Brian McIntyre: The whole world saw the punishment that Jay Cutler took two weeks ago on Sunday Night Football. How much of the blame pie would Cutler, the offensive line and Mike Martz be accountable for, and what steps are the Bears taking to keep those games at a minimum?
John Crist: To be perfectly honest, the Giants game wasn't all that different from the Cowboys game back in Week 2, when DeMarcus Ware and Co. tore Cutler limb from limb in the first quarter and it looked like No. 6 was going to leave on a stretcher. But Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice made some adjustments after two or three series, Martz going to more quick passes off three- and five-step drops and Tice shifting Frank Omiyale from right to left tackle after the injury to Chris Williams. Those adjustments worked beautifully in Dallas, with Cutler having perhaps his best performance in a Bears uniform in that 27-20 victory, but similar adjustments simply didn't make any difference whatsoever in New York, not to mention the fact that Cutler played a good portion of that 17-3 loss after already being concussed.
Everyone in football knows the Bears have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, so I'd give the big uglies 50 percent of the blame, with 25 apiece going to Martz and Cutler – Martz for subjecting his quarterback to too much punishment and Cutler for holding on to the ball too long.
BM: Matt Forte averaged 2.7 yards per carry through the first month of the season before busting out for 166 yards on 22 carries last week. Was that an anomaly, or have the Bears discovered the missing ingredient for a successful running game?
JC: One of the "missing ingredients" you speak of when it comes to the running game is actually calling running plays, which Martz obviously wasn't doing the first four weeks of the season – Forte got 17, 10, 11 and 12 carries in those games. Since Cutler sat out last Sunday's contest with that concussion and backup Todd Collins was making just his 21st career start in 16 seasons, surely Martz was going to lean on the ground attack more than he had in the past, especially facing an inferior opponent like Carolina. Credit the blocking for finally being able to change the line of scrimmage on someone, plus Forte's vision was especially sharp, but I don't expect the Bears to all of a sudden rush for 150 yards per game, as Martz always has been and always will be more interested in throwing the ball.
I like Forte and Chester Taylor as running backs because both of them have a very well-rounded skill set, but the fact that they are similar players and the defense does not have to make any adjustments from one to the other could be a factor in Chicago's overall lack of success on the ground.
BM: After emerging as a favorite target of Cutler's late last season and catching five balls in the season opener, Devin Aromashodu has vanished. Is he in the doghouse, or have the other receivers simply earned that playing time?
JC: While Aromashodu did look to be Cutler's primary weapon in Week 1 with 10 targets, he only caught five passes when it should have been seven or eight – most glaringly, he dropped a beautiful over-the-shoulder throw from Cutler in the end zone. Starters Johnny Knox and Devin Hester were only asked to learn a single position in Martz' offense, Knox at split end (X) and Hester at flanker (Z), but Aromashodu was asked to learn split end, flanker and the slot (Y) in order to be some sort of jack-of-all-trades pass catcher. However, at the end of the day, he is not as good of a fit working out of the slot as Earl Bennett is, and neither Knox nor Hester is losing his job any time soon.
Right now, Aromashodu is only on the field when Hester is getting a rest, which happens from time to time because the coaching staff wants to make sure the two-time Pro Bowl returner is as fresh as possible when the enemy lines up to punt.
BM: In addition to being Exhibit A in the NFL's defense of accusations of colluding to reduce free-agent spending, what affect on the Bears' front four has Julius Peppers had this season?
JC: Cynical Bears fans thought Peppers' best days were behind him and he'd never live up to the franchise-record $91.5 million contract he signed in free agency, but the greatest player in Panthers history is off to a rousing start with the Bears. It's hard to tell from the stat sheet, as the 6-7, 283-pound physical freak only has 11 tackles and two sacks in five games, but he has also intercepted a pass, knocked down four others, forced two fumbles and gets credited for a QB pressure practically every other drop-back. The thinking behind the Peppers addition is that he would create winnable one-on-one matchups for the rest of the D-line, and although Tommie Harris is a shell of his former self at the three-technique tackle position and hasn't benefitted at all from No. 90's presence, Israel Idonije has come into his own as a starting end and already has four sacks – three of them last week in Carolina.
At this point, in my opinion, Peppers has to be considered a candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award, as he seems to have single-handedly gotten Chicago back to the glory days of Lovie Smith's Cover 2.
BM: Chicago shook up its front office this offseason, which included the hiring former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell. How much sway within the organization does Ruskell have?
JC: The Bears used to employ a pro personnel director (Bobby DePaul) and then a college scouting director (Greg Gabriel), but Ruskell is now the player personnel director and essentially condensed two jobs down into one. A lot has been said about Ruskell and general manager Jerry Angelo being old pals from their time together in Tampa Bay, and it has even been suggested that Ruskell called Angelo and basically begged him for a job after it didn't work out in Seattle. That may or not be true, but Angelo explains the decision by saying the communication between the pro scouts and college scouts hadn't been very good, so putting the entire scouting department under the same umbrella makes it easier on everyone.
I'm reserving judgment until Angelo and Ruskell do a draft together, as Chicago's track record in the first few rounds hasn't been pretty lately – a pair of 2009 third-round picks, defensive end Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, didn't make the 53-man roster this year.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Brian answers five questions from John, on Thursday.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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