Lane Adkins: The offseason acquisition of QB Jay Cutler was viewed by most as being a significant move by the Bears to provide a legitimate presence in the passing game. Sitting at 3-3, how has the Cutler acquisition altered the offense and namely the effectiveness and balance? Notedly missing is an effective rushing attack.
John Crist: While there is no question Cutler is twice the quarterback Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton ever was from a talent perspective, it hasn't necessarily changed the way enemy defenses have schemed against the Bears on game day. Everybody was expecting a lot of Cover 2 to take away the big play, which was supposed to open up running lanes left and right, but instead Chicago has still seen a lot of single-high safety looks with eight men in the box – partially explaining why the ground attack has been so bad. The offensive line has been a complete disaster and already allowed Cutler to be sacked 11 times in six games, the same amount he was taken down in Denver all last season.
LA: Outside of the Bears falling behind at times early in the 2009 season, where lies the issue with the inconsistency in the rushing attack? While RB Matt Forte does not appear to be as explosive as a season ago, the offensive line appears to be an area of concern. Are the issues related to questions along the offensive line where Frank Omiyale replaced Josh Beekman and the slow development of of tackle Chris Williams, or is this more scheme related?
JC: Although Forte had a tremendous rookie year and single-handedly carried the Chicago offense at times, it's not like the Bears were a good running team in 2008 – 24th in yards per game and tied for 26th in yards per carry. Three new starters on the offensive line, including future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace at left tackle and Williams, last year's first-round draft pick, at right tackle, simply have not provided the upgrade this team expected, so there is nowhere for Forte to run and he's being hit in the backfield repeatedly. The Bears have also trailed a lot early in games, making it difficult to keep feeding Forte the ball for balance purposes.
Forte also tweaked a hamstring during OTAs, and while the coaching staff has professed that their bell cow is totally healthy, perhaps the injury was more severe than we were led to believe since he doesn't look like the same rushing-and-receiving threat he was a year ago.
LA: Former Bears tackle John St. Clair joined the Browns via free agency in the offseason and has been mediocre at best at right tackle. Kevin Shaffer, an ex-Brown, now is a backup for the Bears. How has Shaffer fared and should the veteran be starting in Chicago, where the tackle positions appears to be an issue?
JC: It's tough to gauge how good Shaffer has been in a Bears uniform since he hasn't lined up for a meaningful snap during the regular season, plus training camp was dedicated to getting Pace up to speed on the left side and Williams ready to go on the right side. Williams is still considered the left tackle of the future, and that future could come earlier than Chicago wants because Pace has been a disappointment thus far, so it wouldn't shock me to see the youngster at left tackle and then Shaffer at right tackle. But in order for Shaffer to crack the starting lineup any time soon, that would mean the Bears gave up on either a seven-time Pro Bowler or last year's 14th-overall selection – this franchise doesn't like to admit such mistakes.
As far as St. Clair is concerned, while he was a valuable swing man and started at three different positions, Chicago didn't make much of an effort to bring him back because he'll never be anything more than competent.
LA: Losing LB Brian Urlacher was a devastating blow to the Bears defense. Now with the situation surrounding DT Tommie Harris and starting strong-side LB Pisa Tinoisamoa lost for the season, what effect will this play on Chicago's production, depth and scheme?
JC: From a scheme perspective, not much should change since coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2 isn't overly complicated when compared to some of the more elaborate 3-4 looks the Bears will see from Cleveland. Not only does Chicago lose Urlacher's coverage ability down the middle of the field, where he can disrupt seam routes from tight ends and crossing patterns from receivers, but new middle linebacker Nick Roach has taken some heat for not making his calls fast enough. Tinoisamoa was supposed to be the perfect addition alongside Pro Bowlers Urlacher and Lance Briggs, although he injured his knee on the first defensive series of the season and was then lost for the year when he came back in Week 6 and hurt that same knee even worse.
The Bears have essentially been playing without Harris for the last two seasons since the former Defensive Player of the Year candidate is a shell of his former self physically, and last week's "suspension" or "deactivation" or whatever you want to call it has only fueled speculation that his days in the Windy City are numbered.
LA: As has been the norm throughout this season, the Browns' opposition generally loads the box and challenges the inept Cleveland offense to beat the defense over the top. This characteristic appears contrary to the Bears' style of defense. What should we expect to see coming from the Chicago defense Sunday at Soldier Field?
JC: Smith has taken over play-calling responsibilities after defensive coordinator Bob Babich failed to impress in that capacity the last two years, and he was earning rave reviews before that 45-10 abomination in Cincinnati. Babich utilized a lot of ultra-safe Cover 3 for fear of giving up the big play, which led to the Bears being picked apart all day long by the short- and intermediate-range passing game. His blitzes were also far from creative, but Smith has added a wrinkle or two to create more pressure on the quarterback and still been relatively effective stopping the run – until Cedric Benson went berserk in Week 7, of course.
Look for the Bears to mug-up their linebackers near the line of scrimmage frequently, and while this can confuse the offensive line's blocking assignments, it becomes much harder for those defenders to drop back into coverage.
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