Amberly Dressler: The Cardinals and Bears both sit at 4-3. What's the road been like for the Bears this season? What are some of the biggest disappointments? On the flip side, what are some of the biggest successes?
John Crist: The Monsters of the Midway have been all over the radar so far in 2009: dropping the opener at Green Bay; winning three straight over Pittsburgh, Seattle and Detroit; back-to-back losses at Atlanta and Cincinnati; and then about the ugliest 30-6 win over Cleveland fans will ever see. The disappointment on offense is a re-tooled line that hasn't been an improvement from last season, while the disappointment on defense is probably the continued absence of big plays from tackle Tommie Harris. As far as the successes go, a questionable receiving corps has played much better than expected, and the depth at linebacker has paid off after season-ending injuries to both Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Sunday's date with Arizona is the first of three consecutive matchups with non-division NFC teams, meaning the Bears can put themselves in good position for a wild card by winning at least two of the three.
AD: The Cardinals entered last week's game against the Panthers as the league's top run defense. After Carolina's 270 rushing yards, Arizona is barely hanging on in the top 10. What should the Cards expect from the Bears' running game? On that note, leading rusher Matt Forte seems pretty inconsistent. Is there more to the story?
JC: Forte hasn't been even close to as productive this year as he was as a rookie, when he single-handedly carried the offense at times both running the ball on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. While it's possible he's a little beat up after way too much use a season ago, most of the blame tends to fall on an offensive line that changed three of five starters. Free-agent addition Frank Omiyale has been benched in favor of Josh Beekman at left guard, future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace is a shell of his former self at left tackle and 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams is learning the ropes at right tackle.
The Bears still proclaim themselves to be a running football team, even though all the evidence points to the contrary, so look for Forte to get 20-25 carries – provided the score isn't out of hand in Arizona's favor – even if the yards per attempt aren't really there.
AD: A key to winning against the Cardinals is to apply pressure to Kurt Warner, early and often. Which players have done the best job at getting after opposing quarterbacks? What will be the game plan regarding Warner?
JC: Coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2 is predicated on getting consistent pressure from the front four and not relying too much on the blitz, so the addition of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli looked like a brilliant idea four weeks into the regular season since sacks were plentiful. Left end Adewale Ogunleye leads the club with 4.5 sacks, although he hasn't gotten near the enemy passer since a 2.5-sack effort against the lowly Lions in Week 4. Right end Alex Brown's sack last Sunday was his first since getting a pair facing the Super Bowl champion Steelers in Week 2 – aside from half a sack he was credited with in that same Detroit tilt.
While Chicago lacks an effective blitzer from any of the linebacker positions, nickel back Danieal Manning has been successful from time to time.
AD: Several teams this year have been successful in stopping the Cardinals' high-flying passing attack. Who or what will be the best way for the Bears to stop Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban and even Tim Hightower?
JC: As previously discussed, the best way for the Bears to shut down the Arizona passing game will be to get after Warner – early and often, like you said – because they lack a lockdown coverage guy in the secondary. Both corners, Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman, are big enough and strong enough to handle physical specimens Fitzgerald and Boldin, although Tillman runs more like a safety and Bowman is still riddled with inexperience. Manning is starting to play better in his dual role as free safety and nickel back, helped by the fact that he's the best pure athlete on the team, but rookie strong safety Al Afalava is at his best near the line of scrimmage and may be overmatched covering a target like Breaston or Urban.
Kevin Payne came in to play free safety when Manning moved to nickel back in obvious passing situations, but he didn't get the job done and has been replaced by the 5-10, 180-pound Nathan Vasher, who is a former Pro Bowl corner now playing safety for the first time.
AD: What has impressed you most about Jay Cutler this season? And what has he done to make you want to cover your eyes?
JC: If you simply sit on the sideline and watch Cutler sling the pigskin like I did every day in training camp, his raw talent is impossible to underestimate when compared to former Chicago QBs like Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. But aside from the way he spins it, Cutler is a pretty good athlete at 6-3 and 226 pounds and can make a play with his feet when necessary. He also has a fearlessness about his game, not afraid to make any throw in any situation, which can sometimes be his most obvious asset and most glaring weakness simultaneously.
Off the field, however, Cutler still has a lot to learn in terms of how to conduct himself like a professional, as he isn't a big fan of signing autographs and could care less about his responsibilities with the media.
To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Amberly answers five questions from John, Click Here.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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