Nate Caminata: The Bears tend to be struggling in the run game, averaging just 71.7 rush yards per game (28th in the league). Is Matt Forte experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump, or does it go beyond that?
John Crist: While I'm a big believer in the sophomore slump for baseball players, where pitchers get an entire offseason to learn how to handle young hitters and vice versa, I don't believe the notion exists when it comes to NFL tailbacks – running to daylight is running to daylight, period. Yes, Forte is struggling to some degree after producing right out of the gate as a second-round draft pick last season, but an offensive line with three new starters hasn't done a very good job of opening up holes thus far. Forte is a fine ball carrier and all, but he's not "special" like Barry Sanders was and capable of ripping off 50-yard runs against nine-man fronts with no blocking in front of him.
Once the big boys up front start to come together and the passing game continues to improve, I imagine you'll see Forte put together a handful of 100-yard efforts and find the end zone regularly again.
NC: Jay Cutler has fueled two come-from-behind victories. Has he endeared himself to the city of Chicago, and just how far is he capable of carrying the team? Is he at all hindered by what seems to be the absence of a go-to receiver, or could he be as the season progresses?
JC: Although there has been a lot of media-driven issues with regard to his attitude off the field from the moment he arrived from Denver with that big bow on his head, remember you're talking about the Windy City here – the Ford factory was still cranking out Model Ts the last time this organization had a difference maker under center. I'm not yet on the bandwagon and putting the Bears in the Super Bowl already, like some highly-regarded writers around the country did before the season started, but I think Cutler's presence alone makes them a playoff team in 2009. The Broncos may be 3-0 in the AFC West, but everybody knows they're not winning because of Kyle Orton.
I for one believe the need for a primary target to catch eight or nine passes per game is overrated, as Cutler seems to be doing just fine running Ron Turner's offense with an array of good-but-not-great receivers, tight ends and backs.
NC: The absence of Brian Urlacher had to be heartbreaking for Chicago's defense. In what way have the Bears adjusted to life without Urlacher, and how is former coach Rod Marinelli assisting in that dilemma?
JC: Hunter Hillenmeyer, a former starter on the strong side, moved into the middle after Urlacher went down because he's capable of calling the Cover 2 properly and knows his assignments as well as any defender on the ballclub. He's not nearly the playmaker Urlacher is, as evidenced by the fact that he lost his starting job to free-agent addition Pisa Tinoisamoa and wasn't a lock to make the roster before training camp started, and now Hillenmeyer is hurt himself and a question mark for Sunday. Look for a couple of speedy youngsters, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams, to be in the starting lineup at middle and strong side, respectively – Tinoisamoa is still nursing a knee sprain.
Marinelli has been universally applauded in Chicago both for his teaching ability and his fiery demeanor, and the fact that he's gotten better production from the front four means the linebackers haven't needed to shed as many blockers.
NC: Is Sunday a potential "sleeper" game for the Bears, who have a bye week following this home matchup with Detroit?
JC: It's difficult to decipher whether the Bears will take the Lions that much more or less seriously after they finally won a football game last week for the first time since December 2007. Will Lovie Smith and Co. be extra focused seeing Detroit is indeed capable of getting the job done against the Redskins, or will they be less driven with the potential embarrassment of being the first team to lose to the Motor City Kitties in close to two years now off the table? I believe everybody at Halas Hall, from front office to coaches to players and everybody in between, would have taken a 3-1 record at the bye before the season no questions asked, which does make Sunday's affair all the more important.
I feel the possibility of a Bears letdown would be much greater if the Lions were not a divisional foe, but Smith takes the twice-yearly matchups within the NFC North very seriously – Marinelli's ties to Detroit will help the motivation factor, too.
NC: If you're Chicago, how do you prepare for the Lions, especially after last Sunday's emotional win? Are they a difficult team to figure out from an opponent's perspective?
JC: The best way to defend a rookie quarterback, be it Matthew Stafford or anybody else, is to send constant pressure, which is what Smith has been doing anyway so far this season as the de facto defensive coordinator. Not that anybody in the league can cover Calvin Johnson consistently or anything, but the Bears like the fact that they have two big cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman that won't be so overwhelmed physically like the 5-9, 180-pound guys are (read: Nathan Vasher). On the other side of the ball, I expect Cutler to challenge the Lions in the secondary since their pass defense has been poor for quite some time – currently 30th at 278.7 yards per game allowed through the air.
Most importantly, try to forget about the fact that Detroit had the worst record in league history last year and could very well have a two-game winning streak all of a sudden if the Bears don't take them seriously.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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