Behind Enemy Lines: Bears-49ers Part I

Bear Report publisher Jeremy Stoltz answers five questions from Niners Digest publisher Chris Biderman about the Chicago Bears as they head into their Week 2 contest against the San Francisco 49ers.

1. Jay Cutler has always been one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league, but he continues to hurt himself by turning the ball over. That was evident in the team’s overtime loss at home to the Bills Sunday. With perhaps the best group of weapons he’s ever had in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, is there reason to believe he will cut down on his interceptions this year or is it a flaw that will stick with him throughout his career?

Like they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Under Marc Trestman, known as a “QB guru” in some circles, the belief was that Cutler would get rid of his bad habits and become the quarterback most believe he can be. Trestman vowed to clean up Cutler’s mechanics and decision-making, and at times last year, it appeared Trestman was finally getting through to his top passer

Yet after Sunday’s two-interception performance it’s clear that, no matter the coaching staff around him, Jay Cutler will always be Jay Cutler. No matter how many practice snaps a player takes or how much film he watches, you can’t change what’s between his ears.

Cutler is easily one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL but his in-game mental lapses may never allow him to reach his full potential.

2. The Bears had the worst rush defense in the NFL in 2013 and things didn’t get off to a great start for them Sunday. One game in, is there reason to believe the new personnel along the defensive front will help in that area? And how have those new players impacted things in the early going?

The Bills last week rolled up 193 yards on the ground, which harkened back to the defense’s horrific 2013 campaign.

That said, there are positives the unit can take going forward. Nearly half of Buffalo’s yards on the ground came on two big run plays – a 47-yarder by Anthony Dixon before the half and a 38-yarder in overtime by Fred Jackson that sealed the game – otherwise, Chicago allowed just 3.4 yards per carry. One might say the Bears were two plays away from shutting down one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL.

The Bears are more talented up front than they were last year but it could take the numerous new faces a while to develop chemistry. If and when that happens, Chicago should be able to hold their own against opposing rushing attacks.

3. 49ers fans are familiar with Josh Morgan. But if Marshall (ankle) and Jeffery (hamstring) can’t play Sunday, who are the team’s other reserve wideouts and what can we expect from them Sunday?

If Marshall and Jeffery hit the shelf, the Bears will turn to Morgan and Santonio Holmes, the only other wide receivers on the roster, while also leaning heavily on tight end Martellus Bennett.

Morgan has been one of the most consistent receivers on the team since training camp, flashing serious playmaking ability. He’s not at the same talent level as the club’s starters but Morgan has the experience and skill set to serve as a viable possession receiver.

Holmes is still learning the offense and made a number of mistakes in the regular-season opener. He hasn’t shown any lingering issues from a foot injury that hobbled him the past two seasons, yet his understanding of the playbook is lacking considerably. He still has enough gas left in the tank to have an impact on Sunday night but he needs to quickly familiarize himself with the offense or else he’ll struggle to make an impact.

4. Over the last two years, the Bears have invested heavily on the defensive side in the draft, including this year’s first-round pick Kyle Fuller (who I had pegged to the 49ers as a trade-up candidate). But how have those guys including Jonathan Bostic, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton project into the future of that defense? Can they turn some of these struggles around going forward?

Fuller was arguably the top defender on the team during training camp and appears to be the real deal. He should be able to seamless transition into the No. 1 cornerback role once Charles Tillman retires after this season.

The jury is still out on Ferguson and Sutton, although both will see plenty of field time as rookies in Chicago’s defensive line rotation. Sutton is more NFL-ready and has a lot of disruptive potential. Ferguson is massive but he’s raw and could take a few years to develop into a quality nose tackle.

The biggest question mark is Bostic, who struggled mightily as a rookie and again in the season opener. He was drafted to be the next in a long line of historic Bears linebackers, yet he’s been anything but a star. He lacks ideal vision and instincts and often looks confused on the field. If he’s doesn’t turn it around soon, it won’t be long before he’s labeled a bust.

5. Predictably, things seem pretty grim in Chicago following Sunday’s loss to the Bills. But there are still 15 games remaining. What are some of the reasons the Bears can still be optimistic and can they bounce back and spoil the unveiling of the 49ers’ new stadium Sunday?

In the long-term, there’s still plenty of optimism for the 2014 Chicago Bears, although that may not be the case this week. The Bears are going to struggle to stop Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde on the ground, while containing Colin Kaepernick may be a challenge too large for an aging defense to conquer.

Offensively, Chicago must have Marshall and Jeffery on the field to spread out San Francisco’s defense. If neither plays, the 49ers can load the box and easily take Matt Forte out of the game, which is always a recipe for success.

If the Bears are going to have a chance at victory on Sunday night, they’ll have to play mistake-free football and hope they get a few fortunate bounces, otherwise this one could get ugly early.

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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