Craig Massei: Has Jay Cutler been everything the Bears thought they were getting when they made the big move to acquire him this year? Has there been any fallout from that trade? How would you say that has worked out for the Bears so far?
John Crist: For the most part, Cutler has been everything he was advertised to be when that blockbuster deal with Denver went down. His physical tools stack right up there with the best quarterbacks in the league, he's proven to be fairly light on his feet and can move the chains on his own when necessary and there isn't a throw on the field he's afraid to make under any circumstances. Unfortunately, all that hasn't had much of an effect on the win column, as the Bears look just as average a football team as they were a year ago when Kyle Orton was at the controls.
There are some revisionist-history types around Chicago pointing to the success the Broncos were having with Orton after a 6-0 start, although that three-pick performance against the Steelers this past Monday night calmed them down a bit.
CM: The Bears seem to have substantially improved their passing game, but what about their running game? Statistically they are one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Is that an accurate depiction of where the Bears are as a running team?
JC: Most of the experts out there figured Cutler was doomed to fail because he wouldn't have enough receiving weapons at his disposal in the Windy City, but Devin Hester gets better every week, Earl Bennett is playing like he's back at Vanderbilt and rookie Johnny Knox looks like a steal so far as a fifth-round pick. While everyone figured Matt Forte would be one of the main beneficiaries from having Cutler in town, apparently because he would never see another eight-man front, that hasn't been the case and the ground game has struggled mightily. It's easy to point to a lackluster offensive line and say they're the sole problem, although Forte doesn't seem to be running with the same burst he put on display a year ago.
In defense of offensive coordinator Ron Turner, he has been forced to abandon the run way too yearly on more than one occasion because he was facing two-, three- and sometimes four-touchdown deficits in the first half.
CM: Was losing linebacker Brian Urlacher akin to ripping the heart and soul out of the Chicago defense? How have the Bears adapted to that loss on that side of the ball? Is Urlacher virtually irreplaceable, or has the Chicago defense been able to get by OK without him?
JC: While it would be inaccurate to call Urlacher the heart and soul of the defense – that was Mike Brown, who quarterbacked the secondary whether he was healthy or injured before the Bears finally let him walk (limp?) away in free agency – his ability to play the middle linebacker position in the Cover 2 is almost impossible to replace. He's not nearly the force he was a few years ago, especially in 2005 when he was the Defensive Player of the Year, but his ability to take away the middle of the field in coverage is special. Both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach have started games at the Mike, although you would need to combine Hillenmeyer's smarts with Roach's athleticism to make a player half as good as Urlacher was at his best.
Roach wasn't making the calls in the huddle or the changes at the line of scrimmage quickly enough, and Hillenmeyer simply doesn't have the physical tools required to be a difference maker.
CM: How has Lance Briggs been working out since he got the big-money contract from the Bears last year? Is he now the take-charge leader of that defense, or is he coasting now that he got the set-for-life deal? The 49ers still are fuming about the tampering charges regarding Briggs in 2008. How close do you think he ever was to actually becoming a 49er?
JC: If you had told me in the days leading up to free agency two offseasons ago that Briggs would still be in Chicago now and performing like a player in the prime of his career, no way would I have believed you. I thought he was as good as gone because general manager Jerry Angelo drew a line in the sand from a financial point of view, and Briggs was confident that a bidding war was on the horizon for his services. However, the king's-ransom offers he thought would be there from sea to shining sea, be it from the 49ers or the Redskins or the Saints, never materialized, so he crawled back to Angelo's office and put his tail-tucked John Hancock on a deal that was nearly identical to the one offered to him two years before.
But to Briggs' credit, he is every bit the player now that he was before he got the $36 million contract, maybe even more so, topped off by the fact that he was voted a team captain for the first time prior to Week 1.
CM: Has there been any talk in Chicago this week about the Bears going up against a Mike Singletary-coached team? Singletary told us this week he called Dick Jauron first when he decided to get back into coaching earlier this decade, but the Bears ultimately declined to offer him a job. How much is Singletary still revered in Chicago? Why didn't the Bears want to bring him back as a coach?
JC: I asked Singletary during the conference call Tuesday if he's having a hard time not being a distraction leading up to this game, and of course he answered in the typical coach speak about keeping an eye on the prize and working hard in practice. I'm sure you remember Singletary starting off on the wrong foot once he decided to get into coaching, going so far as to call the decision makers at Baylor, his alma mater, and ask for the job as head coach even though he didn't even have any experience as an assistant. Make no mistake about it, Singletary is still a legend in Chicago and always will be, but I don't think Jauron was in the wrong saying "thanks but no thanks" to someone who had never been a coach at any level before.
That being said, Singletary looks like he knows what he is doing thus far in San Francisco, and with Lovie Smith's seat getting warmer by the day, plenty of fans are wondering if Singletary can do for the Bears what Ozzie Guillen did for the White Sox: win a long-awaited championship.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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