Bears return from their bye looking to stay in first place in the NFC North
The Chicago Bears return from their bye week looking to pick up where they left things off when they take on the Miami Dolphins down in South Florida. The Dolphins (3-2) are in the midst of a two-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored by New England and Cincinnati, a pair of division leaders in the AFC, by a score of 65-24.
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't enjoy either of those games as he was sacked a total of five times and threw three interceptions. The back-to-back losses put a damper on what had been a strong start for the Dolphins, which saw them score 75 points and hold the Titans, Jets and Raiders to 52 combined.
Miami's struggles, particularly on offense, have to be music to the ears of Chicago (3-1), who is looking to extend its three-game winning streak. The Bears have riding their defense, which is second in the NFL in both yards (294.5) and points (16.3) allowed per game. The team also found its offense right before the break as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky exploded for six touchdown passes in the 48-10 rout of Tampa Bay in Week 4. So this has all the makings of a Bears win, right? Not so fast...
The Dolphins started last season with a two-game losing streak but broke it by winning their next three games. They had another two-game skid midway through the 2016 campaign but fixed that by winning five straight. The Dolphins made the playoffs that year. Not to mention the fact that they’ve gone 3-1 in their last four meetings with the Bears. This has trap game written all over it for the NFC North leaders.
Chicago at Miami
Kickoff: Sunday Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ryan Tannehill vs the Bears' defense
Miami's offensive line obviously needs to know where linebacker Kahlil Mack and defensive end Akiem Hicks are at all times and try to keep them blocked. These two have combined for 23 tackles, eight sacks, two tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles and two passes defended. If the Dolphins want to have success moving the ball, they need to isolate these two and give Tannehill time to throw. Otherwise it’s going to be a long day.
2. Robert Quinn and Kiko Alonso vs. the Bears' offense
Chicago's offensive line also will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Quinn has been on a roll of his own as he has already recorded 14 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. He has fit right in the Dolphins' defense since being acquired in the offseason via trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
Alonso is leading the team in tackles (50) and forced fumbles (two), and he's also picked off two passes and deflected three others. He's extremely active from his outside linebacker spot and has the quickness and athleticism that allows him to cover sideline-to-sideline.
If the Bears can keep tabs on both of them and prevent them from making too many impactful plays, it will bode well for the offense.
3. The Bears need just enough from Mitchell Trubisky
While it was nice to see Trubisky throw six touchdown passes against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, that won’t happen this week. But what he can do is get rid of the ball quickly, make the right decisions, and move the offense with efficiency. The Bears don’t need him to be a superstar, they just need him to be consistent. The Dolphins' defense figures to offer more resistance than Tampa Bay, so it will be interesting to see how crisp Trubisky and Chicago's offense will be coming out of the bye.
While there will be concern about the Bears having rust coming out of the bye week (especially since this is the first of four games against the entire AFC East), I expect their defense to carry them through again. The Bears have outscored their opponents on the road by a slim margin of 39-38, but the defense has collected five sacks and four interceptions along with four forced fumbles in those two games (at Green Bay, Arizona). Chicago also has had more success running the ball on the road (261 rushing yards) compared to at home (225). The Bears will extend their winning streak on the strength of their defense and a little more production from the running game. Just don't expect another blowout like two weeks ago.
Prediction: Bears 24, Dolphins 21
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.