Adam Caplan: How has the Mike Martz-Jay Cutler relationship been this year? Martz can be hard on quarterbacks, but it seems like we have not heard much about how he feels about Cutler's development this season?
John Crist: It seemed like everyone in both the local and national media expected there to be fireworks between Martz and Cutler, as both have fiery personalities and Cutler has a history of shutting it down if he doesn't feel like a coach has his back (see McDaniels, Josh). However, Martz and Cutler seem to be getting along beautifully, both on and off the field, with the two of them singing each other's praises whenever afforded the opportunity. It's worth noting that the turnaround we have witnessed in Chicago the last three weeks isn't really a product of the team doing a better job digesting Martz's notoriously complex offense, but what's really happened is Martz has been forced to call more running plays and fewer seven-step drops because that was the only way to save Cutler from getting killed.
While Cutler hasn't been as prolific from a statistical point of view as fantasy players would have liked after his arranged marriage to Martz, at least he's cutting down on his turnovers and winning more games.
AC: The much-maligned Bears offensive line seems to have been a little better after their bye, but is it really improved? Mike Tice is known as one of the elite offensive line coaches in the NFL, but are their struggles more about personnel or coaching?
JC: Give Martz credit for casting aside his bombs-away mentality the last three weeks and finally committing to the running game, which in turn has taken a lot of pressure off Cutler and given the offensive line more chances to attack at the line of scrimmage instead of retreat. From a talent perspective, the Bears don't have much up front, as left tackle Frank Omiyale was a low-level free agent, left guard Chris Williams is a disappointing first rounder, center Olin Kreutz can't play at his former Pro Bowl level anymore, right guard Roberto Garza has never been anything more than adequate and right tackle J'Marcus Webb still needs a lot of work as a seventh-round rookie. Considering what he has to work with, I believe Tice is doing everything he can as a position coach.
General manager Jerry Angelo went six years between taking offensive linemen in Round 1, crapping out first with Marc Colombo in 2002 and then Williams in 2008, so he can't help but be gun-shy looking for blockers early in the draft.
AC: The Bears have one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL, but Martz has made a larger commitment to running the ball of late. Why hasn't Chester Taylor been more of a factor this season? Is Matt Forte the answer for the long term?
JC: I've been asked several times this season why Taylor hasn't been more of a factor, but I continue to argue that he has gotten just about as many touches to date as expected. The coaches said up and down after Taylor was signed that this was not a competition for the starting job and Forte was the lead back come hell or high water, and the distribution of carries and catches between the two of them reflects that. The problem I have with the Forte-Taylor combination, even though they're both very good players, is that they bring the same exact skill set to the table, so defenses never have to make adjustments from one to the other depending on who is in the game.
Forte isn't special by any stretch of the imagination, meaning he can't just make something out of nothing and needs his offensive line to open holes for him, but he's productive enough as a rusher and a receiver to be the primary ball carrier in Chicago for the next few years.
AC: The Bears have one of the smallest groups of wide receivers in the league. Because of that, why hasn't Devin Aromashodu been involved? He received tremendous hype before the season started.
JC: It's true that Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are on the small side, but Aromashodu fumbled his chance to be a major contributor in Week 1 because the coaching staff realized he wasn't a very good fit working out of the slot, and at the time nobody was going to move Knox or Hester out of the starting lineup. Now that Hester's snaps are being dialed back to some degree to increase his effectiveness on special teams, Aromashodu is beginning to see more snaps here and there. Personally, if I were coaching this team, I'd have Knox at split end and Aromashodu at flanker with Hester no more than an offensive change-up and full-time return man, but that's a hard sell when Hester signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension with a ton of incentives tied to his development as a wideout.
Because the Bears use Greg Olsen at receiver every bit as much as they do at tight end, his 6-5 frame tends to come in handy in the red zone, although Cutler has had trouble inside the enemy 20-yard line since coming to Chicago.
AC: No free-agent signing received more attention than Chicago's signing of DE Julius Peppers. How has he played this year? Has he been a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball?
JC: Peppers is the reigning Defensive Player of the Week in the NFC on the strength of a three-sack performance in Miami on Thursday Night Football, so a prime-time audience got to see just how dominant the five-time Pro Bowler has been in a Bears uniform. The numbers haven't really been there, as he only had two sacks in his first nine games before lining up against the Dolphins, but Peppers has been instrumental in Israel Idonije turning the corner as a first-time starter at the other end position. Bears fans knew Peppers was a tremendous pass rusher, but they've been equally impressed with his ability to defend the run in a scheme that doesn't allow him to simply pin his ears back and make a bee line for the quarterback.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, those scouting reports suggesting Peppers tends to take plays off periodically and isn't always a maximum-effort guy, there doesn't look to be an ounce of truth to them.
To read Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John and Adam highlight matchups and make final predictions, Click Here. To go back and read Part I, where Adam answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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