John Keim: Why are the Bears struggling so much after last year's run to Super Bowl XLI?
John Crist: Where do you want me to start? Defensive injuries, offensive ineptitude, questionable coaching, bad bounces, tougher schedule ... the list goes on and on. Aside from the tight end combination of veteran Desmond Clark and rookie Greg Olsen, there isn't one position offensively or defensively that's playing as well is it did a year ago. And if not for the miracle that is Devin Hester and a last-minute touchdown pass from Brian Griese to Muhsin Muhammad at Philadelphia, the defending NFC champions could very well be a 3-9 football team right now. The fall from grace has been incredible to watch from the press box.
The margin from pretty good to pretty bad in the NFL is razor thin, and I believe a lot of players in the Chicago locker room are finally starting to realize just how special last season was.
JK: Has Rex Grossman been any better since coming back to the lineup? Why has he struggled so much at times, and do players still believe in him?
QB Rex Grossman
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
JC: It's very easy to look at the raw numbers and see that Grossman has improved his play greatly since being re-inserted into the starting lineup, but let's look a little deeper. Grossman tends to struggle the most when he sees pressure directly up the middle because he hasn't learned how to flush right or left, so he either gets sacked for a big loss or makes a poor decision with the football. And while he's still being sacked all too often – the Giants got him six times this past Sunday – he appears to finally understand that a sack isn't the worst thing in the world and isn't simply chucking the ball downfield into coverage to save his hide.
Defensive end Alex Brown told me in the locker room not too long ago that he still thinks Grossman has that "it" factor and believes he can be a difference-maker under center in this league, and he's not alone up at Halas Hall.
JK: What's happened to the defense this year? Is it just injury related – is Tommie Harris his old self? – or are there other reasons for the downfall?
JC: The Bears completely shut down LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers for three quarters in Week 1, but then Pro-Bowl safety Mike Brown was lost for the year with a ruptured ACL and things just haven't been the same. This was supposed to be the best defense in the league with all the healthy returns and offseason additions, yet here we are at the three-quarter post of the season and this unit is 27th against the run, 25th against the pass, and an inexplicable 28th overall. While Adewale Ogunleye has returned to form as a dominating defensive end and Lance Briggs replaced Brian Urlacher as the best linebacker in town, nobody else has played up to expectations – freshman defensive coordinator Bob Babich hasn't been overly imaginative with this Cover-2 scheme either.
Harris has been playing on a sprained knee since late September and is yet to run through a full week of practice all year, which has turned him primarily into a pass-rushing specialist lately.
JK: Adam Archuleta was not exactly a popular player among Redskins fans. He was just benched in Chicago. What's not working for him there?
S Adam Archuleta
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JC: This is often what happens when deserving head coaches get contract extensions and, inevitably, ask for more say in personnel matters. Lovie Smith was convinced that he could resurrect Archuleta's career, putting him back in his Cover-2 system that made the former first-round pick such a success with the Rams. Smith was convinced that the Redskins were simply using Archuleta the wrong way and that he couldn't have been as bad as he was a year ago in our nation's capital, but he hasn't been near the tackler his reputation suggested and doesn't have a chance in coverage down the field.
Frankly, Archuleta's benching last week in favor of Brandon McGowan was long overdue and possibly a sign that his tenure as a starting-caliber safety in this league is over.
JK: Are you still amazed by what Devin Hester does? What makes him so special?
JC: I've stopped trying to describe his paranormal exploits in the return game because he's simply beyond words at this point. An All-Pro return specialist might score two touchdowns in a given season, yet Hester has found paydirt a video game-like 11 times off punts and kickoffs in just 28 career games. It's ludicrous to call anyone the all-time greatest in anything after only two years on the job, but there isn't a player in the NFL who bats an eyelash when he is referred to as the best return man in league history.
Believe it or not, special teams coach Dave Toub actually teaches his players not to block the tackler in front of them if Hester is within 10 yards. They're instructed to go block somebody else on the second level because it's assumed he will make that first man miss anyway.
To go back and ready Part I of Behind Enemy Lines, where Mr. Keim answered five questions from Mr. Crist, Click Here.