10 QUESTIONS - Patriots vs Bears Part 2
Bear Report Editor John Crist is this week's guest on 10 questions.
5) What do the Bears need to work on, and how have opponents been able to take advantage of that?
John Crist: On offense, the Bears have had an awful time running the ball in the red zone, and most specifically, near the goal line. Grossman has 18 touchdown passes this season, but many of them have come on play-action passes to the tight ends deep in enemy territory. Opponents have been able to stuff the run by staying disciplined in their gaps because Thomas Jones has a tendency to dance at the line of scrimmage. Defensively, teams have had way too much success on the ground the last month or so. Because the unit as a whole is so fast, teams like the Dolphins and Giants had success running right at them and taking advantage of some poor tackling.
4) Chicago just beat the Jets 10-0 in a hard fought game. Are the Bears winning ugly because of injuries to key players, or have other teams found the key to stopping the Chicago offense?
JC: I believe that last week's win was a step in the right direction for Grossman because he's never really won a game like that before. The Bears have won when he hasn't played up to par, but usually, he's getting sacked, turning the ball over, and continually putting his defense in bad situations in those games. Although the passing game did struggle mightily against the Jets, Grossman was patient enough to check the ball down to his running backs if that was all he had and didn't force the ball into coverage when there was nothing there. The Bears made a commitment to the running game last Sunday with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, and both of them looked as good as they have all season long. Nobody really expected Grossman to keep throwing TD passes like an Arena Leaguer, but with as good as his defense and special teams are, he doesn't need to be an All-Pro to win games.
3) What was it that the Dolphins did to defeat the Bears that other teams haven't been able to mimic? Have other teams tried and not been able to execute as well as Miami or was it a fluke thing?
JC: Miami did a great job mixing things up on offense and putting pressure on Grossman from all angles. History has shown that he will make mistakes if there is a fierce pass rush right in his face, and Jason Taylor most notably was able to do that. Ronnie Brown ran all over the Bears and really wore them down in the second half. He was breaking arm tackles all day long and beat up the defense by continually moving the chains. The Giants were giving Grossman fits in the early going two Sundays ago, but for some reason, they were content dropping back into coverage in the second half. Not by coincidence, Grossman was able to settle down and make the plays he needed to in a convincing 38-20 victory.
2) Is Brian Urlacher as good as the hype, or is he the beneficiary of an improved unit surrounding him?
JC: The answer to those questions is yes and yes. Urlacher is as good as the hype and certainly deserved last season's Defensive Player of the Year award. He's just as fast as the safeties and just as strong as the defensive ends, but he is also incredibly instinctual with a knack for making big plays in key situations. He doesn't have quite as many highlight-reel plays this season in part because of the wealth of talent around him, but that end-zone interception of Chad Pennington in the second quarter last week completely swung the momentum in the Bears' favor. The organization wouldn't trade him straight up for any player in the league, offense or defense.
1) Tell us the most underrated part of the Bears team
the part that is impacting games, but may not be getting the accolades it deserves?
JC: The Bears coverage units are fantastic, no question about it. Bill Parcells talks about 'hidden yards' in a football game, things like penalties and yardage on punt and kickoff returns. Brendon Ayanbadejo, Leon Joe, and Adrian Peterson have been some of the better special-teamers in the NFL for a few years now. For a team as defensive-minded as the Bears are, being able to force opponents to drive the length of the field in order to put points on the board is a huge advantage. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a return man break free for a long one and successfully flip the field position.
Prediction for the game
Bears 20 Patriots 17. Gould is the best kicker in the NFL right now, and the Patriots are missing Vinateiri. Chalk up one more field goal for the Bears. If Grossman can eliminate bad decisions like he did against the Jets last week, he'll be fine against a depleted New England secondary. Tom Brady is incredible, but he's not going to drive 80 yards on this defense consistently.
Prediction for the rest of the season
The Bears are pretty fortunate with their schedule the rest of the way. They play St. Louis and Detroit on the road, while they get Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Green Bay at home. It would be a colossal upset if they didn't earn the top seed in the NFC, especially considering that they already have a three-game lead on the rest of the conference. I see a 14-2 record and plenty of rest heading into the postseason. They'll have a slipup at some point down the stretch, but I'd be surprised if it's more than one.
Top 5 teams in the NFL
1. Indianapolis - the run defense needs some serious work, but I would not want to face Peyton Manning and his offense in the RCA Dome under any circumstances.
2. Chicago - Grossman still has plenty of questions to answer, but similarly to Indy, nobody wants to take on this defense in wintry conditions at Soldier Field.
3. San Diego - Philip Rivers is already a Pro-Bowler in his first season as a starter, and LaDainian Tomlinson is the single-most unstoppable force in football.
4. New England - it's hard to go against a quarterback with a track record like Brady and a head coach that knows how to pull the strings in Belichick
5. Carolina - Steve Smith has already proven that he can beat the Bears by himself in the playoffs, and that talented defense looks to be rounding into form.
Be sure to read Behind Enemy Lines part 1 where John addresses the Bears strengths, the development of former Patriot Robbie Gould, the hype surrounding the Bears defense and much more.