<img src="http://cfx.signonsandiego.com/sports/chargers/cfx/igor_sack_v_bears.jpg" title="Igor Olshansky sacks Rex Grossman" alt="Igor Olshansky sacks Rex Grossman" height="191" width="282" />
By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
The defending NFC champions visit sunny southern California on September 9th (1:15 pm Pacific kick off time). They will look to shut down the 2006 league MVP, and rushing champion LaDanian Tomlinson. They have a Defense that arguably can do it. It will be a great match up, and a great measurement for both teams.
Much has been made of Brian Urlacker's comments regarding LT's new commercial where the running back cuts through the Bears defense like a hot knife through butter. When approached by a reporter, Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher claimed he hadn't seen the commercial.
Reporter: "What do you think of the commercial with LaDainian Tomlinson?"
Urlacher: "I haven't seen it. What happens?
Reporter: "He shreds the Bears defense for a touchdown."
Urlacher: "Wow. It must be a video game. Is it a video game?"
Reporter: "No, it's not a video game. It's a commercial."
Urlacher: "How did he do the last time we played them? Look at the stats. See how he did."
When the Chargers last played the Bears in 2003, the Bears defense held Tomlinson to 61 yards on 16 carries in a 20-7 win. This however is not the 2003 team on either side of the Ball. The Bears are indeed very capable of shutting down LT. The Bears defense cannot be taken lightly, however LT is also equally capable of shredding the Bears defense.
Something I think is more possible today than in 2003 given the improvement at the wide receiver and tight end positions. In 2003 we did have Tight End Antonio Gates, but it was his first season, since then he has grown in to the best Tight End in the game. AThe Chargers have added Brandon Manumaleuna to the mix as well, a mountain of a Tight End who can block and catch. Also in 2003 Doug Flutie and a young Drew Brees were exchanging starts at the Quarterback position, breaking down the offensive continuity. Now a veteran Quarterback Philip Rivers is directing one of the leagues most versatile offensive attacks that is enjoying more stability at the key positions than the 2003 team did.
The past will not be a factor on this game, the Bears have an improved offense, and they are just months removed from the sting of losing in the Superbowl. The Chargers will come out with a chip on their shoulders as well, still smarting from and early exit from the post season after the team seemingly fell apart against the Patriots.
The Chargers will try and keep the wraps on special team burner Devin Hester; who in only thirteen weeks as a professional football player scored six return touchdowns, including a record tying 108-yard touchdown from a missed field goal against the New York Giants.
<strong><em>Chargers on Offense:</em></strong>
The offensive scheme will largely be similar to the scheme we saw in '06. But Coach Turner will add enough kinks and twists to keep the Bears D on their toes. The Bears D also will have to decide who to double team when, as they face the most talented offense they will face in their 2007 campaign. Coach Turner is also expected to keep the Bears on their toes in getting the ball to different players with different sets.
You look at what the Chargers have, a solid Offensive line, pro-bowl caliber QB, RB, FB, TE and an improving receiving corps and depth. This team will provide a challenge for the excellent Bears Defense, which in turn will challenge this offensive unit. This game will be a good one for the fans.
This game can truly be the sounding rod of the Chargers season. It is not a make or break game, what first game ever is. But if they can find success against this stingy defense, which as of late has been its best early in the seasons, then they can find success against anyone.
The Chargers will have to focus on neutralizing the Bears run stopped Adam Archuleta. They can do this by working Gates or Manumaleuna over the middle and send different looks at him. He is a stout run defender but is not his best in pass coverage. Make him have to think about who to attack and who to let go. If the Chargers can keep him off balance with a mixture of rushes and passing plays at him, they can find success.
<strong><em>Chargers on Defense: </em></strong>
The Chargers defensive unit only stands to have improved over its last season's version. Back are the big boys up front, the athletic LB on the outside and a much improved secondary unit. The real focus will be on the revamped inside line backing unit for the Chargers. Gone is Donnie Edwards and Randal Godfrey, and the positions are currently up for grabs in camp.
The question will be, can they pressure Grossman in the pocket? During the off-season the pressure on the quarterback was much less than what the fans wanted to see. This raised questions as to whether it was due to new Defensive Coordinator Ted Cottrell having a vanilla, non aggressive defensive scheme. Or was it due to the unspoken â€˜preseason ethic' where teams take it easy on the opposing QBs. This game will provide an answer to that question for us all. If the Bolts are unable to pressure Grossman, he has the skills and players to make it a long day for the Chargers.
However it might be the inside linebackers that have the best feel for what the Bears are trying to do. During the off season the Chicago Bears 2006 defensive coordinator <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2771716" target="_blank">Ron Rivera</a> (a candidate for the Chargers vacant head coaching position during the off season) was released by the Bears. He later signed a two year agreement with the Chargers to coach the inside linebacker position. Rivera led the unit that practiced across from Rex Grossman and the Bears O. I am sure Rivera's wards will receive amply tutelage based upon his familiarity with the offensive unit of the bears.
If the Chargers can continue their dominance against the run, and improve upon stopping third and long conversions of opposing teams, chances are that it will be a low scoring game for the Bears.
The Chargers however have to focus on stopping the run. The bears are not a wide open passing offense; they have to use the run to step up the pass. If the Chargers can maintain control in the running game, and the crowd gets to chanting "YOU ANT RUN!" then they have won half of the battle. It is my opinion that this game rests on the shoulders of #76 Jamal â€˜the Wall' Williams. Our nose tackle will line up against a good center in the Bears Olin Kreutz, this battle will effect how the game goes more than any other.
If the Chargers can stop the run then they will need to focus on rookie tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen has raised eyebrows throughout the preseason with his catching and mobility. He is a real threat, and couples him with nine year veteran Desmond Clark and the Chargers will need to tighten up their pass coverage from what they have shown throughout the preseason.
The Chargers can make their job on defense easy by doing one thing. Pressure Rex Grossman. Rex is not the most cerebral of Quarterback, and he does not respond well to repeated pressure. Pressure him from various directions and make him hesitant. Use the 3-4 zone blitzes to keep him off balance and the Bears offense becomes almost ineffective. However the Chargers will have to show a good Bears offensive line varied looks from the defensive front seven to accomplish this. They will have to move bodies in and out up to the snap to prevent the Bears offensive line from reading their set and responding.
<strong><em>Bears on Offense: </em></strong>
Chicago's Offensive unit last season was arguably their weakest link. The O did enough to keep them in games, but it was the high powered D and the special teams that put them over the top in many of their games. This season the Bears bring and Offense that will feature rookie tight end Greg Olsen and 9 year veteran receiver Desmond Clark. The Bears coaching staff believe that number 80, Bernard Berrian also has the talent to take over the number one receiver position in just his second year. His coaches and quarterback believe his speed, ability and camp improvements will make him a real weapon.
"He's got speed and speed kills," said <a href="http://www.chicagobears.com/news/NewsStory.asp?story_id=3650" target="_blank">quarterback Rex Grossman</a>. "Besides that, he's a good receiver. He runs good routes, knows how to set up defenders and knows where the holes are in the zones. He's a real smart player and has the speed to get by people."
Do not take this unit lightly, though they do not have the national star power this is a good unit that can score. Couple that with a defensive unit that is attacking and can take the ball away and the potential is there for some Bears touchdowns.
The bears will have to establish the run early to have success on the stingy Chargers defensive unit. If they can establish the run, they will be able to make use of the passing game and take advantage of some chinks in the defensive secondary of the Chargers. The bottom line is that the Bears will not be able to rely on their defense to do all of the scoring in this game. They offense will have to find some way to get points on the board to win this game.
<strong><em>Bears on Defense: </em></strong>
One thing has to be first and foremost on the minds of the bears Defensive unit: Stop Ladanian Tomlinson. They want to ensure that the leagues reigning MVP does not make the commercial reality and slash through the Bears defense like a hot knife through air.
One of the most feared Defensive unit in the league last season. They have had some upheaval in the off season, losing Tank Johnson after continued problems with the law. However the Bears are confident the will be able to return to form, and this first game will be the true measuring stick for them. Though this is early in their season, this game against the Chargers Offensive unit could very well set the tone and pace for the Bears for the entire season.
The new Defensive Coordinator of the bears Bob Babich is not greatly changing their scheme, but it is suggested that against some Quarterbacks he will call more blitzes. Chances are that Philip Rivers and the Chargers offensive line will be seeing various blitzes throughout the game.
When asked how Ron Rivera's departure from the Bears, the Bears senior writer Larry <a href="http://www.chicagobears.com/news/ChalkTalkStory.asp?STORY_ID=3084" target="_blank">Mayer responded</a>:
"Nic: It's hard to tell at this point. My first thought is that I doubt that Ron Rivera's departure will have much of an impact on the scheme and personnel on defense, given Lovie Smith's continuing involvement and influence with the system. The biggest difference â€˜could' be with in-game adjustments, but that's also an area that Lovie deals with. I don't want to take anything away from what Rivera accomplished with the Bears, but given Smith's expertise on defense, I think the changes would likely be more evident and dramatic on the other side of the ball if the Bears were to lose offensive coordinator Ron Turner."
The Bears defensive tackle position was hit pretty hard during the off season as well with three key players leaving the team for various reasons. Most of the fans of the NFL know of the Tank Johnson situation that ended with his release from the team. Also backups Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone were allowed to sign with other teams.
<strong><em>The monkey and the wrench:</em></strong>
The bears bring with them one of the most fears special teams players in the league. Devin Hester. Number 23 can burn a team with his kickoff returning ability, and his offensive coordinator has praised him during training camp, stating "He's something special," <a href="http://www.chicagobears.com/news/NewsStory.asp?story_id=3635" target="_blank">said offensive coordinator Ron Turner</a>. "The progress he's made has been tremendous. Mentally he's handling everything really well and physically he's got good instincts out there. He's definitely going to be able to help us." if the Chargers do not respect his ability and kick to him, he could cause some problems.
However it looks as though Darren Sproles has returned to for well. He has provided some highlight reel returns darning the preseason and the return game could turn out to be a big factor in this game.
<strong><em>Concudan's Prognostication: </em></strong>
Call me a homer, but I see the Chargers defense as the key here, they are better than the Bears offensive unit in my opinion and will be the difference in the game. A stoic match up will occur between the Chargers Offensive unit and the Bears Defensive unit, but the Chargers will be able to score on the bears.
In a low scoring game, the Chargers win, 17 to 9.
BoltTalk forum Gambling Guru, Chispa gives the following advice to anyone thinking about putting money on the game:
The odds makers have the Chargers as +5.5 (as of 8/22/07) favorites and that they see it as a pretty high-scoring game since the over/under is 42.5.
Other people can disagree - but I don't see this as the kind of "free money" opening game that we had last year. For one thing, the point spread is bigger and for another we have a tougher opponent. I think it was something like -3 last year against friggin' Oakland. BIG mistake by the books.
I feel like the Chargers WILL win, but I'm staying away from any bet. My heart and my bank were broken too many times last year with Charger bets.
<blockquote>Chispa has been a member of BoltTalk.com since 03-02-2006, and has been a mainstay in the weekly gambling threads during the season. If you are interested in talking about the odds, parlays and anything else concerning the gambling, just look for Chispa and her friends at BoltTalk.com, they discuss each week's game lineups.</blockquote>
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