Chris Steuber: After upsetting Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 1, the Bears have lost back-to-back games to Carolina and Tampa Bay by a total of six points. How do you feel these two losses will affect the team heading into Sunday night's matchup against Philadelphia?
John Crist: It's possible the Bears got a little too big for their britches after their Week-1 upset of the Colts, seemingly enjoying the opportunity they got to gloat in the face of all those media members who said they didn't have a chance in Indy. Then they looked equally impressive in the first half at Carolina in Week 2, before fading down the stretch and turning a 14-point second-half lead into a three-point defeat to the Panthers. The same can be said for this past Sunday against Tampa Bay, when the Midway Monsters couldn't put away ex-Bear Brian Griese and the Buccaneers despite a 10-point edge with just a few minutes left in regulation.
The Bears have gone from toasts of the town to here-we-go-agains very quickly in the Windy City, and they know that Week 4's battle with the mighty Eagles could very well make or break their season.
CS: A player that I really liked entering the 2008 draft was Tulane's Matt Forte. Forte has been tremendous thus far for the Bears and is averaging 101.3 YPG on the ground. The Eagles defense is ranked first in the league in run defense, allowing just 45.7 YPG. For the Bears to have success against Philadelphia, they have to be able to run the ball. Do you see the coaching staff instituting any special blocking schemes to give Forte more room to roam?
JC: You and I were at the NFL Scouting Combine when Forte did very well for himself, and he is the lone bright spot for the Bears' 2008 draft class thus far. The former Green Wave has been everything that Cedric Benson never was: a strong runner between the tackles, fast enough to take it to the house, a terrific receiver out of the backfield, tough enough to help in pass protection, and doing all of the above with a humble personality. He was clearly the best skill-position player on offense from the moment he arrived at Halas Hall, and he looks like a star in the making through three games.
The Bears don't do much zone blocking and prefer to run a more classic man-on-man scheme up front, so I wouldn't expect them to change that approach too much regardless of what the Eagles try to do on the other side of the ball.
CS: I'm not surprised by Kyle Orton's success, and I thought he was the better fit for the offense before the season. But what have you seen in Orton thus far that shows you he can be a quality starter this season and the potential long-term solution at quarterback in Chicago?
JC: I would stop short of calling Orton's 2008 a "success" just yet since he's posted a passer rating of only 79.0, didn't throw a touchdown pass until after halftime in Week 3, and his team is 1-2 in the standings. That being said, he's done much better this September than Rex Grossman did this past season – Grossman, as a matter of fact, was benched in Week 4 a year ago. One thing I have noticed about Orton is the coaching staff giving him a lot of leeway at the line of scrimmage and allowing him to change the play as he sees fit, while Grossman didn't audible very much because offensive coordinator Ron Turner wanted him to run the play that was called.
Even if Orton never develops into a Pro-Bowl caliber player under center, you have to appreciate the fact that his teammates voted him as an offensive captain – an honor Grossman never received.
CS: When a playmaker has sore ribs, it can be disruptive because it hinders him from being an explosive weapon that can easily make defenders miss. Devin Hester is one of the Bears' biggest weapons, and he sat out last week's game versus Tampa Bay. Although Brandon Lloyd had an impact in the passing game against the Bucs, how important is it to have Hester in the lineup against the Eagles, who have one of the premier defensive backfields in the NFL?
JC: Hester is never going to develop into a No. 1 receiver in this league no matter what head coach Lovie Smith says, but he's an integral part of a struggling offense because he represents the only true deep threat on the roster. While Lloyd finally broke out in Week 3 and utilized his trademark athleticism to make a few big plays down the field against the Buccaneers, he's not a classic burner and doesn't strike fear into defensive backs like the lightning-fast Hester can. There is no substitute for speed, so even though Hester hasn't done much on the stat sheet yet as a pass catcher, his ability to keep those safeties honest helps open up holes for Forte and the running game.
The Bears said goodbye to oft-injured Mark Bradley – a former second-round draft pick – this week after waiting four years for him to turn into a playmaker, so look for veteran Marty Booker and possibly rookie Earl Bennett to be on the field more if Hester is a game-day scratch once again because of that rib injury.
CS: I don't know what to make of the Bears defense thus far. They've played very well against the run but struggled in pass defense. Donovan McNabb has been outstanding in the early going and has spread the ball around effectively. Who has to step up in the Bears secondary and try to limit the Eagles' opportunities downfield?
JC: This might be the best 45-minute defense in the NFL, but games are still 60 minutes in length last I checked. It's hard to tell if the Bears' defensive failures in the fourth quarter the last two weeks are the result of poor playing or poor coaching, although it's safe to say that both have something to do with it. While Lance Briggs is proving that he's worth every penny of that $36 million extension he got in the offseason, Brian Urlacher isn't making plays anymore, Adewale Ogunleye is yet to register a sack off the edge, and Tommie Harris has been borderline invisible in the trenches at times.
But the heart and soul of this D always has been and always will be Mike Brown, who's finally healthy after four straight years of serious injuries but hasn't looked like the Pro Bowler of old just yet.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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