John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: For some reason, ‘Good Rex' can be as good as any quarterback in the NFL while ‘Evil Rex' can single-handedly lose his team a game. When Grossman is sharp, he's taking what the defense gives him, checking down to his backs and tight ends, and only challenging opponents down the field when the odds are in his favor. When he's playing poorly, he's throwing into coverage, getting lazy with his footwork, and trying way too hard to look for big plays. There is an obvious correlation between Grossman being heavily pressured and Grossman making debilitating mistakes, so his offensive line has got to give him time to throw if the Bears are to succeed. Grossman has also admitted that sometimes he's thinking about way too many things – paralysis by analysis, if you will – as opposed to simply throwing the ball to an open receiver when he sees one.
DF: From what you've seen and heard, how much ‘Evil Rex' would Lovie Smith have to see before he makes the switch to Brian Griese, and what are the differences between the two quarterbacks?
JC: Smith and the entire front office continue to support Grossman publicly, but he was going to lose his job in Week 14 at St. Louis if he didn't play well. Fortunately for him, he looked very good on that Monday night and quelled any QB controversy talk in Chicago by staying sharp the next two weeks at home against Tampa Bay and then on the road in Detroit. But that season-ending stinker against Green Bay brought out the boobirds once again at Soldier Field, and the fact that Grossman flat-out admitted that he didn't prepare as much as he should have – regardless of the fact that it was a meaningless game – made him look foolish. If he turns the ball over a few times and puts his team in a hole during the first half against Seattle, don't be surprised at all to see Griese in the second half. Griese doesn't have Grossman's big arm and is equally immobile, but he knows the west coast offense very well and is the more accurate of the two.
DF: Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, two backs you never hear about outside of Chicago, ran for a combined 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns. What does each back bring to the table, how are they used in tandem and separately, and how is each man most easily stopped?
JC: Coming into training camp back in July, there seemed to be a Thomas Jones club and a Cedric Benson club around Chicagoland. Jones was the late-bloomer who carried an inept offense on his back in 2005, but Benson was the high first-round pick with big-time pedigree and a hunger to be the main man. After a slow start for the entire running game, both Jones and Benson performed very well for the majority of the season and provided the Bears with one of the more productive one-two combinations in the NFL. Jones is a shifty slasher and catches the ball pretty well out of the backfield, but he has broken very few tackles this season and has a tendency to dance at the line of scrimmage from time to time. Benson is a bruising battering ram who seems to enjoy delivering punishment to opposing tacklers, but he can be a head case if he's not involved enough or isn't having success early.
DF: Keeping the team theme going, Chicago has a trio of receivers who are very effective – Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian and Desmond Clark. How is each receiver used in the offense, and who would benefit most from facing a depleted set of cornerbacks in a two-deep zone?
JC: The receiving corps appeared in need of an upgrade heading into training camp, and there were talks around town that GM Jerry Angelo might entertain an offer for either Ashley Lelie or Jerry Porter. Muhammad wasn't extremely productive in 2005 with rookie Kyle Orton at the controls, but he's settled in nicely as the possession receiver and still has the size and strength necessary to be an effective red zone target. Berrian emerged as the secondary threat opposite Muhammad that the Bears desperately needed a year ago, and his track-star speed has made him one of the more dangerous long-range threats in football. Clark only caught 48 balls combined the last two seasons, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner made more of an effort to get the tight end involved once again and got a career season out of Clark as a result. In terms of taking advantage of Seattle's depleted secondary, I believe Berrian will be the biggest beneficiary because he has the kind of speed that makes corners and safeties nervous.
DF: The Chicago offensive line has been more effective than most people projected in the preseason. Why has this been the case?
JC: The offensive line was supposed to be a team strength heading into 2006, yet the running game struggled mightily the first quarter of the season or so. However, they found their groove and started opening up holes for Jones and Benson much more consistently. They also kept Grossman fairly upright by allowing only 25 sacks, which tied for the sixth-fewest in the league. This is one of the more veteran groups you'll find – center Olin Kreutz, guards Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza, and tackles John Tait and Fred Miller – that has played together an awful lot the last two years. The group has also been remarkably healthy the last two seasons, although Tait is stilling dealing with the effects of a sprained ankle that hampered him down the stretch.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this four-part series as Doug will answer five of John's questions.