Behind Enemy Lines: Part II

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders, go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Sunday's Week 10 matchup between the Bears and Titans at Soldier Field. Let's continue this three-part series with five questions from Doug to John.

Doug Farrar: Based on what you've seen and what you know, what has been the difference in quarterback Kyle Orton this year, and how much of a break are the Titans – who have been playing lights-out pass defense no matter the opponent – getting with a Rex Grossman start necessitated by Orton's ankle injury?

John Crist: It's tough to improve your game in the NFL without an opportunity, and Orton simply didn't have that opportunity all of 2006 and most of 2007 because Grossman and Brian Griese were in front of him on the depth chart – fair or not. We can chit-chat all day about arm strength and reading coverages and making calls at the line of scrimmage, but I believe the biggest catalyst in Orton's development this season has been his maturity both on and off the field. While we've all seen the infamous photos from earlier in his career when he's parading around with a Jack Daniel's bottle in one hand and a mugshot-worthy look on his face, he's cleaned up his act and is now a team captain.

The Titans will get an enormous break Sunday if they can harass Grossman with consistent pressure – it's just a matter of time before he makes a mistake because he just can't do his job under duress.

DF: Challenge No. 1 for the Bears offense will be deflecting the furious Titans pass rush and opening holes for Matt Forte. That means that the Chicago line will have to bring its best. What are the chances that this line can fend off Albert Haynesworth and his buddies, and what is the season prognosis for rookie left tackle Chris Williams?


OT Chris Williams
Warren Wimmer Photography

JC: Per Part I of this series, you and I are in complete agreement that Haynesworth is in the conversation for MVP of the league based on his eight-game performance – he's doing in Tennessee what Tommie Harris was supposed to do in Chicago. The Bears were really weak along the offensive line a year ago and didn't do much in terms of an upgrade once Williams required back surgery, but they've played pretty well as a unit and been much better than expected. Left tackle John St. Clair has been a backup most of his career, and despite the fact that he's already faced the likes of Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Gaines Adams, John Abraham, and Jared Allen, he's done very well and helped Forte find room to operate.

As far as Williams is concerned, he was active in Week 9 for the first time all season long, but the first-round draft pick only contributed on special teams and likely won't crack the starting lineup unless there is an injury situation.

DF: Speaking of Forte, he's proven to be a productive, durable and versatile back in his first pro season. When all is said and done, has he been the team's most valuable player this year?

JC: Not only has he been the team's most valuable player from the moment he arrived at rookie minicamp, but I believe he's worthy of a Pro-Bowl berth even though there are some great backs in the NFC this year. Ron Turner's offense was way too rigid and predictable last year because Cedric Benson was a complete waste of space in the passing game, but Forte is currently leading the Bears in receiving and shown to be a willing blocker, too. While he got some unnecessary flak before Week 9's 126-yard performance about his yards-per-carry average going down week to week, those who watch him every day see a player who's found a way to be effective in some fashion each and every Sunday.

General manager Jerry Angelo was adamant about selecting an every-down back in the draft, and he certainly found one in Forte.

DF: Perhaps the most unheralded aspect of the Titans' success has been their offensive line. We've talked about what challenges Tennessee's D-line brings to the table. How does that Chicago front seven stand? Can they pressure Kerry Collins and put the lid on Chris Johnson and Lendale White?


DE Adewale Ogunleye
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

JC: Considering the fact that the aforementioned Griese dropped back 67 times in Week 3 and didn't have to wash his jersey after the game, Bears fans have every reason to be concerned about this defense's lack of consistent pressure up front. Like most Cover-2 schemes, head coach Lovie Smith's version simply does not work unless the front four is getting some push in the trenches, so it's time for Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye to stand up and be noticed again – the two veterans have combined for a mere 4.5 sacks in eight games. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are two of the more decorated linebackers in football, although neither one of them has ever been much of a blitzer.

On the other hand, the Bears have shut down some pretty good running games so far this season, but they'll need a Herculean effort to do so against the combo of Johnson and White.

DF: Injuries to Orton and safety Mike Brown have the 5-3 Bears in a precarious position. They're one game up in the standings on the Packers and Vikings, but how realistic do you think a division title is right now? The Bears have been a tough team to read all year. Where are they going?

JC: If you think this team is tough to get a read on from the outside, believe me, it's even more perplexing from the inside. Every time I get close to jumping on the bandwagon and believing Smith's club can be a legitimate contender in the NFC, the Bears put together a yawn of an effort and force me to change my mind – this club has won four of five games but looked impressive only once, a 34-7 blowout at winless Detroit in Week 5. But like the unbeaten Titans, the Midway Monsters have proven that they can both run the ball and stop the run, which has been a recipe for success since George Halas was patrolling the Chicago sideline.

After this matchup hosting Tennessee, the Bears will make or break their season with three straight road games – including at Green Bay and at Minnesota.

Be on the lookout for Part III of this three-part series on Friday. To go back and read Part I, where Doug answers five questions from John, Click Here.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report. Doug Farrar is a Staff Writer for FootballOutsiders.com.


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