John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: For the most part, the Bears have been gashed on the ground since the season-ending loss of Mike Brown. Before the All-Pro strong safety got hurt, this was the top-rated run defense in the NFL. Brown has been out for five games, and in that time, the Bears have dropped to as low as 11th defending the run and are currently 8th at 98 yards allowed per game. Ronnie Brown of Miami in particular had a career day with 29 carries for 157 yards, while San Francisco's Frank Gore (111 yards) and New York's Tiki Barber (141) also ran wild. When you combine that with Rex Grossman's propensity to turn the ball over in bunches when he's having a bad day – a total of six interceptions and one lost fumble in their two losses – that's a recipe to beat the best team in the NFC right now.
TY: The Bears have their highest point total through 11 games since 1995. Is this offense really that good, or has it been the defense setting the table for the offense and scoring a lot?
JC: Earlier in the season, the offense really looked like they had taken a giant leap forward and was ready to complement perhaps the best defense in the entire NFL. Granted, that defense was winning the field position battle and creating takeaways at a mesmerizing pace, but Grossman was also capitalizing from all the opportunities he was being given. That has not been the case the last few weeks, and the progress of the passing game has come to a screeching halt as a result. In their last four games – two of them being losses – the Bears are averaging just 18.5 points, and that includes a 38-point effort against the Giants that was aided by a Devin Hester 108-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown. This team has also gotten its fair share of defensive TDs this season, another reason why their scoring numbers look more impressive then they really are.
TY: Has there been any rhyme or reason why Rex Grossman has been so up-and-down lately? Is he still learning how to manage a game and trying to do too much?
JC: Grossman is under an awful lot of pressure at this point of the season because this is a team capable of winning the Super Bowl if he plays well, plus Chicago has been hungry for a champion for quite some time. The former Gator has all the physical tools necessary to be a success in this league, although he's not as tall as your typical thoroughbred quarterback and isn't particularly fleet of foot. This may be his fourth year in professional football, but in terms of actual playing experience, he's a second-year guy at best. Everyone keeps pointing to the instant stardom of guys like Philip Rivers in San Diego and Tony Romo in Dallas, but both of those offenses are overflowing with playmakers. Grossman looks like one of the top quarterbacks in the game when he's playing well, but like a starting pitcher, he still has a long way to go in terms of managing the game when he doesn't have his best stuff.
TY: At Soldier Field, the Bears have won 10 of the past 11 (outscoring opponents 268-92) and 19 of their last 23. Is Grossman just that much more comfortable at home, or is the defense creating that frenzy?
JC: I think this statistic is largely an anomaly and simply speaks to the nature of home-field advantage throughout the NFL. That being said, Soldier Field is a wonderful place to play a football game and a very difficult task for any opposing team to win there. The Bears may have won 10 of their last 11 home games, however, they've actually dropped their last three home playoff games to Carolina (2005), Philadelphia (2001), and Dallas (1991). Grossman's numbers along Lake Michigan are sensational but very suspect on the road, yet I wouldn't read too much into that. The Bears have played some pretty weak teams in that 11-game stretch and buried them early with tough defense and opportunistic offense.
JC: After struggling mightily the first month or so of the season, the Bears running game has started to resemble the dominant unit of 2005. They were ranked as low as 24th in the league not too long ago, but both Jones and Benson have looked much better lately and have the team 15th in the NFL running the ball at 116.2 yards per game. Jones is the starter and the more well-rounded tailback of the two, but Benson usually sees the field on the third offensive series in the first half. The coaching staff has made more of an effort to rotate the two of them during a series lately as opposed to making one possession strictly a Jones series and the next possession strictly a Benson series. Benson has been crabby from time to time when he's not getting the ball as much as he would like, but more than any other point the season, both players seem to be happy with their roles and playing as well as ever.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this four-part series as Tim will answer five of John's questions.