John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: GM Jerry Angelo said after the regular season that head coach Lovie Smith was deserving of a contract extension no matter what happened in the playoffs, but when asked about Grossman's status, Angelo said his evaluation was ongoing. Now that Grossman has led this team to the Super Bowl for the first time in a generation, I think the two sides will start to talk. Despite the ridiculous amount of heat he has taken in the local and national media, he has a world of talent and is by far the best quarterback the Bears have had since Jim McMahon. The former Gator threw for 3,197 yards and 23 touchdown passes in 2006, and most importantly, he's directed the team to a 15-3 record.
Grossman will most certainly be under the microscope again on Super Sunday, but I don't think he's playing for his future in Chicago.
TT: The Colts have struggled mightily at times with kick coverage. What have you noticed teams that are successful containing Devin Hester doing?
JC: Quite honestly, Devin Hester's periodic ineffectiveness is completely self-inflicted. What he's accomplished in his football career so far he's done on pure athletic ability. Although he is arguably the most electrifying open-field runner in the NFL as a rookie and has the ability to take your breath away at any given moment, he still has an awful lot to learn. Hester struggles catching punts consistently and has no idea when and when not to call for a fair catch sometimes, so if he ever truly figures out what he's doing back there, watch out.
I expect the Colts to kick the ball away from him when they can, but just the threat of Hester is yet another reason why the Bears have been so good in the field position game this season.
TT: Cedric Benson got consistently better as the year wore on and is carrying a big load thus far in the playoffs. How big a role will he play against a Colts run defense that was gashed all season long?
JC: Thomas Jones is the starting tailback, and deservedly so, but Benson has been the real workhorse down the stretch and has finally started to flash his first-round talent. Jones is more of a slasher that makes a living on cutback runs, but Benson is a no-nonsense bruiser that seemingly dishes out more punishment than he receives. Jones usually plays the first two series before giving way to Benson the third time the Bears have the ball, but after that, offensive coordinator Ron Turner just goes with the hot hand. Benson was criticized earlier in his career for not catching the ball very well out of the backfield and being subpar in pass protection, but he's made great strides in both capacities.
In a perfect world, Jones and Benson get about 20 carries each, consistently move the chains, run the clock, and keep Manning & Company on the sideline.
TT: Peyton Manning is extremely familiar with the cover-two style defense. Will this effect how the Bears approach the Colts defensively?
JC: More than perhaps any other team in the league, the Bears do what they do. This is not a coaching staff that goes out of its way to exploit perceived weaknesses or gets cute with its game plan. It's no secret that Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy know each other very well and employ a very similar system on defense, and the fact that Manning faces it in practice every day could very well be an advantage for Indy. But if you're expecting to see the Bears all of a sudden play a lot of man-to-man coverage or use their nickel package as their base set in an effort to confuse Manning, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.
As Smith likes to say, this game is much more about execution than matchups.
TT: How different is this Bears defense from the Bears defense that gave up 7.2 points per game through the first five weeks of the season?
JC: Although the defense came up with an inspired effort against the Saints' high-powered attack in the NFC championship game, this is not the same unit that we saw the first half of the season. Tommie Harris is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL and Mike Brown is the unquestioned emotional leader of the locker room, so losing both of them was catastrophic. Tank Johnson has moved from nose tackle to Harris's three-technique position and both Todd Johnson and Chris Harris have started in place of Brown, but no team can lose a pair of Pro-Bowlers on defense without taking a step back. The Bears had all kinds of trouble defending the run in the middle of the season before getting shredded in the secondary down the stretch, but they'll be rested and ready for the Super Bowl.
The defense is not as good as it was initially, but it's still one of the best around.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this five-part series as Todd will answer five of John's questions.