Behind Enemy Lines: Part II

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Michael John Schon of Broncos Update, break down Sunday's game between the Bears and Broncos at Soldier Field in Chicago. Let's continue this three-part series with five questions from Mr. Crist to Mr. Schon.

John Crist: Second-year quarterback Jay Cutler appears to be a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan's offense, possessing a rocket for a right arm and proving to be plenty mobile on all those bootlegs the Broncos like to run. Do you feel that Cutler will develop into a perennial Pro-Bowl caliber player in the NFL, or is he simply a serviceable starter who can get the job done?

Michael John Schon: There's no question that Cutler has the potential. And you're right, he's a perfect fit for Shanahan's offense. What's been disappointing is that the learning curve has taken a bit longer than anticipated. Nobody in Denver was willing to admit that this was a rebuilding year, so the pressures to make a playoff run are strictly on the youngster's shoulders. As the season's progressed, he's become a lot more comfortable, not only in the system but in reading the coverage as well.

Whether or not it will be enough for postseason action is still up in the air, but as far as pure potential, he's definitely Pro-Bowl caliber.

JC: Travis Henry was brought in from Tennessee and paid a lot of money to be the focus of that dynamite Denver running game, but injuries and personal problems have derailed his 2007 season after a promising start. What's the status of his appeal with the league, is his future with the Broncos in jeopardy already, and can this team really make a playoff push with the likes of Selvin Young and Andre Hall in the backfield?


RB Travis Henry
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

MJS: The one constant in Denver's attack over the last several years has been the running game, and while there is concern over Henry's issues, the Broncos are confident that Young and Hall can handle the load if necessary.

On the flip side, Henry and his team of lawyers had a five-hour appeal hearing with the league last Friday in Phoenix, but there's been no official word handed down at this point. Should Roger Goodell enforce an immediate 16-game suspension, his days with the Broncos are over. Fortunately, Denver built in enough safeguard clauses in the contract that if a suspension were to occur, it would cost in the neighborhood of $5 million to part ways.

JC: Javon Walker is one of the best receivers around but has only played three games this season, which has opened the door for Brandon Marshall to emerge as Cutler's primary target. Bears fans are quite familiar with Walker since he started his career in Green Bay, so introduce us to Marshall and what has made him such a success just two years removed from Central Florida.

MJS: Marshall's been a huge surprise this season and is definitely one of Cutler's best go-to options. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he's got the size and speed to fit perfectly in Shanahan's scheme and he's got a great head on his shoulders when it comes to running routes. His downside has been a few dropped passes at crucial times, but he seems to be able to rebound quickly and doesn't let it affect his performance.

I expect Bears fans to become quite familiar with him this Sunday.

JC: The Broncos have been absolutely dreadful defending the run this season, 30th in the league at 149.2 yards allowed per game on the ground. Linebackers Ian Gold, D.J. Williams, and Nate Webster are supposed to be one of the most athletic groups in the NFL, so have they just not played very well or is the root of the problem up front on the defensive line?


LB D.J. Williams
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

MJS: This is the single biggest issue facing the Denver Broncos in 2007. Losing DE Ebenezer Ekuban and LB Al Wilson was huge, but Denver's problems go way beyond injuries. First-year defensive coordinator Jim Bates has completely revamped the defensive philosophy, and at this stage it's simply not working – linemen are constantly caught out of position, the blitz is almost non-existent and the secondary is forced to make up for the gaps on the line.

Although there was noticeable improvement Monday night against Tennessee, the next few games are going to be make or break for the Broncos season, with Chicago being the biggest test to date.

JC: Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly might be the best cornerback combination in all of football, but everybody was watching a few Mondays ago when Green Bay's Brett Favre beat both of them with touchdown passes on deep balls. Bailey and Bly do have six interceptions and 17 passes defensed between them, but how have they played overall in their first season together?

MJS: Outside of getting torched by Favre, the pair have played out pretty well together – currently Denver ranks eighth in the league on pass defense. Unfortunately, the team's problems on the front line have shifted some of their focus into trying to help stop the run.

Once (if) the Broncos figure out a way to close the gaps up front, Bailey and Bly should be able to put up some pretty impressive numbers between them.

Be on the lookout for Part III of Behind Enemy Lines on Friday. To go back and read Part I, where Mr. Crist answered five questions from Mr. Schon, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Michael John Schon is a Columnist for BroncosUpdate.com.


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