What We Learned Sunday Night

The Midway Monsters took a serious step back Sunday night in a humiliating 34-10 loss to the red-hot Dallas Cowboys, and Bear Report came away from Soldier Field with five important observations from the game.

1. The Bears were incredibly lucky with injuries last season
While losing S Mike Brown after Week 6 and DT Tommie Harris after Week 13 were both devastating subtractions from arguably the best defense in the NFL, overall, the Monsters of the Midway were relatively healthy for the majority of 2006. An aging offensive line was able to stay intact for the most part although OT John Tait did miss a little time down the stretch with a bum ankle, WR Bernard Berrian was the only significant skill-position player to miss a few games, and both CB Nathan Vasher and CB Charles Tillman were able to heal quickly from their late-season ailments. However, Brown was lost again after the opener along with DT Dusty Dvoracek, and now Harris, Vasher, and LB Lance Briggs are all banged up and could be out of the lineup at Detroit on Sunday.

The Bears bragged about having so much depth on D during training camp, but now we'll really find out if the second unit is as good as they think it is.

2. Grossman will probably get one more start under center
There's simply no way to sugarcoat it anymore: QB Rex Grossman has completely lost the faith of Bears fans and is dangerously close to losing the faith of his fellow players. After getting off to a sizzling start last season and making a case for NFL MVP, he has thrown just one touchdown pass against six interceptions so far this year and seems to be playing with less confidence every time he steps into the huddle. Now it's true that his running game has been stuck in neutral, his receivers are not making very many plays for him, and the offensive line isn't blocking as well as it has in the past, but Grossman's propensity for turning the ball over is simply killing this football team – and head coach Lovie Smith knows it.

Smith breaks the season down into quarters, which is why Grossman will most likely still get the nod in Week 4 against the Lions, but look for backup Brian Griese to take 50% of the snaps with the first team in practice the next few days because his number will be called if Grossman gets off to a poor start again at Ford Field.

3. Losing Vasher could have a paralyzing ripple effect

CB Nathan Vasher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The secondary has already looked a little lost at times without Brown at free safety, but Vasher's groin injury could be the straw that breaks this camel's back. Nickelback Ricky Manning Jr. will be forced into the starting lineup should Vasher miss significant time, which means that seventh-round rookie Trumaine McBride will be on the field in nickel situations opposite Tillman. The Bears were shredded through the air by the likes of Marc Bulger of the Rams, Tim Rattay of the Buccaneers, and Jon Kitna of the Lions when Manning started at corner in place of first Vasher and then Tillman last season, meaning Kitna – fresh off a 446-yard effort at Philadelphia albeit in a 56-21 loss – is licking his chops right now waiting for Sunday.

Manning has flourished as a nickel man yet struggled as a starter in his Chicago career thus far, but he'll most likely have to pick up the slack for a while because Vasher's injury could keep him on the sideline for quite some time.

4. The Clark-Olsen combination was the silver lining on offense
The Midway Monsters were atrocious on offense for the majority of the game against Dallas and committed four more turnovers, so having rookie TE Greg Olsen back in the lineup didn't have quite as big of an effect as some may have believed it could. However, Olsen and starter Desmond Clark did total four catches for 86 yards between them, including back-to-back big plays in the third quarter – 52 yards to Clark and then 21 more to Olsen – right down the middle of the field. Grossman has proven to be at his best when the tight ends and heavily involved in the game plan, which is why it's a mystery that offensive coordinator Ron Turner didn't have Olsen on the field more often Sunday.

You're not going to want either one of them on your fantasy team the rest of the way because each will eat into the other's overall production, but the Clark-Olsen combo needs to be utilized more because there are endless mismatch possibilities against opposing linebackers and safeties that can be exploited.

5. Benson and Peterson need to be used much differently
Adrian Peterson has spelled Cedric Benson at tailback on third down and in obvious passing situations for the most part, but the problem is that enemy defenses have a better idea what to expect based on who's lining up behind Grossman. When Benson is in the I-formation with FB Jason McKie, more often than not, he's getting the ball; when Peterson is in there, more often than not, Grossman is dropping back to pass. Predictability is the mating call of inefficiency on offense in the NFL, so Turner must find a way to alter his pattern and force both Benson and Peterson to be more well-rounded players.

It's no secret that Benson is a better runner and Peterson is a better receiver at this point in their respective careers, but the Bears would be better off alternating tailbacks every few series – as they did quite successfully last season with Benson and Thomas Jones – as opposed to simply bringing in Peterson when it's time to throw the football.

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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