The Colts defeated the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, putting a bittersweet end to the best season of Chicago football in a generation. And although winning a meaningless preseason game in August won't do much to erase the pain they felt back February, several Midway Monsters expressed at training camp last week that they'll be playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and will have something to prove. The starters are expected to play into the second quarter, as opposed to just a few series like last week.
The Bears appear to be a better football team than last season while the Colts may have taken a step back, so Monday's exhibition game could be a small sign of things to come in 2007.
2. How much better can the defense be with Urlacher and Harris back?
Brian Urlacher is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Tommie Harris was a leading candidate for that coveted award in 2006 before a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 13. Neither of them suited up in last week's preseason opener in Houston, as Urlacher was battling a case of the proverbial "general soreness" and Harris continues to come back slowly. The first-string defense was handicapped against the Texans because of poor field position, but they were able to keep their opponents out of the end zone and force a handful of field goal attempts.
Peyton Manning will surely prove to be much more of a test than Matt Schaub, and the Bears had a miserable time getting off the field on third down in the Super Bowl because of Manning's precision passing.
3. When will the running game get it going in the preseason?
The Bears did not run the ball very often or very well in the preseason a year ago, and last Saturday kept that pattern intact. While Bears quarterbacks put the ball in the air 42 times against the Texans, four running backs only received a total of 21 carries. Starter Cedric Benson is the kind of back who needs a lot of attempts in order to get into a rhythm, yet he carried the ball just five times for 23 yards with a long rush of 11.
Not only does Benson need to show that he can be the workhorse back this team expects him to be, but backups Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe must prove they can get the job done should Benson miss any more time because of injury.
4. Can Grossman connect with open receivers down the field?
Rex Grossman was very efficient in the passing game last week, completing 8 of 10 passes for 50 yards without a sack or a turnover. And although he completed 80% of his throws and was very decisive in the pocket, the fact that he only averaged 5.0 yards per attempt shows that he was not challenging the defense down the field. Grossman has been awfully successful during training camp connecting with the likes of Bernard Berrian and Devin Hester on streaks and deep posts, so it will be interesting to see if he can make the same sort of plays against Indy's version of the Cover 2.
On the other hand, it's good to see Grossman simply throwing the ball to an open receiver when he sees one instead of trying to do too much with the football – it's a fine line.
5. Who's going to start alongside Harris at DT, Dvoracek or Walker?
We all know that Harris is arguably the best defensive tackle in the business when he's running at full capacity, so whomever lines up next to him will have myriad opportunities to make plays. Head coach Lovie Smith has raved about Dusty Dvoracek and the progress he's made since missing last season on injured reserve, but general manager Jerry Angelo still jumped at the opportunity to get Darwin Walker in a trade with the Bills. Smith covets consistent pressure from his front four, and Walker has a track record of success getting after the enemy quarterback on Sundays – Dvoracek hasn't so much as taken a regular-season snap.
Jeff Saturday & Company absolutely destroyed the likes of Tank Johnson and Israel Idonije in Super Bowl XLI, yet another factor in Manning's ability to move his offense down the field seemingly at will.
|John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|