Bill Huber: From my perspective, the marriage of Jay Cutler and Mike Martz won't end well. Cutler doesn't like to get hit, and Martz's history is that he'll sacrifice the quarterback to produce points. I know Cutler is saying all the right things, but what are the odds that Cutler actually throws more interceptions than he did last year?
John Crist: While I understand the point you're trying to make, there's a pretty short list of quarterbacks who have ever played this game that "like" getting hit. Yes, it's well documented that Martz prefers to send all five skill-position players out on a route as often as possible, and when coupled with the seven-step drops Cutler is going to take so those 20-yard dig patterns can develop, it's a virtual certainty he'll be sacked at least as many times as he was last season (35). But coach Lovie Smith has gone out of his way to praise Cutler's toughness from the moment he arrived in Chicago, and No. 6 can obviously take the punishment since he has made 53 straight starts over the course of the last three-plus years.
As far as interceptions are concerned, while Cutler will likely never protect possession as well as Aaron Rodgers does in Green Bay, I think 2009 was a bit of an anomaly and don't see the Bears' signal caller going north of 20 INTs again.
BH: You know the dirt on Julius Peppers. The last time he wasn't playing for a contact, he recorded 2.5 sacks. Well, the Bears opened the vault big time to lure Peppers. On paper, it's a great signing for a defense that has progressively slipped since the Super Bowl year. I just wonder if it'll work. What are your thoughts?
JC: Neither Alex Brown nor Adewale Ogunleye was very effective as a pass rusher the last few years, and while they deserve credit for playing well against the run and being stand-up guys in the locker room, the Cover 2 simply does not work without consistent pressure from the front four. Peppers is one of only eight players in NFL history to record double-digit sacks in four of his first five seasons, so he knows how to get to the quarterback and will command much more respect from enemy blockers than Brown or Ogunleye did. Early indications from Halas Hall suggest Peppers has done anything but hit cruise control since getting his big paper, with Tommie Harris in particular pointing out that his new line mate works as hard as anyone in practice.
What I'm not buying, however, is that Peppers' presence alone will make the other 10 defenders on the field better, as Jon Beason would have been a Pro Bowl linebacker in Carolina no matter who was lining up in front of him.
BH: You asked me about Brandon Jackson, which reminds me that I thought Chester Taylor would have been the ideal free-agent fit for the Packers because he's such a pass-catching threat. Well, the Bears signed Taylor. What's the game plan with Taylor alongside Matt Forte, who has been a Ryan Grant-style workhorse?
JC: Unlike Grant, who you said still looks to be a lock for 20-25 attempts each and every Sunday for the Packers, Forte was obviously used way too much his first two seasons in the league and will now split carries for the first time in his career. Forte remains the primary ball carrier, don't get me wrong, but Taylor is actually the highest-paid running back on the team now and wasn't brought to Chicago to play one series per half. His one-cut-and-go style on the ground seems to be a good fit for a Martz offense that will inevitably feature a lot of zone blocking, plus we both know how well he catches the ball out of the backfield.
For the majority of the 2009 campaign, Forte battled nagging injuries – to his credit, he never complained to the media – and was betrayed by one of the least effective offensive lines in the NFL, but he hit the reset button during OTAs and should be better this year.
BH: How much truth is there to the thought that the Bears wanted Morgan Burnett but watched the Packers leapfrog up the draft board to grab him? And what's your early read on the safety the Bears got instead, Major Wright?
JC: General manager Jerry Angelo said after the draft that there were five defensive backs he had his eye on for his pick at No. 75 overall, and even though all five were available at the start of Round 3, their names started to get called one after another. South Florida's Jerome Murphy went 65th to the Rams, Iowa's Amari Spievey went 66th to the Lions and then Vanderbilt's Myron Lewis went 67th to the Buccaneers, and sources told me leading up to draft weekend that those three were on Angelo's list. When Green Bay made that deal with Cleveland to move up to No. 71 for the purposes of taking Burnett, Angelo's jaw must have dropped.
Luckily for him, Wright was the last prospect he had targeted for that spot and ended up getting him at No. 75. So far, the former Florida Gator has received second-team reps at free safety, but it's still possible he can work his way into the starting lineup at some point as a rookie.
BH: Last year, the Bears were chic Super Bowl contenders. Oops. This year, the Lions are the chic pick to send the Bears tumbling into the NFC North cellar. Not sure I'm buying that. Chicago won seven games last year, added two marquee free agents and Cutler at least knows his receivers. What's your pre-training camp outlook?
JC: I try not to make any hard predictions until the preseason is complete, but I do believe the Bears will be a much better team offensively than they were in 2009. Axed offensive coordinator Ron Turner was finally shown the door, as his scheme wasn't very imaginative and his play calling was increasingly predictable. Say what you want about Martz, but every single time he has gotten a new job in the NFL, those teams automatically rack up more yards and score more points in Year 1 – more wins, on the other hand, aren't guaranteed.
Special teams will again be a strength, as they always seem to be, but I'm not sold on this D just because Peppers arrived, as Harris is no longer special, Brian Urlacher has not been to a Pro Bowl since 2006 and safety remains a question mark.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Packers, Pt. II
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