Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson on my television come January.
49ers over GIANTS
I would say that the Niners should allegedly smack the Giants around on Sunday, but I couldn't find sufficient evidence to go forward with those charges. (What? Too soon?)
REDSKINS over Buccaneers
This game is probably making residents of the D.C. area long for the old NFL blackout rules. Or at least long for getting blackout drunk.
CHARGERS over Raiders
I get the sneaky suspicion that Oakland finally enters the win column this week...but I'm not crazy enough to actually pick it.
Lions over CARDINALS
Regardless of who wins this game, I'm excited to pick against both of these teams in the playoffs.
PACKERS over Eagles
If the season ended today, Green Bay wouldn't be in the playoffs. C'MON SEASON, END ALREADY!!! PLEEEAAASE!! THERE'S NO WAY MARK SANCHEZ WILL WIN AT LAMBEAU!
Patriots over COLTS
Take a shot every time NBC shows a graphic comparing the season and/or career stats of Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. If you watch the pregame show, you'll probably be in a coma by halftime.
Steelers over TITANS
Is it weird that I'd feel better about my Pittsburgh pick if they were playing against a better team?
Last week: 10-3
Season so far: 95-51-1