LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — If the Chicago Bears find a way to stop Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, it could be the confirmation of their status as a contender.
After all, not every defense stops a player putting up MVP-type performances week in and week out. The Bears may need such a feat to impress skeptics who point out that five of their seven wins came over struggling Dallas, Detroit, Buffalo, Carolina and Minnesota, or that a sixth win came over a Miami team using third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen.
Vick has seven starts this season, but the Bears say it’s not silly to think of him as an MVP. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes two years after being released from prison for his role in a dogfighting ring.
“I’d vote for him,” safety Chris Harris said. “I think some of the things he’s doing are amazing. He doesn’t have one interception all season long.”
It’s Vick’s ability to escape a pass rush and deliver passes accurately or run for big yards that have the Bears defense concerned.
“The crazy thing is, I watched the Washington game (a 59-28 Eagles win), and you go to sleep with nightmares about how you’re going to stop this guy,” said Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. “There are so many challenges and so much talent on their offense.”
While Vick’s scrambling ability worries the Bears, coach Lovie Smith thinks his defensive scheme gives Vick cause for concern.
“We believe in our defense and it’s set up to play guys like him,” Smith said.
The Bears saw the New York Giants blitz Vick with some success, but like their chances letting him run to them while playing their cover-2 zone.
The onus will fall on Bears defensive ends to keep Vick from getting outside and throwing on the run or taking it upfield.
“Our front seven, really, we’ll need to be disciplined,” Smith said. “We’re saying that each week about being disciplined in your lanes. That will definitely be the case. Of course, he’s a great thrower, but we still feel like for us to have the most success, we need to keep him penned in.”
Vick has faced Smith’s cover-2 defense only one full game, completing 13-of-32 passes for 122 yards with two interception while rushing for 35 yards on six carries in 2005. He came off the bench to run 34 yards on one play in the wildcat against them last season.
The key to the Bears’ pass rush is defensive end Julius Peppers, but defensive end Henry Melton suggested this is something the entire line will have to handle.
“We have a very smart rush,” he said. “All of us can get there. If one guy shoots at him and misses, another guy is going to overlap.”
The Giants had a pass rush good enough to sack Bears quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in a half without blitzing much. So if the Giants couldn’t stop Vick without blitzing, it would appear to be a difficult chore for any defense.
However, the Bears had six sacks against Miami and believe their pass rush is improving.
“We would definitely have to have a pass rush and have guys level-rush and not get behind him to create enough lanes for him to run,” Harris said.
A victory in Sunday’s game is critical to the Bears (7-3), not only to allow them to keep pace with Green Bay (7-3) in the NFC North chase, but because of a potential wild card. Chicago’s three losses all came against NFC teams, and conference victories are critical in the playoff tiebreaker formula.
The Bears have more conference losses than any NFC team with a winning record.
“With every win here, especially in the conference, it’s going to be huge at the end of the year for seedings and all that,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “So we understand the importance of this game and it’s going to be a big week.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.