LB Rolando McClain races to stop Bears RB Matt Forte in the 2010 preseason game. AP Photo
The Oakland Raiders host the Chicago Bears in a Week 12 match up at O.co Coliseum. The Silver and Black, heading into the game with two straight road wins, will face a Bears team that has won five games in a row. Chicago is the second of the Raiders four NFC North opponents this season, with the Raiders and Bears tied 6-6 in the all-time series.
Although arriving in Oakland with a five-game win streak, the Bears will be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who suffered a thumb injury in their Week 11 game. Caleb Hanie, who has never started a game in his four-year career, will get the call in Cutler's place. "I know they're missing one of their big components in Jay Cutler, but we know it's going to be a tough battle," said RB Rock Cartwright. "Football games are hard to win in the NFL so we just have to go out and prepare real well this week and get ready for those guys. We're going to need the 12th man which is the Raider Nation to be real loud on Sunday."
The Bears offense still has explosive weapons in WR Devin Hester and RB Matt Forte and the defense is anchored by DE Julius Peppers and LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. "It's going to be a tough challenge," said SS Tyvon Branch. "They have a great defense, they have a great running game, they have some explosive players on offense and their special teams is one of the best in the league, so it's going to be a good game for us."
QB Carson Palmer knows the Raiders have a challenge anytime they face an NFC North team. "When you talk about the NFC North, it's a cold weather, running style, running football division in the past," said Palmer. "For as long as these guys on this team have been in the league, when you think of the NFC North, you think of a physical, running football game. These guys can run the ball as good as anybody. They have one of the best backs in the game. They can stop the run. So we know we have our work cut out for us and we're used to – that's one of the things we use going into games is our physical nature, our physical style of play. It's going to be physical versus physical and we expect to come out with a win."
The Raiders offense has spent the week preparing for an impressive front seven and an experienced and explosive linebacker corps. "They're a talented group," said offensive coordinator Al Saunders. "They've had great success in the red zone. They've been magnificent. They've kept teams 10 different occasions from scoring down there and I think they have the best ratio of points per play down there. They've done an outstanding job. They're physical, they've got great linebackers, they're physical up front, their secondary has played very well, they're real disciplined and they're very well coached."
"Very good, very experienced, very physical," said Palmer. "In watching them on film, they've had some big plays here and there, but it's a physical group. They can rush the passer, they're big up front; they go after the ball – everyone on defense - corners, safeties, linebackers. Probably the best linebacker tandem in the league with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. So just very good, very disciplined. I don't know how many guys on that team have played in a Super Bowl, but there's a handful of guys, even Peppers when he was in Carolina, so there are a lot of guys with experience, who have played a lot of games. It's a good defense."
Tackle Jared Veldheer, who handled NFL sack leader Jared Allen last week in Minnesota, is ready to take on another strong front. "It's another great front coming in," said Veldheer. "These guys can play ball. Since watching them on tape these last couple of days, we know we have another big challenge cut out for us. They're playing excellent. They're playing really good football right now and it seems like they're gaining momentum and getting stronger every week."
The Bears are tied for second in the NFL in interceptions with 15 and have three returned for touchdowns. "They're very physical and create a lot of turnovers," said Coach Saunders. "They thrive in the turnover game and they do a lot of things that give you some real problems."
"I think they're really good," said Head Coach Hue Jackson. "They've got some star players with [Julius] Peppers, and [Brian] Urlacher, and [Lance] Briggs. I mean, my gosh, and this guy [Charles] Tillman he gets his hands on every ball that's known to man. You look up and he's knocking it out or intercepting the ball. I mean, they have some really fine football players on this football team. So again, it's going to be a tremendous challenge but we're looking forward to it."
Despite the challenge the Bears present, the Raiders offense is looking forward to the test. "Very good defensive team," said T Khalif Barnes. "This team has won five games in a row, very dangerous team and have some very good players on defense and it's going to be an all-day sucker. The boys are excited about that. To be the best you have to play and beat the best and these guys are definitely one of the best defenses in the NFL."
The Bears defense knows they'll be challenged as well when they face the Raiders offense. "They're a good offense, number one, especially with Carson [Palmer] now throwing the ball," said Urlacher. "They're powerful, you know the offensive line blocks well, Michael Bush is a big guy. They've got speed everywhere there's no doubt about that. It's a big challenge for us with the physicality of their offense."
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders defense will have their work cut out for them with Hanie and the Chicago offense. "As we all know, they have one of the best running backs in the league right now in Matt Forte," said LB Kamerion Wimbley. "They did lose Cutler, but they feel confident in the quarterback they have coming in that we were able to watch some film on him. He's able to make some pretty good plays for them in the past so we know we'll have to be on top of our game, especially when it comes to their running game."
Currently ranked third in rushing in the NFL with 926 rushing yards on 186 attempts and three touchdowns, Forte also has 465 receiving yards. "This guy Matt Forte is a really good football player," said Coach Jackson. "I mean, in that division there are some really good backs. Obviously with [Adrian] Peterson and then this guy; this guy is dangerous. Not only can he run, he can catch, they can throw it to him, hand it to him. I mean, obviously, Mike Martz does a great job at creating opportunities for these guys to get the ball in space and he knows how to score touchdowns. So again, another tremendous challenge for our defense but that's the way it is in the National Football League. Here we go, we got a job to do and we have to get it done."
The Raiders number one priority on defense every week is stopping the run, a task that will be especially important against Forte. "It's definitely going to be important to swarm and gang tackle them," said Branch. "They've got some good runners, [Forte] and [Marian] Barber, they've been doing a good job running the ball. They've got some explosive players in the receiving corps so we're definitely going to have to rally to the ball. Everybody is going to have to swarm and gang tackle."
In addition to facing Forte, the defense is going to have play against Hanie, who stepped in for Cutler in last year's NFC Championship game. "I've seen him in the Championship game last year," said Branch. "He did some good stuff. He gave them a chance, he gave them a spark last year and I don't know how he's been playing this year because he hasn't had many snaps since preseason so we're going to have to go out there with a blank slate and pick up on his tendencies as the game goes on."
Hanie, a somewhat unfamiliar NFL quarterback having never started a game, has become familiar to the Raiders. "He's well known to us," said Coach Jackson. "We've dug up everything we can on him and we've seen him, he's a good player and he'll do a good job for the football team. Obviously, we know they're going to run it and they're going to throw it and bottom line we got to play good sound, fundamental defense. That's the most important thing."
Coach Jackson knows Hanie's abilities and is preparing the Raiders for a tough match up. "He can throw it, he runs with the ball, he has all those qualities that you look for," said Coach Jackson. "That's why he's the backup on this football team. He can make all the throws; he knows their system; he's been around Mike Martz; he knows how Martz like's to distribute the ball and spread the ball around; he can turn around and hand it to [Matt] Forte as many times as he'd like to. So, they have a good offensive football team. I'm not saying that they're not going to miss a beat. Jay Cutler is Jay Cutler – he's a really good player, but Caleb Hanie knows how to run their system and knows how to play within their system."
When the Raiders take the field on Sunday at O.co Coliseum, in front of another sold out crowd, they look to become a 7-4 team and maintain their lead in the AFC West. "They're a good team, we're a good team, so it'll be a battle of two good teams in the 'O' and we're going to just get after it," said FB Marcel Reece.