Mark Kelso: Is Chicago's reluctance to run the ball consistently an indication of a lack of confidence in the offensive line, or are they just trying to get the most out of Jay Cutler's ability?
John Crist: I think coach Lovie Smith would like to be a more balanced offense and run the ball more, but he's got a coordinator in Mike Martz that is known for throwing the ball and an O-line incapable of opening holes consistently. While I don't believe either Matt Forte of Chester Taylor to be a special back, not to mention the fact that they don't complement each other very well since they're essentially the same player, both of them are good enough to make plays if given room to operate. Yes, the Bears have been behind a decent amount this season, but that's no excuse for abandoning the running game as quickly as – and as often as – Martz does.
If there was ever a time to take some of the Atlas-like pressure off Cutler's shoulders and feed the ball to the Forte-Taylor combination 40-plus times, this is it since the Bills have the worst rush defense in the NFL.
MK: What type of locker-room chemistry exists in Chicago? The good teams always seem to find a way to build the best locker room, not just a collection of individuals. Has this been part of the formula for building a successful team, or are they a talent-driven organization?
JC: The Bears are suckers for upside and potential in the draft, which is the case for most teams around the league, but more often than not I think Smith has had a cohesive and supportive locker room during his seven-year tenure. It got a little hairy when general manager Jerry Angelo selected Cedric Benson No. 4 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, as he ended up holding out for 36 days – Angelo hasn't endured a holdout since – and ultimately proved to be a bad teammate, especially when he was complaining about playing time but hadn't done anything to deserve it ahead of the hard-working Thomas Jones. Still, Chicago did let go of some high-character guys last offseason, notably D-end Alex Brown and running back Adrian Peterson.
This may have something to do with the Bears not going anywhere near Randy Moss during the recent waiver process, even though Martz runs a receiver-based system and the seven-time Pro Bowler would instantly be the best pass catcher on the team by a wide margin.
MK: There have been times when the Bills' wide receivers have had difficulty escaping from press coverage. Do you expect the Bears to be aggressive in the defensive secondary or sit back and cover?
JC: Perhaps the coaching staff has noticed this on tape and will employ a little more bump-and-run coverage on the outside, but I doubt it since this is a bend-but-don't-break D and there isn't a lockdown corner anywhere on the team. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are better known for their ability to support the run and force fumbles after the catch, and the pure best cover man in Chicago, Zack Bowman, lost his starting job – well before he showed up on the injury report with a sprained foot – because his technique was sloppy at times. Even in third-and-short situations, the Bears tend to give plenty of cushion on the outside and, therefore, have been vulnerable to quick slants for years.
More often than not, the Bears rush their front four and play Cover 2 behind them, and even when they do blitz, it's usually just a linebacker or the nickel back.
MK: How has the addition of Julius Peppers impacted the defensive philosophy from previous years? Why were the Bears so intent on acquiring his services?
JC: Based on what I can see up in the press box, the addition of Peppers – plus the naming of Rod Marinelli as the new defensive coordinator – has allowed the Bears to be incredibly vanilla yet incredibly effective on that side of the ball. This isn't a defense that throws a lot of bells and whistles at the offense. If they're looking for the run, it's Cover 1. If they're looking for the pass, it's Cover 2. From 2007-09, when Chicago had a devil of a time generating consistent pressure up front, we saw a lot more blitzing to aggressively compensate, as well as a lot of Cover 3 to passively compensate.
As everyone expected, Peppers is commanding double and triple teams on a regular basis, which has opened the door for first-time starter Israel Idonije to lead the club with five sacks in seven games.
MK: Do you feel that teams in the NFL can win with an offensive attack that is unbalanced in favor of the passing game without an elite QB? It seems that the Colts and Patriots are able to do that, but most teams seem to struggle if they can not run the ball effectively and don't have a QB that can compensate for a lack of production in the running game.
JC: As you're implying, both the Colts and Patriots can keep racking up victories despite mediocre running games and inflated pass-to-run ratios because they have Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, respectively, under center. Quite honestly, when the Bears made the trade for Cutler a year and a half ago, Angelo and Co. thought they had committed the crime of the 21st century and the organization's never-ending search for a difference maker at the game's most important position was now over. However, as we've seen, Cutler isn't ready to be an elite passer in the same category as a Manning or a Brady because he doesn't take good enough care of the football – it shows in his 27-32 career record as a starter.
I do believe you can build a winner with a forgettable running game and a forgettable defense, but you better have a cold-blooded killer at QB that doesn't turn the ball over and has ice water flowing through his veins during the two-minute drill.
To read Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John and Mark highlight matchups and make final predictions, Click Here. To go back and read Part I, where Mark answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Mark Kelso played for the Bills from 1986-93 and is now their color commentator on WGRF 96.9 FM in Buffalo.
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