1. How will the Bears handle the Chargers' pass rush?
We've all seen Rex Grossman be a highly effective quarterback in this league when given time to throw the football, but we've also see him struggle mightily when under constant pressure. The Chargers defense compiled 61 sacks last season, tops in the league, and linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips actually out-sacked six teams in 2006 – they combined for 28.5. The Bears feature one of the most experienced offensive lines in the NFL, but they now average 31.8 years old and will be severely tested by arguably the most aggressive and imposing 3-4 scheme they'll see all season long.
Not only must tailback Cedric Benson catch the ball out of the backfield on screens and flare passes to help slow down the rush, but he'll have his hands full picking up the blitz, as well.
2. Who will eventually be the change-of-pace to Benson?
Adrian Peterson is technically the second-string tailback on the depth chart and will be given the first crack at relieving Benson for a series here and there, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner will inevitably have a package in place for rookie scatback Garrett Wolfe. The former Northern Illinois star proved that he can catch the ball out of the backfield very well during the preseason, although he was somewhat stuck in neutral on the ground. While Peterson owns a career mark of 4.7 yards per carry in limited opportunities and has played well whenever given the opportunity, Wolfe is more capable of authoring the kind of big plays that may be necessary against one of the most terrorizing defensive units around.
Look for Peterson to play a series periodically when Benson needs a breather, but Wolfe should develop into a viable third-down option and a unique weapon on offense.
3. Is there any way to slow down the league MVP?
LaDainian Tomlinson had perhaps the greatest season in NFL history for a running back in 2006, scoring a record 31 touchdowns and putting enviable smiles on fantasy owners' faces across the country. On top of that, he runs behind arguably the best offensive line in the business and can be protected by a pretty good passing game. While expecting to shut down Tomlinson is simply too much to ask with his embarrassment of athletic attributes, Brian Urlacher and Co. must find a way to keep him somewhat contained if they have any chance of emerging victorious in Week 1.
LB Lance Briggs (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
At the very least, the Bears must punish him at every opportunity and need to wrap him up immediately because Tomlinson is murder in open space.
4. Should Grossman force the issue down the field?
Rex Grossman has a powerful arm and throws the deep ball fairly well, and this week might be a good time to show off that talent in the passing game. The Chargers are loaded with playmakers in their front seven on defense, but the secondary is average at best and can be exposed from time to time. Safeties Clinton Hart and Marlon McCree would not be starting for many teams across the NFL, and rookie Eric Weddle, whom the Chargers traded up with the Bears in order to draft this past April, will probably only see the field in nickel and dime situations.
Bernard Berrian was uncoverable at times during the preseason and should be able to run past anyone covering him, plus Desmond Clark needs to have a big day in the middle of the field with first-rounder Greg Olsen still hampered by a sprained knee.
5. Can the Bears D force a few turnovers Sunday?
Not only did the Chargers lead the league in scoring last season at 30.8 points per game, but they also took care of the football with only 14 turnovers in 16 contests. Conversely, the Bears paced the NFL in takeaways and have featured an incredibly opportunistic defense under head coach Lovie Smith. The Monsters of the Midway emphasize turnovers each and every week, but that will not be easy to do Sunday considering Philip Rivers only threw nine interceptions a year ago and Tomlinson lost just one fumble. Additionally, the Bears can't be too aggressive trying to strip Tomlinson of the ball because he sheds tacklers as well as anyone and is capable of scoring every time his number is called.
If Tommie Harris can be the Tommie Harris of old and generate a consistent pass in the trenches, that might slow down the running game to some degree and put Rivers in a position where he might make a mistake or two.
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.
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