Jay Cutler out for Sunday – will Mike Martz be forced to rely on the run?

Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz stands on the field during warmups before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 21, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

Mike Martz has long established that he would rather sit next to a crying baby on an airplane than run the football any more than he has to on Sundays. In fact, if it were truly up to him, he may scratch the run entirely and throw the ball on every down.

But he has a problem this week. The Bears are in Carolina to take on a winless Panthers team and Jay Cutler is still feeling the affects of the concussion he suffered last Sunday night in New York. That means Todd Collins will have to start, which doesn’t bode well for Martz’s pass-happy offense.

Collins was beyond putrid last weekend and it would behoove the Bears to keep the ball on the ground and allow their defense to win the game. Chicago has two capable running backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, but thanks to Martz’s pass first and ask questions later approach, Da Bears are gaining only 68.8 yards per game on the ground this year.

If Martz can’t adjust, the Bears are in trouble. The Panthers may not be in the win column yet and they certainly don’t have the pass rush that the Giants (Chicago’s opponent last weekend) have, but they hung with the Saints last Sunday and have two running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart that can wear down a tired defense late in games. If Chicago’s defense is on the field for long periods of time thanks to the ineptitude of Collins, then Carolina can take the game out of rookie quarterback Jimmy Claussen’s hand and lean on their ground attack.

I don’t know what’s least likely to happen, Collins actually throwing the ball for more than 2.5 yards per pass or Martz changing his offense to a run first approach.

Or Carolina winning a game.

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Is this a make or break year for Matt Forte?

After Matt Forte racked up 1,715 total yards and 12 touchdowns his rookie year in 2008, the Bears felt as though they had a star in the making. He drew comparisons to Edgerrin James, given the backs’ similarities in balance, body control and burst.

But then something happened in Forte’s second year. His play dramatically fell off and while some like to chalk it up to a sophomore slump, the issues were deeper than that. The offensive line struggled to open holes for him and somewhere along the way he lost his confidence. He also had his knee scoped after the season, which might suggest that he played hurt too. It wasn’t just one thing that affected his play – it was a culmination of factors that limited him to fewer than 1,000 rushing yards and only four total touchdowns.

Whether Forte is due for a bounce back campaign or not, there will be one significant change this year than there was in 2009. And he goes by the name of Chester Taylor. The Bears didn’t have an answer for a slumping Forte last year, but this season Taylor is ready and willing to take over at the drop of a hat. The former Viking isn’t a one-man wrecking crew, but he has proven to be an effective back over his career and won’t hesitate to seize the moment if Forte struggles.

While suggesting that this is a make or break year for Forte is a bit extreme (after all, he’s only in his third year), he now has competition for touches. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the presence of Taylor will help Forte stay fresh throughout the season and instill some of that confidence that he lost in ’09.

Of course, no matter who runs the ball, the offensive line must do a better jump opening up holes. There’s reason to believe that the Bears’ O-line will be just as bad as it was last year, as GM Jerry Angelo did nothing to address the massive issue in the offseason. The additions of Taylor, defensive end Julius Peppers and safety Chris Harris certainly make this team better, but sliding Frank Omiyale from guard to right tackle doesn’t constitute fixing the offensive line. So it’ll be interesting to see if Forte can build off the success he had in his rookie year, or if the Bears’ running game will once again fall apart at the feet of their offensive line.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Turnovers doom Vikings in loss to Steelers

With their 27-17 win on Sunday, pundits are going to talk about how the Steelers made a statement against a good team. But there’s a strong argument that the good team the Steelers beat actually beat themselves.

The Vikings turned the ball over twice with less than seven minutes remaining, both of which resulted in defensive touchdowns for Pittsburgh. Brett Favre had a hand in both of the turnovers, as he was stripped once (which was returned by LaMarr Woodley for a 77-yard touchdown) and intercepted once (which was returned by Keyaron Fox for an 82-yard touchdown). In fairness to Favre, the interception ricocheted off Chester Taylor’s hands, but he was also a tad quick throwing the ball while setting up the screen.

Some may view Minnesota’s two turnovers as Pittsburgh’s defense making things happen. But the reality is that the fumble and interception were gifts by Favre and the Vikings, who were in scoring range both times. Minnesota had a chance to come away with a victory and wound up serving up a win for the Steelers.

That’s not to say that the Steelers didn’t earn the win, because they did. They held Adrian Peterson to only 69 yards on 18 carries and deserve credit for not only forcing two key turnovers, but also turning them into immediate points. But this was hardly a statement win. Not only did the Vikings turn the ball over twice late in the game, but they also committed 11 penalties (the Steelers only had three) and found ways to shoot themselves in the foot multiple times.

Inexperience at quarterback cripples Vikings

Tarvaris JacksonEven though he had quarterbacked his team to a 3-1 finish down the stretch of the regular season, questions remained about whether or not Tarvaris Jackson should start under center when the Minnesota Vikings eventually claimed a spot in the postseason.

Although not definitively, those questions were answered Sunday when the Vikings fell to the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles 26-14 in the final game of Wild Card weekend.

Jackson wasn’t bad, but he was largely ineffective. He completed 15 of 35 passes for just 164 yards and threw a costly interception in which Philly cornerback Asante Samuel returned for a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Despite having some success using his legs over the past month, Jackson also only attempted to run the ball twice while finishing with 17 yards on those two carries.

Jackson got plenty of help from Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor and the running game, which totaled 148 yards against a solid Philadelphia defense. Peterson also had two touchdowns despite getting dinged up in the first half, and provided a spark early in the second quarter with his 40-yard touchdown run.

But despite only being down 16-14 at halftime, Jackson couldn’t make enough plays in the passing game to produce a single point for Minnesota in the second half. As expected, Philly defensive coordinator Jim Johnson used a variety of blitz packages to confuse the young signal caller and even when the Viking defense produced key scoring opportunities by creating turnovers, Jackson and the offense still couldn’t muster even a field goal.

Not that Jackson looked rattled because he didn’t, but it’s hard for a young quarterback playing in his first playoff game to be extraordinary, which he certainly was not. Brad Childress’s game plan was to run the ball effectively with Peterson and then allow Jackson to take shots in the passing game in hopes Philly’s defense would start to inch closer to the line of scrimmage. Although the running game was good, Eagles’ defensive backs blanketed Viking receivers and limited the big plays by keeping everything in front of them and making sound tackles.

You can’t fault Childress for going with Jackson (I certainly don’t, especially when you consider Gus Frerotte hadn’t played in over a month), because Tarvaris had the hot hand. He was the quarterback that got the Vikings to the playoffs by playing so well down the stretch. But in the end, Jackson’s inexperience doomed Minnesota and some might question why the more seasoned Frerotte wasn’t under center for the Vikes’ most important game of the year.

Start, Bench or Cut: Is it time to part ways with these guys?

Now that we’re a quarter the way through the fantasy football season, some owners are wondering if it’s time to start benching their early round picks or if it’s appropriate to cut bait on a disappointing middle-round pick. Here is a list of 20 disappointing fantasy players, along with my take on their prospects over the next four games.

I’ve included the player’s Antsports ADP in parenthesis (for the month of August) along with their drafted and current rankings within their position.

1. Randy Moss (1.08)
Drafted: WR1
Currently: WR43

There’s no doubt that the loss of Tom Brady for the season has had a significant impact on Moss’ performance and prospects. He was a stud, but now there are owners who are (justifiably) starting to bench him for better options. He is averaging three catches for 24 yards and zero TD in the two games that Matt Cassel has started. The upcoming schedule (SF, SD, DEN and STL) looks pretty good from a matchup standpoint, and it seems like the bye week would be a good opportunity for Bill Belichick and Co. to figure out a way to use their most dynamic weapon. Unless you have a clearly better option, Moss is still worth starting.

2. Braylon Edwards (2.05)
Drafted: WR4
Currently: WR57

Edwards has looked out of it from the start, dropping a few balls against the Cowboys in Week 1. Through four games, he’s averaging 2.8 catches for 24 yards and 0.3 TD. He did catch a TD in Week 4 and his schedule gets a little easier over the next two weeks with the Giants and the Redskins, two teams that have allowed plenty of fantasy points to wideouts this season. Like Moss, unless you have a clearly better option, Edwards is still worth the start, though he’s on bye this week.

Read the rest after the jump...

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