Brad Thomas: Based on Week 1, do you think the level of play on both sides of the ball is sustainable long term for the Chicago Bears? Was Week 1 merely a fluke against a rusty Peyton Manning, an injured Joseph Addai and a pedestrian Colts defense?
John Crist: No question about it, the Bears played just about a perfect game and ended up beating the Colts handily even though they are probably an inferior team on both sides of the ball. That being said, they demonstrated a formula that works for them and could very well win a lot of football games this season: running the football and being mistake-free on offense, applying lots of pressure and forcing turnovers on defense, and making up the difference with incredible special teams. Aside from Devin Hester's gaffe trying to get a little too cute with a kickoff return to start the second half, the Monsters of the Midway were close to flawless with their performance in Indianapolis.
Now I'm yet to be convinced and still don't think this is a playoff team in an improved NFC, but I just might have to change my mind if they emerge from Carolina with another win on the road and improve to 2-0.
BT: Is Kyle Orton the long-term solution at quarterback for the Bears? What is to become of Rex Grossman, and why did he get so long to prove himself when it became evident that he was not the answer?
JC: If Orton leads this team to 10 wins this season and proves to be more than just a game manager under center, then the organization will have to think seriously about rewarding him financially for the long term since he's only signed through 2009. And even though Orton played relatively well as a rookie and guided this team to an unexpected playoff berth in 2005, Grossman was the golden boy in the front office's eyes since he was a first-round draft choice back in 2003. But despite the fact that Orton did not outplay Grossman in training camp, the coaching staff decided to make a change and go with Orton because Grossman was a been-there-and-done-that situation through and through.
Grossman will be a free agent after the season and won't come back to the Windy City unless hell freezes over and pigs learn to fly on the very same day, but you most likely haven't heard the last from the former Heisman Trophy runner-up because another general manager will inevitably fall in love with his rocket arm.
BT: Why was Ricky Manning Jr. disgruntled?
JC: You would be disgruntled too if you came to work once day and, all of a sudden, were running with the third-string rookies when you used to be a member of the starting rotation. Manning was terrific his first year in Chicago, earning a spot as the nickelback and intercepting five passes during that Super Bowl campaign of 2006. But he failed miserably every time he was asked to step into the starting lineup for either Charles Tillman or Nathan Vasher, and before you know it he was left for dead on the sideline as the likes of Danieal Manning and Brandon McGowan got reps in his place.
The nickel corner is a tough position to play in Lovie Smith's version of the Cover-2 defense because he does not feature a dime package, but Manning was made out to be one of the scapegoats for last season's colossal disaster – fair or not.
BT: Is Hester playing wide receiver just an experiment?
JC: For some odd reason, it seems as if the national media is forgetting that Hester previously made the switch from cornerback to receiver this past season and not just in 2008. The return man extraordinaire caught 20 passes for 299 yards and two TDs, but he wasn't much of a factor offensively more often than not and didn't start to figure out the nuances of the position until later in the year. Coach Smith spent a good portion of the offseason trying to convince anyone who would listen that his most dangerous weapon can be a primary target in this league one day, although Brandon Lloyd and Rashied Davis got the starting assignments in Week 1.
Hester isn't going to be on the field for 40 or 50 snaps per game and catch 50 or 60 balls because he's simply too valuable on special teams, but he can create some serious matchup problems as a third wideout and will inevitably take our collective breath away on more than one occasion this year.
BT: The Bears have one of the most formidable front fours in the league, but will they be enough to stop Carolina's two-pronged rushing attack?
JC: The Panthers were quite impressive in their Week-1 victory over the Chargers, and both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were effective running the ball against a tough San Diego defense. But the Colts know how to move the ball on the ground as well with Addai in the backfield, yet the Bears shut him down and made them one-dimensional almost the entire second half. The four-man defensive tackle rotation was able to get consistent pressure up the middle, and that was with perennial Pro Bowler Tommie Harris battling a bum knee and giving way to the likes of reserves Israel Idonije and Marcus Harrison a great deal.
The Midway Monsters were able to take advantage of an Indy offensive line that was missing three starters from a year ago, so it will be interesting to see if they can have similar success in Carolina with both Travelle Wharton and Jeff Otah on the injury report.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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