Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of BearReport.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, break down Sunday's game between the Bears and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's start this three-part series with five questions from Michael to John.

Michael Lombardo: Rex Grossman seems to be the NFL's most bipolar player, equally capable of explosion and implosion. Has he shown any signs of becoming more consistent this offseason? Do you believe he will exploit a San Diego secondary prone to giving up big plays?

John Crist:
Like pretty much every quarterback at any level of competition, Grossman received way too much credit when the team played well last season and way too much blame when the team played poorly. Personally, I believe the national press was overly critical of him considering he threw more touchdown passes than Philip Rivers, had a higher passer rating than Brett Favre, tossed fewer interceptions than Ben Roethlisberger, was sacked less than Tom Brady, and lost fewer fumbles than Carson Palmer. He does appear to be a little more comfortable in his own skin so far this year, plus he completed better than 70% of his passes during the preseason.

Grossman has an incredibly strong arm for a somewhat diminutive QB and throws the deep ball very well, so I would expect him to take a few shots down the field against safeties Clinton Hart and Marlon McCree.

ML: The Chargers defense thrives by stopping the run and putting opponents in third-and-long situations, when Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Will new starter Cedric Benson be able match the high standard set by Thomas Jones, keeping the Bears in reasonable third-down situations?

JC:
Theoretically, Benson is better equipped to keep the Bears out of third-and-long situations because he's more of a north-and-south runner than Jones ever was. While Jones has a tendency to dance at the line of scrimmage and never seems to break tackles anymore, he always found a way to be productive and was universally loved by everyone in the locker room – everyone except Benson, of course. Benson should be a great fit for this offensive line's man-blocking scheme because of his bulldozing style, but he is still yet to prove that he can handle 20-25 per game as a featured back in the NFL.

He certainly has the talent to rush for 1,200-1,300 yards and score 10-12 touchdowns, but he unexpectedly managed only 2.3 yards per carry in the preseason.

ML: The Bears have a couple of young receivers primed for big seasons: Bernard Berrian and Mark Bradley. How do you expect these two to perform this season? Is there a chance they knock Muhsin Muhammad out of the starting lineup?

JC:
Berrian was having a breakout season in 2006 before being hampered by an injury in Week 9 against Miami, but he looks even better so far in 2007 and on the verge of his first 1,000-yard campaign. He's added 10 pounds of muscle to his slender frame, yet he still has his trademark burst and could not be covered at times during training camp. Bradley might be the most talented receiver on the team with his combination of size and speed, but he can't seem to stay healthy and has frustrated Bears fans for quite some time.


WR Bernard Berrian (Darron Cummings/AP Images)

Muhammad is little more than a possession wideout these days and clearly in the twilight of his career, but don't expect him to lose the starting job considering he was just voted an offensive captain by his teammates once again.

ML: The Bears have a small but quick defensive front, while the Chargers have a powerful, road-grading offensive line. Do the Bears have enough defensive line depth to keep from wearing down in the fourth quarter? In a size-versus-speed matchup like this, who has the advantage?

JC:
Head coach Lovie Smith likes to rotate his defensive linemen and will give significant playing time to as many as seven or eight players on Sunday. Tommie Harris is arguably the best D-tackle in football when running at full capacity, but he is still somewhat of a question mark as he returns from last season's torn hamstring. D-end Mark Anderson led the team in sacks last year as a fifth-round draft pick, and he looks even bigger and stronger so far this year.

The Bears certainly have enough bodies to throw out there and keep everyone fresh, but they'll have their hands full against a mammoth offensive line that paves the way for the best player in football – LaDainian Tomlinson.

ML: The Bears represented the NFC in last year's Super Bowl, yet they are significant underdogs in the season opener. Are the Bears underrated? Everyone seems to point out their flaws, but all they do is win games. Aren't they all but guaranteed of repeating as the NFC North champions?

JC:
I believe the line has less to do with the Bears being underrated and more to do with the fact that the AFC once again appears to be the deeper conference. The Monsters of the Midway did take an awful lot of flak in 2006 both locally and nationally, yet they went 13-3, ran away with their division, were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, won a pair of postseason games, and made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years. Nobody is appreciably better in the NFC North, so look for this team to emerge victorious for a third straight year.

This is a deeper and more talented team on paper than the one that lost to the Colts on Super Sunday back in February, so they have to be considered one of the early favorites to make it all the way to Glendale this season.

To read Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where Michael answers five questions from John, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Michael Lombardo is the Editor of SDBoltReport.com.

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