The Bears were racking up sacks in bunches in the beginning of the season, but the loss of Tommie Harris was nothing short of debilitating. Not only is he incredibly talented when it comes to rushing the passer from his defensive end position, but he commanded double teams and made life much easier for the rest of his line mates. Ian Scott is a very good rusher from the three-technique position as evidenced by his fourth-quarter sack of Hasselbeck last Sunday, but Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone are better known for their ability against the run. Both Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown have disappeared at times this season, and rookie Mark Anderson had 12 sacks this year but isn't ready to be an every-down player. There isn't much more Rivera can do at this point because the Bears haven't had a ton of success blitzing lately, and they can't afford to let Drew Brees exploit one-on-one matchups downfield.
Now that the season is over and all games completed, what was the real ranking of difficulty of the Bears schedule compared to all the other teams? – ChiefBigBearFan
Believe it or not, the Bears statistically had the easiest schedule in the NFL this season. Their opponents combined for a winning percentage of just .445, dead last of all the 32 teams. Green Bay was next-to-last at .449. Cincinnati, on the other hand, played the most difficult schedule at .543. That could certainly be an explanation for why they disappointed many football fans this season and missed the playoffs.
An old football saying is defense wins championships. With the loss of both Mike Brown and Tommie Harris, do you think the Bears defense will be able to return to its dominating self and stop the Saints? – Rich (Granby, MA)
I explained the importance of Harris in a previous answer, but the absence of Brown has been even more devastating. Despite having the No. 1 pass defense at the season's midpoint, the secondary has never truly been the same since Brown went down in Week 6. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense and arguably the emotional epicenter of the entire team. Todd Johnson played fairly well before he sprained his ankle and Chris Harris has been up and down moving from free safety to strong safety, but the intangibles are what make Brown such an indispensable football player. If you're simply asking me if the Bears can rally the troops one last time and miraculously hold Brees & Company to 250 yards and 10 points, I would say something to the effect of, "Not a snowball's chance in hell."
Which below the radar player do you feel could have a big impact on the Saints game this weekend? – Robby (Lafayette, LA)
I think Charles Tillman is a good answer to that question. After having a Pro Bowl-worthy season in 2006, ‘Peanut' missed the final two games of the regular season with back spasms and gave up a few completions in his return to action last week. When either he or Nathan Vasher was out of the lineup toward the end of the season, the entire secondary was overmatched. Ricky Manning Jr. is a wonderful nickelback but not capable of being a full-time starter at corner, and we all saw that Devin Hester is not ready to contribute as a defensive back just yet. If Tillman looks just as rusty facing the Saints as he did against the Seahawks, the Bears could be in for a mighty long day defending the pass.
Has Lovie Smith made any changes to the starting lineup at all this season? I know he replaced Chris Harris with Danieal Manning. Am I missing any, and is he reluctant to make changes? – Dylan (El Paso, TX)
Aside from a few flip-flops Smith had to make because of injuries and the like, the only other change he has made is inserting Tank Johnson in the starting lineup in place of Ian Scott. Johnson was the third tackle in the rotation at the very beginning of the season, but he replaced Scott in the early going because his all-around game has more upside. A lot of fans noticed that Scott being relegated to backup duty coincided with the Bears' inability to stop the run in the middle of the season. If you want to get technical, Devin Hester replaced Rashied Davis as the starting kickoff returner in Week 14 at St. Louis. All he did was take two back to the house that night.
You predicted three out of four games correctly in the Wild Card round. How'd you do in the divisional round? - Lucky (Baton Rouge, LA)
I'm proud to say that I got all four winners right - Bears, Saints, Colts, and Patriots. The Bears were simply a better football team than Seattle and probably should have won that game easier than they did. I've been on the New Orleans bandwagon for quite some time and figured they had too much karma going for them against Philly. Although I didn't expect them to do it with defense, I did expect Indy to take care of Baltimore because Steve McNair is not the same player that led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. And as far as New England is concerned, I never count the Pats out so long as Tom Brady is taking the snaps and Bill Belichick is calling the shots.
Is it possible that Ron Rivera won't get a head coaching job now because the Bears are still playing? - Artis (Glenview, IL)
I was asked that very same question on a radio show this week, and you have to assume that Rivera's postseason responsibilities are hurting his chances. It looks like they love him in Pittsburgh, but Russ Grimm will probably get the nod. Rivera impressed the Cardinals, as well, but I think they wanted an offensive guy and are happy to land Ken Whisenhunt. Miami just hired Cam Cameron, so the jobs are few and far between right now. If the Bears win on Sunday and advance to Super Bowl XLI, chances are Rivera will be in Chicago for at least one more season because these owners are just too impatient these days.
How much more crowded will the press box be for the NFC Championship? Will just about every paper in the country have someone there? - Sandy (Cincinnati, OH)
The press box was a mess last Sunday for the divisional playoff, and I'm assuming that this Sunday's conference championship will be even worse. My regular seat that I've had all season long was given to somebody else last week, so I wasn't very pleased when I arrived that morning. I heard that there will be 475 press credentials issued for this game, which is a gargantuan number. Not every paper in the country will have a representative there, but the only ones that really matter certainly will. And the lunch spread better improve because I was pretty disappointed with the Italian sausage they laid out for us.
How does a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra (Marques Colston) turn into a badass receiver so quickly? Isn't that the toughest position to adjust to out of college? - Darren (Brooklyn, NY)
We asked Sean Payton that question on conference call at Halas Hall on Wedneday, and he joked that they would have drafted him much sooner if they knew how good he was going to be. According to Payton, Colston wasn't in shape for rookie mini camp in May and had all kinds of problems. But something clicked during training camp, so much so that the team was entirely comfortable trading away Donte' Stallworth for help on defense. Receiver is usually the toughest position to play for a kid fresh out of college because NFL defensive backs are so much more physical and the offensive schemes are extremely complex, but Colston was the most productive wideout in the league before he got hurt toward the end of the year. He's big, strong, fast, bright, and according to Payton, one of the hardest workers on the team.
Will it mean anything to you personally if the Bears do indeed make it to the Super Bowl? - Hank (Bolingbook, IL)
It means that I finally get to work on my tan because, like most Chicagoans, I'm looking a little pasty right now.
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