Sunday School: What We Learned

At 3-2 and with a favorable schedule on the horizon, the Chicago Bears have to be considered the team to beat in the NFC North heading into Week 6 of the NFL season. Here are five things we learned about the Midway Monsters after a lopsided 34-7 victory over the hapless Lions on Sunday.

1. Depth on the defensive side of the ball could be better than ever
This past season, the Midway Monsters could not survive the myriad injuries they suffered defensively, tumbling all the way to 28th in the league on D – after finishing sixth the year before – before cleaning out their lockers without so much as a playoff berth. However, so far in 2008, even though the likes of Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher have been banged up here and there, the second-teamers have stepped in and gotten the job done. Israel Idonije has been outstanding in place of Harris at the three technique and is no longer just a special-teams star, while Corey Graham took over for Vasher in Week 5 and made everyone understand why Ricky Manning Jr. was expendable.

It remains to be seen if Mike Brown can stay healthy in the secondary because he's pretty much irreplaceable back there, but this defense is arguably as deep and talented as any in the NFL right now.


QB Kyle Orton
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

2. This bus isn't just for running the football
It's become increasingly obvious that opponents will spare no expense to slow down rookie Matt Forte and the running game, so give credit to offensive coordinator Ron Turner for playing the hand he's been dealt the last few weeks. Forte had his least productive day on the ground against the Lions, but he was still effective catching passes out of the backfield and managed to find the end zone twice on the day. Detroit was giving Kyle Orton and the passing game all kinds of cushion down the field, and he took advantage with a bunch of big plays that went for 30-plus yards.

While head coach Lovie Smith will continue to say that his team gets off the bus running the football, Turner is proving he can find mismatches through the air and knows how to exploit them – and pat Orton on the back for executing the game plan beautifully.

3. How did Anderson ever win the starting job from Brown in the first place?
Not to take anything away from Mark Anderson, who is a solid player in his own right, but we are learning week in and week out that the coaching staff was nothing short of foolish for promoting the pass-rushing specialist ahead of Alex Brown at right end in 2007. Brown is playing the best football of his career through five games, getting his third sack of the season Sunday in the Motor City and also forcing a Jon Kitna fumble. He's always been terrific defending the run with the way he holds the edge, but perhaps he could finally get to that elusive double-digit sack total that has always been the mark of a Pro Bowl-caliber D-end.

Fortunately for the Bears, the back-and-forth flip-flop between Brown and Anderson hasn't affected their relationship and may have helped them better appreciate each other's role on this team.


WR Rashied Davis
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

4. No No. 1 target means spreading the ball around
Most quarterbacks need a primary target to lean on when the chains have to be moved on third down, but Orton does not have that luxury with his present crop of pass catchers. But even with Brandon Lloyd, who was starting to establish himself as the alpha dog of the Chicago passing game, sidelined with a bum knee, Orton threw for 334 yards against the Lions and was in complete control from start to finish. Both Devin Hester and Rashied Davis had career days statistically, while we continue to see Greg Olsen taking over for Desmond Clark as the play-making tight end in this offense.

Don't expect any Bears receiver to get anywhere near 1,000 yards once the regular season wraps up, but having three or four options capable of posting 40-50 catches means enemy defensive coordinators won't have anyone to specifically gameplan against every week.

5. The rest of the schedule isn't nearly as tough as originally anticipated
The Bears next three games are at rebuilding-but-improving Atlanta, home against quarterback-challenged Minnesota, and then the same woeful Lions after a bye in Week 8. Tennessee is undefeated and will present a major challenge in Week 10, but the three-game road trip to follow isn't as daunting as it could have been – at Green Bay, at St. Louis, and then a road rematch with the Vikings. If Chicago can survive that gauntlet, they've got three straight home dates – hosting Jacksonville, New Orleans, and the Packers – to right the ship even if an unforeseen stumble should occur, plus struggling Houston is on the docket in the finale.

Not many experts figured the Bears to be a playoff team before the season started, but it appears that they could be the new favorites in the NFC North with the rest of the division crumbling around them.

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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