Charlie Bernstein: You've had a year to look at Kyle Orton as a starting quarterback. Does he have the goods to take the Bears to the playoffs with consistency? Can he be a serviceable, winning NFL quarterback?
John Crist: A lot of folks around Chicago seem to be jumping off Orton's bandwagon because he really hasn't been very sharp since spraining his ankle back in Week 9, as the offense isn't nearly as prolific and his mistakes have been more frequent. That being said, it's still very difficult to come to a definitive decision on Orton because he's surrounded with a laughable cast of receivers: Devin Hester is a work in progress, Brandon Lloyd is soft as a pillow, Rashied Davis has dropped everything in sight, and Marty Booker is wearing a uniform even though he appears to have already filed his retirement paperwork. If Orton was throwing to the likes of Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Owen Daniels, I'd expect much better numbers from him.
The former Purdue Boilermaker does have the mental makeup to be a quality signal caller here in the Windy City, and I think he'll be the starter once again in 2009, but he hasn't earned a contract extension yet.
CB: Rookie running back Matt Forte appears to be the most dangerous weapon on the Chicago offense. Can the Bears win if teams stack up the box to stop Forte?
JC: I would argue that the Bears have already won a handful of games this season with opponents routinely putting eight and nine defenders in the box, especially because of the subpar receiving corps detailed above. But not only has Forte broken the franchise's rookie record for rushing yards in a season, but he also leads the entire NFL in receptions by a running back. In every game this year, the youngster has found some way to be as productive as possible – sometimes on the ground, sometimes through the air, and sometimes even both.
Forte was somewhat neutralized by the Packers for three quarters in Week 16 partially because he's been battling a painful sprained toe, but I'd expect him to be at or near full strength Sunday in Houston since the Bears' season is on the line.
CB: There has been several polls over the last few years saying Brian Urlacher is the most overrated player in the NFL. Still, he puts up great numbers year after year. Who is the better linebacker, Urlacher or Lance Briggs?
JC: Uh, Briggs. Next question.
In all seriousness, Briggs took over for Urlacher as the best linebacker in Chicago some time last season, as Urlacher didn't decide to flip the switch until the final month when he was gunning for that undeserved contract extension he got from the front office in the offseason. I still can't believe general manager Jerry Angelo allowed himself to be duped like that and forked over another $18 million for a player clearly in decline. If you want to know just how far the chasm has grown between the two this season, Briggs made the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight year, while Urlacher, who is still considered one of the faces of the NFL based on how he's marketed, was only a third alternate.
CB: Chicago could be a 10-win team with a victory over the Texans on Sunday, and they may or may not make the playoffs. If the Bears fail to qualify for play in January, will the 2008 season still be considered a success?
JC: I know it's quite difficult to consider a playoffs-less season to be successful in the immediate-gratification world of the National Football League these days, especially when the Bears gave away victories late in the fourth quarter to the Panthers, Buccaneers, and Falcons – all playoff-caliber teams – earlier in the year. All that aside, most every pigskin prognosticator in this town had Chicago as no better than a .500 team, and quite a few, myself included, thought they would lose double-digit games. If you strictly look at what head coach Lovie Smith got out of a marginally talented ballclub in 2008, I'd consider 10 victories to be quite an accomplishment.
It's truly a miracle that the Bears could still win the NFC North and qualify for the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the conference, which goes to show you just how bad this division has been all year long.
CB: How has tight end Greg Olsen progressed in his second season? Do you see him living up to the hype and eventually becoming a Pro Bowler?
JC: As I did with the Briggs-or-Urlacher debate a few questions ago, I'll lean on the Pro-Bowl balloting for help with my argument: Olsen was a second alternate for a trip to Hawaii, and the former first-rounder didn't even start a game. Desmond Clark is still atop the depth chart and a pretty solid veteran player in his own right, but Olsen has really emerged the last few weeks and looks to be the next in a long line of quality Hurricane tight ends. Orton certainly seems to be looking for him more and more lately, as Olsen has caught 16 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in three December games.
While Olsen is still more of a receiver than a tight end at this point because he's not much of a blocker, he's going to be a great one if he can learn to be more effective lining up with a hand on the ground as opposed to out wide or in the slot.
Be on the lookout for Part III of this three-part series on Friday. To go back and read Part I, where Charlie answers five questions from John, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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