Sunday School: What We Learned

Heading into the bye, the Chicago Bears are 4-3 and atop the NFC North. That W in Week 7 against Minny wasn't especially pretty, but it was a W nonetheless. Here are five things we learned about the Midway Monsters after a back-and-forth 48-41 victory over those pesky Vikings on Sunday.

1. Not having a primary receiver is actually helping the passing game
Most of the premier passing attacks in the NFL tend to have a legitimate No. 1 option who can move the chains even if the whole ballpark knows he's going to be the initial read. However, even though the Chicago receiving corps is littered with has-beens and never-will-bes, not to mention a pair of converted cornerbacks in Devin Hester and Rashied Davis, Kyle Orton has spread the ball around beautifully and turned an apparent negative into a resounding positive. Defenses simply don't know who to key on from snap to snap, as anyone from rejuvenated Brandon Lloyd to veteran Marty Booker to emerging Greg Olsen appears to be the go-to guy from week to week.

Orton has been at his best since Lloyd went down in Week 4 with a knee injury, which forced him to look other places for big plays downfield – it will be interesting to see how many touches Lloyd gets should he come back healthy in Week 9 after the bye.


DE Mark Anderson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2. Anderson was apparently a fluke as a rookie
Mark Anderson was a big reason why the Bears were as good as they were on defense during their Super Bowl campaign of 2006, registering 12 sacks off the bench as a fifth-round rookie. But he came crashing back to Earth starting ahead of Alex Brown this past season, getting only five sacks and proving to be overmatched defending the run. While many thought he would flourish upon returning back to his role as a pass-rushing specialist subbing for both Brown and Adewale Ogunleye again this year, he's totaled only six tackles and is yet to take an opposing quarterback to the turf.

The explanation for the Bears being vulnerable on defense at times in 2008 is their failure to generate consistent pressure up front, not all those injuries in the secondary, and Anderson deserves his share of the blame since rushing the passer is all he's really asked to do.

3. It's officially time to worry about this team's ability to run the football
Rookie Matt Forte might be the best player in the Windy City already despite the fact that he's only played seven games in the NFL, as he's made the offense so much more versatile with his ability as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. It's great that he's currently eighth in the league with 515 rushing yards, putting him ahead of the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson, but it's hard to get excited about Forte's Cedric Benson-like 3.5 yards per carry. The former Tulane Green Wave has averaged under three yards per attempt in three of his last four contests, although it's fair to say that defensive coordinators are game-planning against him at every opportunity.

The offensive line needs to start opening up holes on the ground as well as it has been protecting Orton in the pocket, and left guard Josh Beekman in particular should be looking over his shoulder right about now.


CB Nathan Vasher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. The Vasher situation is getting awfully curious
The Chicago secondary was never the same after Nathan Vasher went down in Week 3 this past season with a nasty groin injury, as the former Pro Bowler only suited up once the rest of the way. Now Vasher is battling a wrist/thumb problem that could be much more serious than the Bears would like everyone to believe – their starting right cornerback has missed each of the last three games despite being on the practice field more often than not. It was especially surprising that he was inactive yet again this past Sunday, with fellow corner Charles Tillman also out of the lineup due to a bum shoulder.

The coaches like what they see in Corey Graham and are more comfortable starting him this year than Trumaine McBride this past year, but Vasher's entire season could be in jeopardy if he's still unable to play against the Lions in Week 9 after the bye.

5. An extra seven days rest could not have come at a better time
The Bears really need to take advantage of their bye in Week 8, not just to lick their wounds but also to tweak their approach – both offensively and defensively. The DBs really need the extra rest, as Tillman, Vasher, and nickelback Danieal Manning may be able to return against an awful Lions team at home in Week 9. From a scheming perspective, the running game has to find a way to make more room for Forte because he can't do it by himself, and something needs to be done with the front four in order to get more pressure on enemy QBs.

Some teams have the bye come too early or too late based on how their season is unfolding, but the Bears have a little bit of Goldilocks good fortune – a bye in Week 8 is just right.

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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