Bill Huber: So the season isn't going as well as a lot of people figured after the Bears acquired Jay Cutler. What is the feeling about that trade now, especially with what Kyle Orton is doing in Denver? And if people are down on Cutler, do they need to be reminded that the trade wasn't made just for this year? Adding a weapon or two in the draft or free agency could change everything.
John Crist: It was going to take some time for Cutler to come to Chicago and totally turn around the offense, and anybody who points to what Brett Favre is doing in Minnesota as evidence to the contrary doesn't know what they're talking about – Favre went to a ready-made team with his preferred system already in place. However, when national big shots like Peter King from Sports Illustrated attend one day of training camp and then predict the Bears are going to the Super Bowl, it's difficult to throw water on that idea and bring the fans back to reality. While I give the receivers some credit for playing better than most everyone expected them to this year, the offensive line is terrible, the running game is broken and Cutler's carelessness in the red zone has been paralyzing.
I absolutely believe Cutler is fixable and will improve next season, but you're right to assume that he needs more weapons around him and better protection up front.
BH: A few weeks ago, the vultures were circling Mike McCarthy after the Packers lost at Tampa Bay. Are the natives equally restless in Chicago, and what are the chances that Lovie Smith will be replaced in the offseason?
JC: Like Green Bay losing to lowly Tampa Bay, if the Bears had found a way to lose at home to a wretched Rams team last Sunday, Smith would have had every right to be nervous the next time he cranked the ignition in his car. As tends to be the case in today's NFL, the decision whether or not to retain Smith for the long haul will come down to money. He was given a handsome extension after that run to Super Bowl XLI three seasons ago, so he's due a total of $11 million through 2011.
All you have to do is look at former coaches Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron, both of whom stuck around at least a year too long, and discover that the McCaskey family doesn't have a history of writing big checks to chase people out of town.
BH: I'm sure you get this question every week, but what has the defense lost without Brian Urlacher and has there been a trickle-down effect with other players and a leadership void, as well?
JC: In terms of how the defense itself is designed, while Urlacher may not be a Pro Bowler anymore and his play has slipped in recent years, he is incredibly difficult to replace because of everything the middle linebacker is asked to do in the Cover 2. Nick Roach is a very good athlete but struggled when it came to calling plays in the huddle and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and Hunter Hillenmeyer has always been a better student in the classroom than a performer on the field because of his physical limitations. The trickle-down effect has been some vulnerability between the hash marks in the passing game, which is the Mike's responsibility in traditional Cover 2.
BH: I'll cut to the chase: What happened to Matt Forte? Coming off a banner rookie year, I figured he'd run wild this year with Cutler. Thus, I drafted him No. 5 overall in my fantasy league. Not that I'm bitter ...
JC: Most everyone – including yours truly – assumed the Bears wouldn't have to worry about that eighth defender creeping down into the box because of the element Cutler can bring to the passing game, but that really hasn't been the case. Since enemy defenses are still featuring lots of single-high safeties, that tells me they don't have much belief that Chicago's receiving corps can break free from man-to-man coverage and make big plays. It certainly hasn't helped that the blocking up front has been brutal, and, like Green Bay's Ryan Grant, Forte isn't the type of running back that can create something out of nothing.
That being said, Forte deserves some of the blame here because he isn't moving the pile like he did a year ago and doesn't seem to make any tacklers miss in one-on-one situations.
BH: I realize there are four games to go this season, but you're GM Jerry Angelo. What's the plan to stop the Bears' fall from grace?
JC: Since you can't look to the 2010 NFL Draft, at least not for immediate help because you've already shipped out your first- and second-round picks, Angelo needs to take an unbiased look at this roster and decide who can stay and who can possibly be upgraded with a reasonable free-agent signing. If this organization is guilty of one thing, it's falling in love with home-grown players and not doing a good enough job from a self-scouting perspective. The rest of the league knows that defensive end Mark Anderson was a one-year wonder as a rookie and tailback Garrett Wolfe will never be another Darren Sproles, but Angelo has convinced himself otherwise because he doesn't want to admit failure.
Now there are some reasons to be excited for the future – maybe Zack Bowman can be another Donnell Woolford; perhaps Earl Bennett can be another Bobby Engram – but I can make a case for half the 53-man roster being gutted altogether.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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