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Bears will suffer if aerial attack stays grounded
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen gets 1 of his 3 sacks of Kyle Orton, whose 39.1 passer rating Sunday night was by far his worst of the season.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/2/2008 12:01 AM

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If the Bears' improbable dream of running the table and making the playoffs has any chance of becoming reality, they'll need to become a lot more productive in the passing game.

Before he suffered a sprained ankle against Detroit in the eighth game of the season, quarterback Kyle Orton appeared on the verge of a breakout season.

But his performance and the passing-game production have gone steeply downhill since.

Orton had by far his worst game of the season Sunday in the 34-14 loss at Minnesota, throwing 3 interceptions - just 1 fewer than he had in the first 11 games combined.

At 6-6, the Bears probably need to sweep their remaining four games and hope for help from other teams to overtake the 7-5 Vikings, who are tied with or ahead of the Bears in the first four tiebreakers.

But the Bears can forget about winning out if they can't throw the ball better than they have in the past five games. That included one start by Rex Grossman, who also had relieved Orton when he was injured against the Lions.

The Bears haven't thrown for more than 166 yards in any of their last five games. In the three previous games, they averaged 295 yards through the air.

But that seems like a distant memory.

It's not all Orton, not by a longshot, even though his passer rating of 39.1 Sunday was by far his worst of the season and nearly 50 points below his season rating of 88.1 through 11 games.

"They rushed the passer well," Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "and of course Jared Allen had a heck of a game."

Allen, the Vikings Pro Bowl defensive right end, repeatedly blew past Bears left tackle John St. Clair and an assortment of players who tried to assist him.

Allen's 3 sacks pushed his season total to 11, and he added 3 tackles for lost yardage and 4 quarterback hurries.

But one player didn't short-circuit the Bears' aerial attack. Orton missed some passes, and his receivers dropped a few others.

"They have a good front; we knew that going in," Smith said. "Kyle would tell you he probably would like to have some of the throws back.

"Normally it's a combination of quite a few things. We dropped some balls (Sunday). So, whether it's protection, Kyle, or receivers (not) catching the ball, we all could do things a little bit better, and we'll have to in this next stretch."

In recent weeks, Bears wide receivers have struggled to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage and get separation, and their production as a group has waned. But the drought also has spread to tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.

Wide receiver Rashied Davis has exactly 1 catch in each of the last four games. Brandon Lloyd has a total of 4 catches for 44 yards in the three games since he returned from a sprained knee. Neither has a TD in the past four games.

Devin Hester has 9 catches for 131 yards in the past three games, but 65 of those yards came on his TD catch Sunday, the only score he has had in the past seven games.

Clark has 12 catches in his last four games but for only 63 yards, a 5.3-yard average. Olsen, who was starting to resemble a go-to guy just a few weeks ago, has 1 catch for 7 yards in the past two games.

With production like that, the Bears will have a tough time making up a deficit in any game down the stretch.

"We have to make some strides; we have to improve in order for us to get where we want to go," Smith said. "We realize that. We have to improve. Not just in that area but in quite a few areas for us to win out."

Win out? The Bears are certain to be left out if the passing game doesn't get better in a hurry.