Bill Huber: The Bears haven't had a real quarterback since Jim McMahon. Earlier this season, it looked like Kyle Orton might be that guy. But then he got hurt, and now his passer is a so-so 80.1. What's the feeling about Orton?
John Crist: While nobody believed Orton was really as good as the quarterback who was slinging the ball all over the field for a few weeks and making the likes of Brandon Lloyd and Rashied Davis look like, well, viable NFL receivers, he's been better than his recent numbers would suggest. It's safe to say that he hasn't been the same since the Week 9 ankle injury at home against Detroit because his lack of mobility has been lessened even further, plus the play of his pass catchers has been embarrasingly bad the last month or so. Actually, considering the dearth of talent around him at the skill positions and along the offensive line, I think Orton deserves a pat on the back for that so-so 80.1 passer rating.
I'm not here to tell you that Orton is going to morph into a Pro Bowler any time soon, but he has proven he can win, doesn't worry about stats, and has the full faith and confidence of the locker room – the Bears could do much worse considering their dubious history at the game's most important position.
BH: Matt Forte is having a superb rookie season, though he was a non-factor in Round 1 at Lambeau Field. What happened in that game? With his production down the last couple of games, has he hit the rookie wall or are teams focusing on taking him away?
JC: Forte certainly has heard his share of "rookie wall" questions the last month or so, but I stand by my belief that he's the MVP of this team and almost single-handedly made the offense relatively effective for most of the year. Orton is nothing more than a serviceable signal caller, the wideouts are arguably the worst in the league, and the blocking up front has been hit and miss, yet Forte has found a way to be productive running and receiving pretty much every game this year. How many second-round draft choices in recent memory rushed for over 1,000 yards, led his team in catches, scored double-digit touchdowns, and did it all with a humble, team-first attitude?
After the three-headed nightmare that was Rashaan Salaam, Curtis Enis, and Cedric Benson – all taken pretty high in Round 1, remember – in the backfield the last decade and a half or so, Forte has been a breath of fresh air for Bears fans.
BH: If you think Chicago Bears, you inevitably think of Brian Urlacher. But the Old Spice pitchman was left off the NFC Pro Bowl squad for the second consecutive year. Has his back problem reduced him to merely a good player, rather than being the best middle linebacker in the world not named Ray Lewis like he was a few years ago?
JC: I find it interesting that Urlacher was getting so much praise around the sports talk radio waves in the Windy City after last week's performance agains the Saints, when the former Defensive Player of the Year registered 10 total tackles and a pass defensed. Aside from a four-game mission to close out 2007 when he was gunning for an undeserved contract extension during the offseason, he's been nothing more than an average player the last two campaigns. Lots of big names in this league get voted to Pro Bowls they don't really deserve because of larger-than-life reputations, yet Urlacher was only a third alternate at middle linebacker this time around – quite the fall from grace.
It's hard to determine if the back and neck issues he dealt with last year have cut into his production of if he's just lost a step, but any objective observer will tell you that Lance Briggs has been the best 'backer on this team for a while now.
BH: Let me tell you: There is zero buzz up here for this game. I know a lot of that has to do with the Packers spiraling down the NFC North standings and the overwhelming fear about next week's game against winless Detroit, but don't you feel a little of the luster is gone from this rivalry? Green Bay-Chicago has the history, but Green Bay-Minnesota gets the motor running. What's the feeling down there?
JC: Chicago-Minnesota seems to feature more ugliness between the two fan bases, and Chicago-Detroit simply won't be the same again until they get their collective head out of their collective rear in the Motor City, but Chicago-Green Bay always has been and always will be Rivalry No. 1 in this town. That being said, now that the Vikings' magic number has been trimmed to one after they throttled the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday, the importance of Monday night's affair has dipped substantially from what was forecasted just a few weeks ago. The fact that the Packers have been in relative freefall the second half of the schedule – aside from their 37-3 beatdown of the Midway Monsters back in Week 11, of course – has given fans of both teams less of a reason to get excited, too.
Football teams are always more interesting to write about if they're on their way to an impressive 13-3 or a disastrous 3-13, but this 7-9 to 9-7 purgatory in between makes it harder on people in our line of work.
BH: Devin Hester has turned into the Bears' best receiver, which speaks volumes to the state of Chicago's wideouts. Are his 43 catches worth what the Bears have lost on special teams, where Hester was about the scariest person in the league?
JC: If I could speak for the front office since the people in charge make their home in Fantasyland from time to time, the Bears have essentially self-neutralized what for two years was the most explosive secret weapon in the NFL: Hester's mesmerizing magic in the return game. While I do give the former corner a lot of credit for doing a pretty good job catching passes instead of defending them, trading in a decided field-position advantage and the occasional lightning strike for six points – not to mention a palpable intimidation factor – in exchange for a 43-catch receiver is unexplainable. Those 43 catches, by the way, have Hester in a three-way tie for 65th in the league, one more than undrafted rookie free agent Davone Bess and one less than Bears castoff Bobby Wade.
If I were running the team, I'd yank him out of the huddle and make him go back to being a return man, but that will never happen because the incentive-laden contract extension he signed back in July calls for him to rack up the stats on offense if he truly wants to get paid.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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