Sunday School: What We Learned

The Chicago Bears are once again relishing the role of the underdog, coming through with another prime time upset of a supposedly superior team. Here are five things we learned about the Midway Monsters after an impressive 24-20 victory over the talented Eagles on Sunday.

1. Orton could be on the verge of becoming a solid starting quarterback
Here in the Windy City, it's so easy to forget the good things that Bears QBs do on Sundays and simply focus on the negative – let's face it, we've had a lot of practice. But even though Kyle Orton seemed like he was giving the game away against Philadelphia and looked Rex Grossman-like with all those turnovers, the team still found a way to win. Luckily for Orton, he was simply sensational in the first half by throwing three touchdown passes to three different receivers, while Grossman's bad games had a tendency to be full-on meltdowns from start to finish.

Orton appears to be learning from his mistakes instead of continually making the same egregious errors over and over again, and the fact that offensive coordinator Ron Turner is giving his signal-caller a lot of leeway at the line of scrimmage proves that a sense of trust is developing.


CB Charles Tillman
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

2. Tillman and Vasher need to get healthy quick
The Lions are once again a terrible football team and finally pulled the plug on general manager Matt Millen, but they can still throw the ball as well as anyone with Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. Both Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher are battling injuries after getting banged up in Week 4, Tillman hurting his shoulder and Vasher dealing with a bad thumb. Reserve corner Corey Graham stepped in and played pretty well when called upon against the Eagles, but covering Williams and Johnson is a major step up from the likes of Reggie Brown and Jason Avant.

Ricky Manning Jr. was phased out in part because he played so poorly when asked to start in place of either Tillman or Vasher in `06 and `07, making it all the more imperative that both starters receive as much treatment as possible and get back on the field in a hurry.

3. Olsen may be leaping ahead of Clark in the passing attack
Greg Olsen played fairly well as a rookie first-round pick this past season, but he spent way too much of his time running shorter routes at or near the sideline. The former Miami Hurricane was selected 31st overall mostly because of his size and speed, allowing him to be a matchup problem for most any defensive back down the field. Not only did he score the first TD of the game on a beautifully thrown ball in the back-right corner of the end zone, but he was targeted by Orton seven times against the Eagles as opposed to just four looks for the veteran Clark.

Despite the fact that Clark has been one of the more underrated tight ends in the league for a few years now, and his better blocking will keep him in the starting lineup all season long provided he's healthy, Olsen is beginning to assert himself as a go-to guy – that two-fumble game against Carolina was just a fluke.


LB Nick Roach
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

4. Hillenmeyer might be pushed for playing time
Bears fans have wondered why Hunter Hillenmeyer never seems to be challenged for the starting job at strong-side linebacker since he just doesn't make that many plays, but the coaching staff loves him and professes that his position is not designed to make a lot of plays in this defense. However, not only did Hillenmeyer trot off the field to make room for the nickelback Sunday against Philly, but second-year pro Nick Roach got a few looks in the D's base set. Even though Hillenmeyer did come through with a sack of Donovan McNabb on one of his rare blitzing opportunities, he's had some trouble in coverage this season and been exploited by quicker backs and tight ends.

Don't look for Hillenmeyer to lose his seat atop the depth chart, but it's no secret that either Roach or Jamar Williams could be in line to take over in 2009 – and possibly steal more snaps the rest of 2008.

5. A 5-2 record is a realistic possibility heading into the Week 8 bye
The Monsters of the Midway should be favored in each of their next three matchups: at Detroit, at Atlanta, and home against Minnesota. It's a waste of time to look back on those last-minute collapses versus Carolina and Tampa while proclaiming that this team should be 4-0, but heading into the bye with a four-game winning streak would prove that the Bears are legitimate contenders in the NFC and possibly in line to compete for the division title. The Lions are in complete disarray, the Falcons are just finding their way under first-year head coach Mike Smith, and the Vikings are yet again having issues under center – losing any of these three games would be just about inexcusable.

Lovie Smith and Co. have proven they can get up for prime-time matchups against supposedly superior teams, but the mark of a champion is beating the teams you're supposed to beat and not letting them hang around in the fourth quarter.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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