4 Downs: Chicago Bears
What: Ravens (4-5) at Bears (5-4)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago
Five questions that need answering.
1. Can Josh McCown continue his solid play in place of injured Jay Cutler?
The Bears’ offense hasn’t missed a beat in McCown’s three appearances. He has four touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 103.2. That doesn’t sound like a backup. In fact, McCown has played so well, the buzz in Chicago is that his play might impact Cutler’s leverage for a new contract. The better McCown plays, the more it suggests the Bears may not be willing to pay top quarterback money to Cutler. Instead, find another quarterback, maybe in the draft, who can also excel in new coach Marc Trestman’s quarterback-friendly offense. CBS analyst and former Giants quarterback Phil Simms is not in love with McCown yet, but admits he is playing well.
“Anyone who says the Bears are better after losing Jay Cutler at quarterback – they are wrong,” Simms said, in quotes distributed by CBS. “I have watched the Chicago games and I see plays that I say, ‘There’s another play that most quarterbacks can’t make.' But Josh McCown did a great job at Green Bay and really did a good job when he relieved Jay Cutler when they played at Washington. Then you watch last week. He’s got a little more confidence. The team has more confidence in him.”
It’s up to the Ravens to cool off McCown. They need to contain running back Matt Forte and make the Bears one-dimensional. If Forte does damage on the ground, and McCown has time to throw, the Ravens are in trouble.
2. Will Ray Rice finally bust out against the Bears’ porous run defense?
If it’s going to happen for Rice, it should happen Sunday. The Bears have the NFC’s worst run defense statistically, giving up 129.4 yards per game. When Simms looks at the Ravens’ problems running the football, he points the biggest finger at the offensive line.
“When you talk about Baltimore, Joe Flacco didn’t lose his talent during the offseason,” Simms said. “Ray Rice didn’t become a different running back during the offseason. In the NFL, when you talk about the skill players, it’s about getting opportunities. You can’t do it by yourself. “How many teams in the NFL have been derailed a little bit because their offensive line is in a state of flux?...The offensive line is going to be a high priority for a lot of teams in the NFL this offseason.”
Is the Ravens’ offensive line good enough to open holes against the Bears? Is Rice quick enough to run through them, and will Bernard Pierce get more opportunities? We’re about to find out.
3. Who wins this battle: The Bears’ offensive playmakers or the Ravens’ defense?
The Bears have plenty of playmakers on offense, starting with Forte, and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. If this game turns into a shootout, the Bears have more firepower, and will have the advantage.
4. Can the Ravens hit the Bears with some big plays?
The Bears’ defense is missing star players. No linebacker Lance Briggs. No cornerback Charles Tillman. The Ravens showed some new wrinkles last weekend against the Bengals, including a flea-flicker, and an 18-yard run on a reverse by backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They need to stay aggressive against the Bears, and take shots downfield to both Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. If the Ravens get the ball to their speed guys in this game, good things could happen.
5. Can the Ravens restore some credibility on the road?
They are 1-4 on the road this season, the lone win coming against the Dolphins. If the Ravens keep finding different ways to lose on the road, they aren’t going to the playoffs. But if they win Sunday, they get back to .500, with their next three games at home. Any way you slice it, Sunday is a huge game.