Denis Savage: The quarterback play in Chicago has been a point of contention amongst fans and media alike. What needs to happen to gain continuity the rest of the year, and what do you foresee happening in the future?
John Crist: Jim McMahon was the last Windy City signal-caller to make the Pro Bowl all the way back in that legendary season of 1985, so to say that the Bears have struggled at the quarterback position is quite an understatement. Brian Griese has put somewhat of a charge into the passing attack since taking over for Rex Grossman, but he's also throwing interceptions at an alarming rate and a big reason why the team has a horrific minus-10 turnover ratio. Grossman is done in Chicago and will be wearing a different uniform next season, which means it's up to Griese to hit tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen with short and intermediate throws – the strength of this aerial attack right now.
In terms of what to expect going forward, look for GM Jerry Angelo to select a QB in the second or third round this coming April because the failed Grossman experiment has soured him on taking another young passer in Round 1.
DS: The Chicago defense is in the bottom third of the league both against the pass and the run. What happened to the squad that caused such a significant turnaround for the worse?
S Mike Brown
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JC: Head coach Lovie Smith's defense simply does not work without forcing turnovers, which means that opponents can move the football so long as they maintain possession and avoid paralyzing mistakes. After leading the league with 44 takeaways last season on their way to Super Bowl XLI, the Bears have intercepted just five passes this year and only recovered seven fumbles midway through 2007. The front four is undersized, the secondary is giving up big plays like never before in Smith's regime, and former Defensive Player of the Year Brian Urlacher is currently struggling with arthritis in his back that's causing him considerable pain.
There have been injuries on defense up and down the depth chart, but the loss of safety Mike Brown – the unquestioned leader in the locker room but on injured reserve for the third time in four seasons – can not be understated.
DS: Devin Hester has been a sparkplug on special teams, and they are trying to get him the ball more on offense. The word is he should be available for this game on Sunday. How do they get him more involved, assuming he plays?
JC: First of all, Hester did get banged up in the fourth quarter the last time out against Detroit but is just fine and should be 100% come Sunday. There is no reason to elaborate any further on Hester's once-in-a-lifetime ability with punts and kickoffs, where a pretty convincing case can be made that he's already the best return man in the history of the NFL. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has slowly been working him into the lineup at receiver with each passing week, and he's looked pretty natural running routes and catching the football so far.
Turner made a mistake the first few games by only having Hester on the field for gadget plays like fake reverses and bubble screens, but now he's just another receiver in the rotation and getting increasingly comfortable on offense.
DS: The running game has been absent for much of the year. Is this a product of the offensive line, or are fans clamoring for the return of Thomas Jones – or something else entirely?
RB Cedric Benson
JC: For a franchise that has produced the likes of Red Grange, Gale Sayers, and Walter Payton, the rushing offense has been nothing short of an embarrassment this season. While Cedric Benson has certainly been a disappointment and will likely never live up to his billing as a No. 4-overall draft pick, the offensive line has gone from "experienced" to "old" seemingly overnight, the passing attack has been inconsistent, and the play-calling is way too predictable right now. Jones was not as good of a runner as Bears fans are presently remembering, but he was a much more well-rounded back than Benson and nobody ever questioned his toughness.
Second-stringer Adrian Peterson is too valuable on special teams to be a true No. 1 guy, but reaching for Garrett Wolfe in the third round this past April and then not giving him a chance to make an impact – the rookie was inactive in Week 8 – doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
DS: Lovie Smith was given a four-year contract extension prior to this year. Is there a feeling that he is losing the team after getting so close to a Super Bowl title last season?
JC: Smith was one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league last season and deserved his lucrative extension with what he had accomplished in three years, but there is no question that this team is getting out-coached quite often. Both his offensive and defensive schemes have been way too rigid despite devastating injuries and general ineffectiveness on both sides of the ball. It will be very interesting to see if he makes any noticeable changes to his game plan after having the bye week to truly evaluate what's gone wrong thus far.
However, Smith is very popular and has a reputation as a players' coach, so I don't think the team is anywhere near mutiny territory just yet.