What We Learned: Packers vs. Bears

With the schedule beginning to soften up before a bye in Week 8, the 3-0 Chicago Bears seem like real contenders. So what did we learn on Monday Night Football? Start with these five observations:

1. The coaching staff isn't worried about playing favorites
Two players expected to be major contributors in 2010, receiver Devin Aromashodu and defensive tackle Tommie Harris, were both inactive against the Packers, and while Aromashodu wasn't a complete surprise since he had a tough Week 1, Harris is a three-time Pro Bowl selection making a ton of money. This is not the kind of move Lovie Smith and Co. are known to make, as draft picks in particular have typically been punched with kid gloves by the organization and given every opportunity to succeed, oftentimes at the expense of lesser-heralded but more-deserving players. Smith essentially said after the game that Harris wasn't one of the 45 he wanted to suit up for Monday Night Football at Soldier Field, preferring to get a longer look at the likes of Marcus Harrison and Henry Melton, who are both reserve-types and not former Defensive Player of the Year candidates.

He plays more against the run these days than against the pass, and the Packers don't run it nearly as much as they throw it, but it's still hard to believe the Bears had the balls to sit Harris even if it supposedly gave them a better chance to win.

2. Bend-but-don't-break works when there are takeaways
The Cover 2 has been under siege since 2007, as the Bears have finished 28th, 21st and 17th in total defense after making a losing appearance in Super Bowl XLI. The reason the same defense, both in terms of scheme and personnel, was so successful in the division-title campaigns of 2005 and 2006 had to do with the ability to take the ball away from the opponent, even if it meant giving up lots of yards time and time again between the 20s. The Monsters of the Midway are forcing turnovers, picking off Aaron Rodgers once – albeit on a last-play-before-the-half Hail Mary – and ripping the ball away from James Jones after what would have been another Green Bay passing first down, setting up Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal.

So long as Julius Peppers gets some strip sacks off the edge and Zack Bowman remembers how to make a play on the ball, the Bears should be able to stay true to the Cover 2, take away long-distance strikes down the field and make teams have to score via 10- and 12-play drives.

3. Short-yardage and goal-line situations are a problem
Not only are the Bears having trouble running the football consistently, as they are currently 29th in the league in rushing yards per game (72.0) and tied for 27th in yards per carry (3.2), but they are having a devil of a time moving the chains – or scoring touchdowns – in short-yardage situations. With no confidence in the offensive line's ability to create a push up front, Mike Martz called for a touch pass on fourth down from the Green Bay 1-inch line, but Jay Cutler couldn't connect with Desmond Clark and turned the ball over on downs. Neither Matt Forte nor Chester Taylor has been effective moving the pile, and those struggles will likely continue in part because there is no true fullback on the roster capable of clearing a path.

WR Devin Hester
Scott Boehm/Getty

The front office paid free-agent signee Brandon Manumaleuna better than $6 million in compensation this year alone to be a difference-making blocker at tight end, H-back and fullback, but it looks like money down the drain at this point.

4. Nobody ever lost any confidence in Hester as a return man
Before Monday night, Devin Hester had played 30 games since his last kick return for a touchdown, which was a 64-yard punt-return score against the Saints in the 2007 finale. Special-teams TDs are hardly a regular occurrence, as many teams go a full season without getting even one, but Hester made a name for himself as the best return man the NFL had ever seen his first two years in the league, when he gave the Bears a field-position advantage perhaps never seen before. While Hester's confidence may have taken a shot or two, which he admitted in the locker room after the game, every one of his teammates and coaches stayed the course and knew the Windy City Flyer would take off – it was just a matter of time.

Now that Hester has proven that he can indeed do it again, giving Chicago its first lead against the Packers with a 62-yard sprint to paydirt, the intimidation effect he once had on every coverage unit is suddenly back.

5. This is a contender if the stars keep playing like stars
The Midway Monsters are the lone 3-0 team in the NFC, plus their schedule leading up to a bye in Week 8 features four teams with a combined record of 4-8, so they have announced themselves as legitimate contenders this season. The Bears are winning because their Pro Bowlers are playing like, well, Pro Bowlers, be it Cutler delivering the pigskin, Peppers providing pressure off the edge or Hester whipping up another spell on special teams. Aside from Harris, who has been in steady decline since that devastating knee/hamstring injury he suffered toward the end of 2006, the big-name and big-money players in Chicago are earning their paychecks.

That being said, if Cutler starts firing picks at an alarming rate again or Brian Urlacher stops playing like he did in his prime, then the Bears will see their overachieving ways come to an end quickly.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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