The Bears head to The Black Hole in Oakland to face off with the AFC West leading Raiders. It’s going to be a tough road for the Bears with Caleb Hanie at the control while Jay Cutler recuperates from surgery to piece his right thumb back together. To help us get prepped for the Raiders, we exchanged 5 questions with Chris Shellcroft, editor of Just Blog Baby, one of the finest Raiders blogs out there. Check out my Q’s and his A’s on the other side of the jump.
1. What do the Raiders have in store for Caleb Hanie on Sunday? How much did their game plan change once they found out Cutler was out?
No matter the opponent Oakland’s mission is always the same. Get pressure on the QB and make him uncomfortable all day long. The difference between Cutler and Hanie could be how often the Raiders blitz. With Cutler the Raiders would have likely relied on he front four to get pressure. With Hanie you would think they might dial up a few more blitzes and force him to make quick decisions. However a lot of that will also be related to how many snaps Richard Seymour gets. Last week in Minnesota he was primarily used on passing downs as he’s dealing with injury.
2. Can Matt Forte get out of a recent slump and blow up for a big day either on the ground or through the air against the Raiders defense? Who gets more yardage, Forte or the Raiders’ Michael Bush?
If Forte is looking to breakout then Oakland provides a great opportunity. While the Raiders have looked much better against the run lately they tend to struggle against backs like Forte. Against the Houston Texans, the Raiders pretty much shut down Arian Foster on the ground but he had over 100 yards receiving. I’d like to believe that the Raiders can contain Forte but given his skill set that seems like a tall order. I’m thinking Forte will have more yards as the Bears will do whatever it takes to get him touches. Bush has been a beast but the Raiders will need a big game from Carson Palmer so I’m thinking Bush won’t have as many touches this week.
3. Is Carson Palmer the answer for the Raiders at quarterback or is he just a stopgap for this season? How much has the Raiders offense changed since he came on board?
Palmer is looking very much like he is the answer. Once Palmer got a grip on the offense he made it his. Suddenly the Raiders are going with more no-huddle looks as Carson calls plays at the line. There was plenty of talk about Palmer’s arm strength and how much he had left in the tank. I’ll say this much, since he’s been a Raider the vertical game has been resurrected. Palmer’s presence has opened up all that Raider speed. Each week a new receiver has a big day thanks to Palmer getting used to his new toys.
4. Many Bears fans don’t really follow the Raiders as closely as they do other NFC teams. Who is an under the radar player who Bears fans may not know yet but will make a big impact on Sunday?
Normally this discussion would begin with rookie receiver Denarius Moore. But since Moore is looking unlikely to play Sunday I’ll give you a few other names to be aware of. On offense the guy that is quietly making headlines is left tackle Jared Veldheer. Last week he made Jared Allen invisible which is a small miracle of sorts. This week he’ll get to face another elite defender in Julius Peppers so that is a matchup to keep an eye on. Taiwan Jones is another guy Raider Nation is waiting to see more of. Jones is getting more touches now that Darren McFadden is out for the foreseeable future. He’s been called a poor man’s Chris Johnson but with the way CJ is playing this year that might be more of an insult. Let’s just say Jones is a shifty runner with 4.3 speed.
On defense that man that gets a lot of respect around the league but rarely makes it into highlight packages is Tyvon Branch at strong safety. If the Raiders contain Forte it will be because Branch has a great game. He’s a hard hitter that is always around the ball and makes lots of plays at the line of scrimmage. On occasion Branch will be used in blitz packages as well. He’s got blazing speed and has a laser lock on his target. Could be a long afternoon for Hanie if Branch is flying off the edge often.
5. What’s your prediction for the game on Sunday, including a score?
The Raiders have a way of making games very interesting. Chicago is playing some great ball and even without Cutler I’m expecting the same effort we’ve seen in recent weeks. I like the Raiders to win in a close and exciting contest. Oakland 23, Chicago 20.
Check out my answers to Chris’s quirky questions by clicking here.