What We Learned: Bye Week Blues

Fans of the Chicago Bears didn't get to watch their favorite team play Sunday because of the bye week, but they were still thrilled to see Jay Cutler and Co. at 3-1 for the first quarter of the season. What have we learned about the Midway Monsters four games into 2009? Start with these five observations ...

1. The quarterback makes the receiver, not the other way around
No receiver in the league has caught more passes than Steve Smith of the Giants. Eli Manning throws him the football. No tight end has caught more passes than Dallas Clark of the Colts. Peyton Manning throws him the football. New England's Randy Moss has Tom Brady. Pittsburgh's Hines Ward has Ben Roethlisberger. Indy's Joseph Addai, the top-receiving back in the NFL, also has a Manning at his disposal. The lesson here? While mediocre quarterbacks can certainly look better if they are surrounded with talented playmakers in the passing game, like former Bear Kyle Orton is in Denver, the fact remains that Pro Bowl quarterbacks can succeed with just about anybody on the receiving end.

Four games into 2009, you're no longer hearing talk in Chicago that Devin Hester will never be a No. 1, Earl Bennett didn't catch a ball as a rookie or Johnny Knox played inferior competition in college – they're all producing because Jay Cutler is one of the best signal callers in the business.

DE Adewale Ogunleye
AP Images: Jim Prisching

2. Whatever Marinelli has been doing with the front four, it's working
Even though the personnel is decidedly similar to what it has been the last two years, when the Bears couldn't rush the enemy passer consistently and missed the playoffs in the process, former Lions coach Rod Marinelli looks like a genius as Chicago's new defensive line coach. Adewale Ogunleye has 4.5 sacks in four games after only 5.0 sacks all of last season, Alex Brown leads the unit with 14 tackles and has chipped in 2.5 sacks of his own and Mark Anderson appears to have new life off the bench after two years on the back of a milk carton. And although the stat line for Tommie Harris doesn't look very strong at this point, he has made a play or two in every game and hasn't disappeared like he did at times in 2008.

Marcus Harrison has been up and down, Israel Idonije just had his knee scoped and rookie Jarron Gilbert is yet to make an impact, but look for Marinelli to get some production from each of them before the schedule is complete.

3. Like Harbaugh, Toub will make the leap from special teams to head coach
Do you realize the aforementioned Hester, previously described in NFL circles as the greatest return man in football history just two seasons into his brilliant career, hasn't returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown since Week 12 of the 2007 campaign? Nevertheless, in that time, Danieal Manning brought back a kickoff 83 yards for a TD Week 15 in '08, and Knox missed out on a franchise record by just one yard with his 102-yard kickoff score two Sundays ago at Soldier Field. As far as the kicking game is concerned, Robbie Gould has made six of his seven field-goal attempts and only missed from 53, and Brad Maynard averages a pedestrian 43.9 yards per punt but allows just 5.3 yards per return.

For more evidence that special teams coordinator Dave Toub is going to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Baltimore's John Harbaugh, and become a head coach one day, two signed-off-the-scrap-heap linebackers, Tim Shaw and Darrell McClover, already have six coverage tackles between them in four combined games played.

RB Matt Forte
AP Images: Elaine Thompson

4. As he did a year ago, Forte running the risk of a breakdown
While smart Bears fans are watching what Cedric Benson is doing this year in Cincinnati and wondering where that was during his time in Chicago, nobody would take him over Matt Forte right now despite the second-year pro's slow start. He broke out in a big way with 121 yards and a TD on only 12 attempts against the Lions before the bye, yet he averaged 2.2, 2.2 and 3.1 yards per carry in the first three contests facing Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Seattle, respectively. Forte isn't shouldering as much of the offensive load as he did a year ago since Cutler can do so much in the passing game, but his 71 carries dwarf what Garrett Wolfe (11) and Adrian Peterson (5) have gotten so far.

With Kevin Jones lost for the season on injured reserve, unless either Wolfe or Peterson steps up and demands half a dozen touches per game as a secondary option, Forte may be a shell of his former self in December again.

5. In retrospect, Babich was a part of the problem in 2008
Pigskin pundits from sea to shining sea were wondering what Bob Babich did – aside from being Lovie Smith's pal, of course – to deserve his promotion from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2007. Sure, the Bears had some injuries and the offense didn't do much to help in terms of field position and time of possession, but finishing 28th and 21st overall in total defense back-to-back years is unacceptable in Chicago any way you slice it. Smith essentially demoted Babich back to linebackers coach once he decided to call the signals himself on game day, and the results have been noticeable so far: currently 13th in the league in both yards allowed (319.5) and points allowed (19.5).

Smith has been disappointed when it comes to takeaways because that's what his version of the Cover 2 is predicated on, but turnovers tend to come in bunches when a defense plays well consistently.

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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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