Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

BearReport.com's John Crist answers questions from PackerReport.com's Todd Korth on Chicago's slow start, rushing attack and outlook for the remainder of this season in Part I of the week's Behind Enemy Lines

Todd Korth: Do you feel the Bears were overconfident entering this season, which has led to a 1-3 start?
John Crist:
While head coach Lovie Smith does a fantastic job keeping his team focused on the task at hand without letting them get too high or too low, I think it's now safe to say that a fair amount of overconfidence was at play in Chicago. The Bears went 13-3 last season and represented the NFC in Super Bowl XLI, and they looked to be an even better team by the start of training camp with additions like TE Greg Olsen and WR Devin Hester on offense and Pro Bowlers like S Mike Brown and DT Tommie Harris returning from injury on defense. However, the team hasn't had any rhythm offensively partially because they can't find a proper role for everyone they're trying to feature in the game plan, plus their inability to stay healthy on the defensive side of the ball has proven to be nothing short of catastrophic.

It was assumed that this group of players would cruise to a third straight division title and be the team to beat in the conference once again, but nothing will derail an NFL season faster than a lengthy injury report.

TK: Why is Cedric Benson and the Bears' rushing attack struggling?


RB Cedric Benson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
JC: Benson finally got his opportunity to be the featured back in the Windy City after two years toiling as a part-time player, but he has done little to justify his offseason elevation to the starting role. I firmly believed that Benson's bulldozing style was going to be a perfect fit for this offensive line's man-blocking scheme, however, he has not run with any passion whatsoever, isn't breaking tackles as people expected, and he's put the ball on the ground repeatedly. That being said, the aforementioned O-line has gone from "experienced" to "old" seemingly overnight and offered very little help, further highlighting a glaring weakness for this team heading into the 2007 season: no promising young linemen on the horizon.

Benson is dangerously close to losing his spot atop the Bears tailback totem pole as backups Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe will likely get some carries Sunday night, but none of them will succeed unless Olin Kreutz and Co. start opening up some holes consistently.

TK: Will the Thomas Jones trade in the off-season continue to haunt the Bears?
JC:
Following up on the point I mentioned in the previous question, I honestly didn't think that this offense was going to miss Jones very much in the backfield because of the presence of Benson. Although his cutback style appeared to be better designed for a zone-blocking system and there wasn't anything he seemed to do exceptionally well, you can't deny the fact that Jones played hard, played hurt, and found a way to be productive more often than not. Consequently, he was one of the most respected players in the locker room during his tenure in Chicago, while Benson has had his character called into question – both on and off the field – on numerous occasions.

Jones may be on the back nine of his career with his best days clearly in the rearview mirror, but Benson was never able to take the starting job from him despite his status as a high draft pick and obvious advantage from a talent perspective.

TK: Will Rex Grossman ever start at quarterback again for the Bears?


QB Rex Grossman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

JC: I hypothesized that Grossman would get a healthy contract extension midseason if he got off to a white-hot start like he did last year, but I also figured his career in Chicago would come to an unceremonious end should he struggle and show once and for all that he is not the long-term answer. It's quite obvious that the latter scenario has presented itself after Brian Griese was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 4, but I suppose it's possible that Grossman could get back under center considering he is still listed at No. 2 on the depth chart as opposed to being demoted behind Kyle Orton as the third-stringer.

And as far as 2008 and beyond, after all that has transpired over the course of his initial five-year contract, Grossman has about a 99% chance of carrying a clipboard for another team and about a 1% opportunity to be brought back to the City of Broad Shoulders as the starting QB.

TK: Do you think the Bears will rebound from their slow start and make the playoffs?
JC:
The schedule this season is much more challenging than the 32nd-ranked cakewalk they were handed in 2006, so it's very difficult to imagine the Bears righting the ship and making another playoff run before it's too late. There are simply too many injuries on defense right now, not to mention the fact that said injuries have happened to some of the most accomplished players on the roster – Brown, CB Nathan Vasher, and LB Lance Briggs are all Pro Bowlers who have missed time already. It would be one thing if the offense could pick up the slack long enough for their defensive mates to get healthy again, but this team can't score any points either.

With the Packers on the docket Sunday night and another divisional matchup against the Vikings in Week 6, the Bears must win both games and even their mark at 3-3 if they stand any chance of qualifying for the postseason.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Todd Korth will answer questions in Behind Enemy Lines Part II from Crist on Thursday on PackerReport.com.


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