Tim Yotter: Obviously the talk of the Bears always revolves around Jay Cutler, so let's get that out of the way right now. What is going wrong with him, and is doubt creeping in about whether he'll be able to turn it around?
John Crist: While most of the criticism of Chicago's offense before the regular season centered on Cutler's supposed lack of talent surrounding him at the skill positions, for the most part the wide receivers and tight ends have done relatively well. The biggest problem has been the offensive line, which hasn't opened up holes in the running game consistently and forced Cutler to get rid of the ball a little too early more often than not – that's led to myriad turnovers and taken away some big-play opportunities. One of the former Bronco's real strengths is his ability to deliver the football down the field with tremendous velocity and accuracy, but if he doesn't even have enough time to take a seven-step drop, that element of his game is largely eradicated.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner keeps calling a game more suited for Kyle Orton's skill set, focusing on three- and five-step drops and shorter throws, instead of rolling Cutler out of pocket and taking advantage of his athleticism beyond the tackle box.
TY: Another big surprise is Matt Forte's struggles this year. As much as I was caught off guard by his huge rookie season, why hasn't he been able to sustain that this year?
JC: Again, an offensive line that made some major changes in the offseason has been a tremendous disappointment, so Forte hasn't had anywhere to go. Left tackle Orlando Pace isn't anything close to a Pro Bowler anymore and should be benched, right tackle Chris Williams has been decent but is playing out of position and left guard Frank Omiyale was not able to make the transition inside from tackle – he was mercifully benched in favor of Josh Beekman, last season's starter, after six games. But you can't put all the blame on the blockers' shoulders, as Forte hasn't been making tacklers miss often enough and continues to be relatively ineffective in short-yardage situations.
The Bears have also been hamstrung by not having a reliable backup to Forte, like the Vikings have with Chester Taylor behind Adrian Peterson, which is why the organization was so excited to see Kahlil Bell (remember him?) rip off that 72-yard run last week.
TY: What have been the big differences between the Bears team that won three of the first games of the season and the one that has lost five of the last six?
JC: Turnover ratio has a lot to do with it, especially when you consider the fact that coach Lovie Smith has designed his defense to take the football away as often as possible. Therefore, when they're not getting multiple takeaways and stopping the opponent consistently on third down, as was the case in blowout losses to the Bengals and Cardinals, the Bears can give up a lot of points with their bend-but-don't-break approach – even though Smith will never call it that. This D has been living off of reputation since their Super Bowl XLI run in 2006, but Tommie Harris appears to be permanently damaged, Brian Urlacher is impossible to replace when he's not there and both safety positions are riddled with inconsistency.
Offensively, when you have a quarterback that leads the league in interceptions and doesn't have much support from his running game, losing five of six should come as no surprise.
TY: Once again, the Bears seem to have a pretty opportunistic defense with interceptions and fumbles. Given Peterson's struggles to hang onto the ball at times, do you expect an all-assault by Charles Tillman and the Bears trying to strip the ball?
JC: As I sort of detailed above, Smith's version of the Cover 2 pretty much fails if it doesn't force multiple turnovers each and every Sunday. The only flaw in Peterson's game – unless you want to get really nit-picky about his so-so receiving skills – is his tendency to fumble too often, and Tillman has proven to be among the best in the business at stripping the pigskin away from enemy ball carriers. But what will get the Bears in trouble is if they put too much of an emphasis on going after the ball and forget to secure the tackle first, like we saw in Peterson's rookie season at Soldier Field when he ran for 228 yards and three TDs.
Since it apparently took Brett Favre the better part of two decades to learn not to throw interceptions, Chicago simply can't afford to get careless with Peterson.
TY: Many people look at this game as a blowout by the Vikings. Besides Cutler limiting interceptions, what else has to happen for the Bears to have a shot at knocking off the Vikings in the Metrodome?
JC: For that to happen, both the offensive and defensive lines need to play their best game of the season. The stage is set for Pace to be destroyed by Jared Allen off the edge, plus Olin Kreutz has always had a hard time with Pat Williams, but Cutler should be able to have success against a mediocre Minnesota secondary if his O-line somehow keeps him comfortable in the pocket. On the other side of the ball, the front four needs to maintain good gap discipline and get penetration on a consistent basis, which may lead to a bobble from Peterson and a few poor throws from Favre.
That being said, there is little confidence in Chicago that the Bears can pull the upset in the Metrodome, and that lack of confidence is well justified – this is not a throw-the-records-out game if you ask me.
Be on the lookout for Part III of this Behind Enemy Lines series on Saturday. To go back and read Part I, where Tim answered five questions from John, Click Here.
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