Bill Huber: Picking up where Part 1 left off, I wonder how Mike Martz is going to account for the Packers' pass rush. Green Bay leads the NFL with 10 sacks, and Clay Matthews leads the league with six. Just looking at Martz's history, he has never been reluctant to let his quarterback get hit in exchange for a big play down the field. What have you seen thus far? Will he keep an extra guy in to protect Jay Cutler, or will he take his chances that the Bears' pass catchers can get open before the rush can get home?
John Crist: When Martz has an effective offensive line at his disposal, which he did in St. Louis with future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace at left tackle, he certainly prefers to send five receivers out on a route and give his quarterback as many options as possible. But it's no secret the Bears are having problems up front and can't always give Cutler enough time to take all those seven-stop drops, which are a staple of Martz's system and at times necessary if the downfield patterns are going to have a chance to develop. Martz has already made the adjustment, at times keeping not one but two tight ends in to block and only sending three receivers out on a route.
The clearest example of this came in last week's win against the Cowboys, when Martz kept both tight end Greg Olsen and running back Chester Taylor in to help with pass protection, but Cutler was still able to find a wide-open Johnny Knox on a fly pattern – Devin Hester took one safety with him on a deep cross, while Earl Bennett occupied the other running a fly on the other side – that went for 59 yards.
BH: Speaking of Cutler, he's off to a remarkable start after throwing an unconscionable 26 interceptions last year. This year, it's five touchdowns against one interception and a stellar 10.1 yards per pass attempt – anything over 7.5 is considered good; 8.0 is excellent. We'll get to the receivers in a bit, but are you surprised by how sharp he has been considering he's new to Martz's system and has mainly the same cast of characters around him?
JC: I was quite sure Cutler would put up numbers in Martz's offense and make a lot of big plays along the way, but I figured he'd be sacked and intercepted on a regular basis since that's simply the nature of this envelope-pushing passing attack. I've been amazed at Cutler's maturity so far and his willingness to give up on a play – he was 21 of 29 in Dallas, and several of those incompletions were of the throw-away variety – if nothing is there, while last year he may have tried to force a square peg into a round hole and turned the ball over as a result. Because both Cutler and Martz have fiery personalities and can be abrasive at times, this was either going to be a match made in heaven or a marriage from hell, but so far they're still in the honeymoon stage.
While you can say what you will about Cutler being a spoiled brat and genuinely unlikeable at times, and I'm one of the Chicago media that has done so ad nauseum, I think people would be impressed by how hard he has worked since Martz's arrival, both on the field and in the film room.
BH: About those receivers. I wonder how many would be recognized in public by Joe Bears Fan. Is this a matter of a bunch of no-name young guys making a name for themselves? Cutler doing what the great quarterbacks do and throwing it to whoever's open without playing favorites? Just the genius of Martz? Or, worst case from the Bears' perspective, is this simply a "new" system catching defenses off guard because they don't have any tape?
JC: If you review some of the things I've written and said on either TV or radio since preparations for 2010 began, I've been a firm believer that the skill-position talent in the Windy City is better than most of the national pundits would have you believe. Sure, none of the receivers resembles a true No. 1 in this league and you never know from week to week who is going to be targeted the most, but with the way Martz's system is designed to get the ball out to the first open target the QB sees, it may be just fine to have a collection of 2s and 3s instead of an unquestioned alpha dog. I could very easily see Cutler throwing for 4,000-plus yards this season but still not have a 1,000-yard receiver on the roster, which may be unprecedented – I'll have to look that up.
Devin Aromashodu was targeted 10 times in Week 1 and sure looked to be Cutler's go-to guy, but he dropped a few passes against the Lions, got replaced in three-wide sets by Bennett and was held without a catch in Week 2.
BH: You asked about Morgan Burnett, so I have to ask about Major Wright. They seem like different guys in every way – Burnett is 6-1, while Wright is 5-11; Burnett had 14 interceptions at Georgia Tech, while Wright had eight at Florida; Burnett is a ballhawk, while Wright is a hitter. His career is off to a terrible start with a litany of injuries. What did you see from him, who replaced him in the lineup and is that position a strength, weakness or something in between?
JC: After not making too many plays in minicamp or OTAs, Wright really developed during training camp and had most of the media on the sideline believing he was the best safety on the team by the time the first preseason game came around. But he has been incredibly unlucky thus far, first injuring a finger early on in the exhibition schedule and then being in the wrong place in the wrong time against the Cowboys, which resulted in a hamstring injury while playing special teams. Right now, the Bears are going with Chris Harris at free safety and Danieal Manning at strong safety, even though it seems like those two should be flip-flopped based on the physical tools – Harris is more of a hitter; Manning is more of an athlete – each brings to the table.
Chicago needs to hit a home run with Wright because both safety spots have been in flux ever since the now-departed Mike Brown started to see his body break down on a yearly basis, so the likes of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings certainly have the advantage when matched up with either Harris or Manning.
BH: I've got to say, I'm stunned that the Bears are 2-0. They demolished Detroit every way imaginable in Week 1 – other than the scoreboard – but, with Dallas coming off a loss in its opener, who could have guessed that the Bears would have pretty much dominated the Cowboys last week? So, the Bears are 2-0 and tied with the Packers for first place in this early-season showdown. The winner really takes early control of things. What has surprised you, is this team for real and where are the areas for future growth and concern?
JC: Even though I really thought the Bears were a better football team on either side of the ball heading into 2010, I still had them as at 7-9 because so many things had to go right in order for them to be a contender again, plus the schedule – as you well know – is pretty difficult playing both the NFC East and AFC East. I'm not totally surprised at the early success of the offense, as Cutler is overflowing with natural ability and Martz has a history of scoring points consistently in Year 1, but I had no idea the front seven would play as well as it has. The Monsters of the Midway are allowing only 28.0 yards rushing per game and just 1.4 yards per carry, both No. 1 in the NFL, led by an underrated Lance Briggs and a resurgent Brian Urlacher.
I'm not going to say Lovie Smith and Co. are for real yet, as Detroit is still Detroit and Dallas is overhyped season after season, but Monday's winner makes a statement, takes the early lead in the NFC North and announces itself as the team to beat.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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