Monday, February 26, 2007

Skiles Irks Me

"Tough Loss Irks Skiles," proclaimed the Sun-Times headline. It's hard to get too irked about anything when the Bulls have beaten the Wizards and Cavs, and played the Pistons even in Detroit in recent days. But this headline irked me.

Skiles was indeed irked after Sunday's loss to the Pistons, in which the Bulls blew a 16 point second half lead. "To cough the game up in the third quarter with some of the plays that we're making, there's no excuse for that at this level," said the coach. "We can't keep saying we have young players and all that. At some point, we have to develop some poise. It's costing us too many games, and it cost us tonight."

Um, Scott, the lineup you had in for the key stretch of the third quarter: there's no excuse for that at this level. The Bulls blew their lead over the last four minutes of the third quarter. This is a traditional time to rest starters for the 4th quarter. And the Bulls had some foul difficulties. But Skiles road a line up of Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Luol Deng, Adrian Griffin and Chris Duhon for much of that time, as the Bulls were outscored by 11 points in less than four minutes. How exactly did he think that fivesome was going to compete? Deng is a nice option, but not a guy who can carry the offense. No one else in that group does anything offensively. And it showed. Alleged veteran leader Adrian Griffin dribbled hopeless into traffic before turning the ball over on more than one occasion.

The loss of Andres Nocioni makes Scott Skiles's job a LOT harder. Without him, Skiles needs to learn to make better use of his players. At the very least, when he's going to berate his players for losing the game, he should look in the mirror and ask himself whether he put them in a position to win.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Just Wondering

Three events converged yesterday that got me wondering. Actually, a couple of the events have been percolating, and my epiphany has even been battering around the recesses of my mind for a couple of days. But yesterday, for some reason, the intersection of events brought this thought into focus.

Event One: The trade deadline passes without, well, anything. The Memphis Grizzlies allegedly wanted two of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Andres Nocioni, plus a first round pick in exchange for Pau Gasol. I like Gasol a lot, probably more than most. And, I've argued that the Bulls should have been willing to give up a lot to get him. But that's too rich for even my blood. What's the point of adding Gasol if it strips the team of the pieces needed to contend? So, the Bulls passed. Nor did they reach agreement on lesser deals for Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Bonzi Wells. The Bulls would have liked to add someone, be it a forward or guard, who could post-up and create his own shot, especially when their back court is struggling from the perimeter. They couldn't accomplish that, so they enter the stretch drive unchanged.

Event Two: The Chicago Bulls beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 84 to 78. This was actually the last event to occur chronologically. The Bulls beat the Cavs by playing stifling defense, especially in the second quarter. The charge was led by Ben Wallace, who truthfully, has been disappointing this year. A number of experts correctly predicted that Wallace wouldn't continue to be the same player he's been the last four years. But I don't think anyone expected the fall off we've seen so far, at least not this season. Wallace is averaging 7.4 points per 40 minutes, which is low, even for him. Worse, he's averaging just 12.3 rebounds per 40 minutes -- that's half a rebound less than last season, and nearly 3.5 fewer than in his heyday in 2002-03. But last night Wallace had 14 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks. It was his second strong game in a row, following a 14 rebound effort against the Atlanta Hawks. With Wallace playing like that, the Bulls can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference, and may be only a piece or two away from legitimately contending for an NBA Championship.

Event Three: Scottie Pippen announces he wants to make a comeback and help a contender. This is actually the first event to occur, but it's potential relevance wasn't totally clear to me until yesterday. The word is that Scottie has a handful of potential bidders calling around, with the leading candidate believed to be the LA Lakers. The Lakers view Pippen as a possible solution to their need for a big guard to back up Kobe Bryant and play good defense. Pippen was certainly quick enough in his prime to guard back court players. His defense on Magic Johnson won the Bulls their first championship. But at 41, while he probably retains his deceptive strength, and certainly retains his knowledge of the game, isn't it likely his quickness has deteriorated somewhat? Pippen always had the speed and size to play anywhere from point guard to power forward, but his perfect spot was the small forward. It seems to me that at his age, he's more likely to still be able to play either forward spot than to still be able to play in the back court. And, he always knew how to score around the rim. So, how is it possible that no one has suggested that Scottie might provide a cheap solution to the Bulls' need for a front court reserve with some offensive punch? I mean, aren't the Bulls the first team everyone thinks of when they hear "Scottie Pippen?" And don't the Bulls need a forward with some offensive skills? Wasn't that the point of all the Gasol talk? Shouldn't the Bulls at least bring Scottie in for a workout and see what kind of shape he's in? If the team was willing to give something of value in exchange for Abdur-Rahim, isn't Pippen worth a free look? Scottie could be 70 and I'd still be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt versus Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And, yet, I haven't heard anyone suggest that the Bulls are one of the teams even considering whether to consider Scottie.

Look, I'm not suggesting Pippen can solve all the Bulls' problems and vault them to an NBA crown. I don't think a 41-year-old who hasn't played in three years can do that for anyone. But if Wallace is going to play with the passion and focus necessary to be a defensive force down the stretch, then the Bulls are pretty close to be an elite team. Am I crazy to think Scottie might bring them just one little step closer?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Ozzie

There it was in black and white: the scariest quote I've seen this year. Buried in the middle of a Sun-Times story about Tadahito Iguchi, this quote from Ozzie Guillen:

"I would really like to have 'Igu' down in the lineup. On the days Erstad hits first and Podsednik hits second, then maybe I put Iguchi down in the lineup at seventh."

Run. Scream in terror. Apparently, Ozzie has gotten it into his head to rotate Darrin Erstad into the one and two holes. The most important skill for a guy at the top of the order is getting on base. The rest of it -- stealing bases, bunting, whatever -- is at best secondary, and arguably meaningless. Those guys have to get on-base. Last year Erstad posted the remarkable on-base percentage of .279. It's remarkable in its craptacularity. He's 32, injury prone, and clearly in a fade. He has exactly one season with an OB above .331 this century. In 2005, his last injury-free season, he drew 47 walks and struck out 109 times. I don't think Erstad should even make the team, but he's clearly the least (no more italics, I promise) qualified guy to hit leadoff on the entire roster. PECOTA expects a much better .292 on-base percentage this season, which would be outstanding for a pitcher.

In contrast, Iguchi projects to have a .355 on-base percentage. Last year, he was at .352, and his rookie campaign, at .342, would beat all but Erstad's career best season. If anything, this is the guy who ought to be moving to the top of the order. I have an idea, Ozzie, let's not give 100 extra plate appearances to the guy who can't find first base with a personal navigation system. The theory that moving Iguchi down in the lineup, and thus depriving him of numerous plate appearances, somehow enables him to better use his skills is ludicrous. How about instead we leave him at the top and stop pissing his at-bats away with meaningless early-game sacrifice bunts, or have him stand around watching strikes while he waits for Podsednik to be thrown out stealing. Let him do his thing, and get the extra 100 at-bats.

It's bad enough that Ozzie's comments seem to indicate that Podsednik, Erstad, and Brian Anderson are likely to get at-bats that should be going to Ryan Sweeney and Josh Fields. But the idea of Darrin Erstad, lead off hitter, is enough to make me wet myself in fear.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Running of the Bulls

The NBA Slam Dunk competition is behind us, as are those events on Saturday night before the big throw down. (Do you see what I did there? Clever, huh?) Anyway, it's time for the second half of the season, and the final push to the playoffs. For a couple of years now the Bulls have been treading water: a playoff team, but not a contender. That was great, and a whole lot better than the wasteland following Michael's departure. But now there are expectations, especially since the team spent big bucks to bring in Big Ben. The general feeling is that the best way for the Bulls to meet those expectations is to acquire a legit post presence, most likely Memphis's Pau Gasol. To get a star like Gasol, the Bulls will have to give up players they want to keep. PJ Brown, Chris Duhon, Tyrus Thomas, and #1 pick are probably not enough. One guy from the Bulls' core will probably have to go too to make this happen.

The Bulls have four legitimately intriguing chips. The "least" of these, and the guy the Bulls would probably be most willing to part with, is Andres Nocioni. Nocioni is a good player, and he's only 27 years old. But to get quality, you have to give quality, so that's what we're dealing with here. Nocioni has established this season that his second year in the league was more indicative of his abilities than his rookie season. He has an effective field goal percentage (efg%) of .536 and averages 21.6 points per 40 minutes. He also averages 8.6 boards per 40 minutes. Still, he's the least valuable of the Bulls' big four. In fact, I wonder if he'd be enough of an incentive for Memphis to make the deal.

If Nocioni isn't enough, the Bulls would be wise to unload the player who is in many ways the face of the franchise. Kirk Hinrich was the first guy to give Chicago fans hope at the end of the franchise's dark age. He's only 26 and played on Team USA this summer. He averages 18.0 points and 7.0 assists per 40 minutes, and he's actually pretty good protecting the ball. He's having the best season of his career statistically. Still, he' the least valuable of the Bulls' perimeter studs. And, his progress has slowed dramatically if not stalled entirely. Hinrich is probably as good as he'll ever be, and that's not as good as Luol Deng or Ben Gordon.

The 23-year-old Gordon has stepped up his scoring this season, and not just because he's playing more minutes. His 26.8 points per 40 minutes is 5 points more than his previous career best. And he's shooting better than 45% from the floor. Then there's Deng. With a full off-season to prepare, Deng is having a career year. He's averaging 20.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes. He's shooting .523 from the floor, as compared to .463 last year. The improvement stems from a determination to take the ball to the basket. Forty-two percent of his shots are coming on the inside. AND HE'S ONLY 21! Sorry for yelling, but holy crap.

The Bulls might be unwilling to part with Gordon or Deng, and I'd feel really uncomfortable about giving up Deng, who may be an elite stud by the time he would have used up his eligibility at Duke. Still, you'd have to consider anything for Gasol. Gasol is also only 26. Though he's coming off an injury, he's averaging 23.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, and shooting a career best 53% from the floor. The single guy in the history of the NBA whose stats most resembled Gasol's at that age? Tim Duncan. What wouldn't you give up to add a youngTim Duncan to your line-up?

So, let's be optimistic for a minute (not Sam Smith, Duhon for Gasol straight up, optimistic), and assume that Hinrich can serve as the centerpiece for a deal. Based on my understanding, and with a big assist from ESPN's trade machine, the following deal could happen under the league's cap: The Bulls send Kirk Hinrich, PJ Brown, Tyrus Thomas and their #1 pick (which should be protected if its in the top 2 or 3 because the Knicks figure to be in the lottery) to Memphis for Pau Gasol and Damon Stoudamire (or Brian Cardinal).

I'd make that trade in heartbeat. The Bulls would be left with Ben Wallace, Pau Gasol, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon, with Malik Allen, Andres Nocioni, Thabo Sefolosha and Damon Stoudamire on the bench. To me that's a team that can make the next step. And, it's time to make the next step, for which we should be grateful. This is a lot more fun than just hoping not to sink further into the abyss.

Friday, February 16, 2007

And All Is Right In The (Sports) World

I originally left the word "sports" out of the title, but so much is not right in the world at this moment (starting with young American men and women dying on the other side of the world every day), that I felt uncomfortable even looking at the title. Nevertheless, it is true that I feel better just knowing that the White Sox report to spring training this weekend. So, in the spirit of usual spring optimism tempered with the knowledge, especially acute this year, that baseball is just a game: The White Sox report to spring training Saturday, and all is right in the sports world.

The White Sox enter camp with at least three major positional battles. Let's start in center field. The incumbent in Brian Anderson, who is undoubtedly an outstanding defender, and last year was offensive on offense. Anderson hit only .218 last year, with an on-base percentage under .300. He was, however, 12 full runs above average in center field over the course of the season. That's outstanding. Projecting this year, PECOTA anticipates a more realistic .250 batting average, with an on-base percentage near .320, and 15 or so home runs. However, Anderson's defense will likely regress towards average as well. More importantly, the White Sox have a better option in my opinion. No not, Darrin Erstad, who is far too old to play center and likely too washed up to contribute at all. Ryan Sweeney is one of the few legitimate prospects the Sox have. He struggled in limited plate appearances at the major league level last year. But he hit .288 with an on-base percentage near .350, and a bit of power last summer in Charlotte. And, based on that performance, at the tender age of 21, PECOTA sees pretty big things for him this summer: a .277 batting average, .330 on base percentage, and 10-15 homeruns. He's an above-average corner outfielder, and can probably play an average center field. If he can, he's the answer there for the Sox, so I'll be rooting for him to win the job.

I'll also be rooting for a kid to win the job in left field. The incumbent, and the best of the Sox' veteran options out there is Scott Podsednik. Pods had a much detailed struggle in left last year. He hit .260 and his on-base percentage slipped below .340. And his defense, stellar in 2005, was below average in 2006. Next year PECOTA expects a further decline, with a batting average in the .250's and an on-base percentage below .330. Meanwhile, Josh Fields, another of the Sox few good prospects, is athletic enough to bring his impact bat to the lineup in left. Like Sweeney, Fields struggled with the big club last season. But he had an outstanding year at AAA. He hit .300 with a .370 on-base percentage, 19 homeruns and 28 stolen bases. PECOTA expects him to struggle reaching base if he spends the season at the big league level: .253 batting average, .325 on-base percentage. But it also expects more than 20 homeruns. Given Podsednik's fade, Fields seems like a better choice.

Finally, the most crowded battle is for the fifth rotation spot. Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, and Jon Garland are an outstanding top four guys. But for the first time in a few years, a slot is open for a youngster to join the rotation. I'm not thrilled with the options here. The first shot will be given to Gavin Floyd, acquired in the trade that sent Freddy Garcia to Philly. Floyd, once highly touted, struggled mightily last year with the Phillies, posting an ERA over 7.00 in 11 starts. Nor was he much better at AAA, where he had an ERA of 5.64. PECOTA projects an ERA over 6.00 for Floyd this season if he makes 20 starts. A slightly better option is knuckle baller Charlie Haeger, who was terrible in his big league debut last season, but then pitched well out of the pen down the stretch. PECOTA has marginally better expectations for Haeger than Floyd: an EqERA around 5.30 (that's ERA adjusted to assume a league average of 4.50) over 20 starts. But again, the best option is to hand the ball to the youngster with the most upside. In this case, that's John Danks, the Rangers prospect acquired for Brandon McCarthy. Danks has only 13 starts at the AAA level, posting an ERA of 4.36 there. But Danks strikes a fair number out, and until AAA had never had control issues. PECOTA anticipates an EqERA of 5.09, with about 7 k's per 9 innings. Not great, but better than the alternatives. And Danks has the best upside.

The continued health and production of the Sox' big hitters and front-line starters will have more to do with the team's success than who wins these position battles. But maximizing team value at the margins is what spring training is all about, so this spring, I'll be rooting for the kids.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This Is Priceless

There's no real sports connection here. But this video is priceless. It's almost on a par with the bear and the trampoline video. The last squirrel is the best.

Finally, Sports! Or not.

I've sat idly this week since finishing my last Bears post. The dominating news stories of the past week just don't float my boat, so to speak. Tyrus Thomas is only in the dunk contest for the money? No s**t. He's just the only kid still naive enough to say it out loud. Olin Kreutz lives in Hawaii and can't be bothered with playing in the Pro Bowl, but because he says the right things in dropping out, no one bats an eye. We all know that All Star Weekend and the Pro Bowl mean more to the players as a vacation, party or rest break than anything else, but we don't want it rubbed in our faces. Except I couldn't care less. Nor could I care less about tension between the Notre Dame and Illinois football programs, or college football recruiting in general. Unlike college basketball where the instant impact or lack of impact -- I'm looking at you Paul Harris -- of a talented freshman can make or break a season, incoming freshmen rarely make a difference on the football field. Rex Grossman, David Carr, Jeff Garcia? It's too soon to generate much excitement about next football season. And, spring training, while tantalizing close, has yet to begin.

Which is why I was so excited this morning to sit down and write about an actual sporting event. I sat down last night to watch the Bulls play the Sacramento Kings waiting for a fun storyline to emerge. Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, and even Ben Wallace contributed early, and the Bulls led by five after a quarter. And, then I watched the ugliest half of basketball I've seen in a very long time. The two teams scored 31 points combined in the second quarter. The Suns and Mavericks could score 31 points getting off the team buses. So after all that, here is my sum observations from last night's game: the bench played well in the third quarter.

So, the Bulls game failed to get me out of my rut. What now? And, does this happen after every football season, but I've never been self-aware enough to notice. I mean, do we all kind of go into a post-NFL sports depression every year? I'm not sure. But I do know this: there is a cure. I'm going to Vegas. No, really, that's not a joke. My buddies from law school and I happen to be going to Vegas this weekend, and I believe that nothing can better disrupt this malaise than "investing" heavily in several college basketball games. So, thank goodness for modern medicine, and, uh, the sports book at Mandalay Bay.

Monday, February 05, 2007

New Generation of Bears Fans Not So Thrilled With T Formation

I said before the Super Bowl that I could see the game playing out in just about any way. One possibility that I did not anticipate was the Bears playing poorly, but still having the ball down less than a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But that's what happened. It was an odd game. In fact, after the game, the Official Father of the Fan Club, aka Hawaii Mike, said that if the two teams played again, he still would have no idea what outcome to expect. Hawaii Mike is no Bears fan. But none of this changes the fact that the Bears were badly outplayed, probably worse than the score indicates.

Some things went as expected. The Bears got a big play in the return game. The Bears were excellent all year in the return game and the Colts were bad all year in coverage. No surprises there. And both teams ran the ball well. The Colts picked up 191 yards on 42 carries. Finesse team, huh? Actually, I think Dominic Rhodes should have been the run away MVP winner, but sentiment prevailed there. Anyway, the Bears ran for 111 yards of their own on 19 carries. That's 5.8 yards a pop.

And yet on what I believe was the key series of the game, the Bears got pass happy. The Bears were lucky to go into the break down 16-14. And, the Colts came out to open the second half and moved the ball at will. Their drive lasted 13 plays and more than seven and a half minutes. But the Bears managed to hold them to a field goal and remained, luckily, one score down at 19-14.

The Bears needed to answer. They needed to give their D time to rest. Their first two plays were passes that picked up 23 yards and put the Bears at 2nd and 1 in Indy territory. I begged the TV for a simple run. Pick up the first down and you have a whole new set of downs to get cute with. It is a widely held misconception that second and short is a free play. Throw and incompletion and you can pick up the first on the next play. The Bears demonstrated why that's a fallacy. A sack, a fumble, and 22 yards later the Bears were punting on 4th and 23 from their own 33.

The game, I believed, was over, especially when the Colts scored again on the ensuing possession to make it a two score game. And yet, the Bears had the ball, down only five points, in the 4th quarter. The holding call against John Tait that erased a 12 yard Thomas Jones run to start the drive was huge. Three plays later, Evil Rex arrived, and the game really was over. The interception run back for a touchdown was a huge mental lock-up. Rex didn't try to make a throw, he just threw it up and prayed. The second pick a few minutes later was a good play, but a terrible throw. The ball was underthrown and delivered too late, wasting a wide open Bernard Berrian. The truth is Grossman looked scared and overwhelmed all night, even if his numbers weren't terrible. Maybe he'll grow out of it, but next year is his last chance.

Despite everything that went wrong, the Bears had a chance to win in the 4th quarter and couldn't come through. Whoever won this game was going to be one of the weaker teams to ever win a Super Bowl, either deeply flawed at QB or on defense. And appropriately, the game was one of the sloppiest, most turnover laden in Super Bowl history. But all that aside, the Indianapolis Colts are Super Bowl champions. Excellence on one side of the ball is enough in today's NFL to be a legitimate contender. Which should give Bears fans hope for next year.

Friday, February 02, 2007

All About Rex

We've put all the pieces together but one. Each team should have success running the football. The Bears' pass D can match up well with Peyton Manning and the Colts, if the Bears use their run game to limit Manning's opportunities. We haven't discussed special teams, but the Bears have a huge advantage in that area. Believe me, Devin Hester against the Colts' punt coverage is a good thing if you're a Bears fan. If we could stop right there, I'd pick the Bears in a close game, say 20-17.

But there's one player on the field we haven't talked about yet, and he could make all the difference in the world. Rex Grossman is not the WORST QUARTERBACK EVER, as the mainstream media would have you believe. Nor is the NFL's Player of the Month from September the GREATEST QUARTERBACK EVER as the national media would have had you believe back then. What he is, is unbelievably inconsistent.

He attempted 459 passes, completed 55% of them for 3,052 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also threw 20 picks. On the surface those numbers don't look so bad. They don't look great, either, but certainly passable. The problem was that Grossman poured on big numbers against some teams -- he was second in the NFL with seven games with a passer rating over 100 -- and could do nothing when the team needed him to in other games, such as against the Patriots and Dolphins.

As a result, the Bears' offense had the widest variance during the regular season of any team in football. It wasn't even that close. Now, in the play-offs Mediocre Rex has suddenly emerged. He struggled against the Saints, but he didn't throw the game away and he came through with one good drive to seal the deal against New Orleans. Against Seattle his numbers look better, but the truth is that he struggled on third down when the stakes are highest. Still, he did enough on first and second down, and minimized his mistakes, allowing the Bears to win.

But two weeks of consistent mediocrity don't override 16 weeks of roller coaster ups and downs. I can't say with any confidence whether Grossman will be fantastic, horrible, or less likely, average. And, as a result, I can't say with any confidence what will happen on Sunday. If he plays great, the Bears could dominate with their superior defense and special teams. If he plays terribly, the Colts could run away with this. If he plays average, I think the Bears have the advantage because of their strength in the running game, defensively and in the return game. Even though he may be the most important guy on the field Sunday, he's also the toughest to analyze. So, I'm going to pretend Grossman doesn't exist. And I'm right back where I started: Bears 20 - Colts 17.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Smash Mouth Sucked

Seriously. "So don't delay act now supplies are running out. Allow if you're still alive six to eight years to arrive. And if you follow there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer is shun you might as well be walkin' on the sun." What the hell does that mean?!?

Anyway, leaving behind the world of musical commentary, we turn now to the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, which declares in huge letters: "SMASHMOUTH". The paper declares that the "smashmouth" Bears need to turn the game into a "brawl" to beat the "finesse" Colts. I'm usually skeptical of words like smashmouth and finesse because they're the kinds of subjective words that don't really tell you much when they're uttered, and in retrospect, can be twisted to match whatever reality turned out to be.

What is true is that the Bears need to run the ball to win on Sunday, which may be the Sun-Times' point anyway. The last two days I talked about how the Bears' D matches up with the Colts' offense. As good as the Bears' D is, however, the truth is that the Colts' offense is so dynamic that they will put points on the board if given enough opportunities. So, how do you limit those opportunities? You get off the bus running the football.

And the Bears should have some success running the football. (Incidentally, the Official Brother of the Ron Karkovice Fan Club, Sh*thead, wants the Bears to come out in the wishbone. He may be on to something.) Anyway, based on Football Outsiders' nifty DVOA (once again for anyone new: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), the Bears had the ninth best running attack in the NFL.

The Bears may have a mediocre to poor offense, but they do one thing very well on that side: run the football. Thomas Jones gained 1,21o yards on 296 carries, with six touchdowns. Cedric Benson gained 647 yards on 157 carries, with six touchdowns of his own. Benson ranked 10th and Jones 19th in the league in DVOA among running backs, which here measures a back's contributions on a per play basis. Jones ranked 11th and Benson 18th in overall production (measured by Football Outsiders' DPAR: Defense-adjusted Performance Above Replacement).

And, generally speaking, we know Indy wasn't very good at run defense this year. In fact, they were 31st in DVOA. But more than that, they're most vulnerable where the Bears are strongest. Indy ranked last in football against runs between the guards. They're also last on runs behind right tackle, and 26th on runs behind left tackle. On the other hand, they're in the top 10 against sweeps to either side.

Meanwhile, 78% of Bears' carries this season were between the tackles, 44% between the guards. That's not that unusual, only a few teams run outside more than 25% or so (the Colts being one of them). But the Bears run between the tackles better than most. They ranked first in the NFL in adjusted line yards on carries between the guards, and eighth on carries behind left tackle John Tait.

So, the Bears can take advantage of the Colts' weakness against the run, just like they can contain Manning and the Colts' passing attack. And, as I said Monday, the Bears must contain Manning, and similarly must run the ball. Running the ball is the best chance the Bears have to put points on the board, and can help limit the Colts' offensive opportunity. And, there's the formula for the Bears. Run the ball, control the clock, make Indy's passing attack one dimensional, and don't let Joseph Addai do too much damage. At this point, I'd be willing to predict a 20-17 Bears' win, which is out of line with what the "experts" are predicting both in terms of total points and who has more of them. But there's a wild card in this game: Rex Grossman, aka Variance Man. More on his potential impact on this game tomorrow.