John M. Crist, Editor-in-Chief, BearReport.com: Anderson slipped in the draft because he was a classic `tweener – not big enough to play defensive end and not fast enough to play linebacker. It took a while for the Bears to see what he could do because he was plagued by a nagging hamstring injury in training camp and played only one preseason game, but he certainly made the most of his time right away. In the early going, Anderson was the beneficiary of players like Harris getting double-teamed as a few of his sacks came when he only had to shed a running back or was unblocked altogether. But as the season carried on, Anderson saw more and more time and still made all kinds of plays.
I’m not so sure the Bears saw something in him that other teams didn’t, but there was no question that he was the most talented defensive player available when he was selected and never should have gone that low in the first place.
DF: Once again, Brian Urlacher enjoyed a superlative season. However, the story at linebacker for the Bears is the perpetually underrated Lance Briggs and his upcoming free agent status. Is there any chance Chicago would let him go?
JMC: Urlacher has been the face of the franchise since his breakout rookie season and is one of the more recognized players in the NFL, but Briggs is every bit as good as any outside linebacker right now. He was named to his second Pro Bowl and will be a starter this time around, so it appears that players, coaches, and fans alike are starting to recognize just how good this guy is.
Briggs is in the last year of his initial contract and will see some serious money very soon, but it very well could come from another team. The Bears have never used the franchise tag in Angelo’s tenure, and although he hasn’t ruled it out, he certainly hasn’t given any hints as to what he will do. He’s already given extensions to center Olin Kreutz and fullback Jason McKie during the season, but Angelo has been very tight-lipped about Briggs’s upcoming free agency and acknowledges that keeping him won’t be easy.
DF: According to Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA numbers, Chicago ranked second in the NFL in regular-season pass defense. What is the one overriding factor that has allowed the defense to be so effective against opponents who would have to be frequently throwing the ball to try and catch up?
JMC: First of all, remember that those numbers take the entire season into account and probably have very little to do with how the team is performing as of this moment. The last four games of the season, the Bears had one of the more porous pass defenses in the league and gave up some big numbers to the likes of Tim Rattay and Jon Kitna. Their sudden lack of effectiveness can be directly attributed to the temporary losses of cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, who both missed games down the stretch.
The front four was also incredibly successful rushing the quarterback the first half of the season or so, but since then, opposing quarterbacks have had way too much time to throw and thrived as a result. Both Vasher and Tillman will be fully healthy and back in action on Sunday, but unless the pass rush gets after Matt Hasselbeck like they did in Week 4, the Bears are vulnerable through the air.
DF: What makes Devin Hester such an electrifying return man, and does he have a single weakness in that category?
JMC: Hester is obviously blessed with blinding speed and has the kind of moves that you just can’t teach. On top of that, he is one of those precious few players in the NFL who is looking to score every single time he gets his hands on the ball. Even fewer have shown the ability to actually do so, as Hester did in setting an all-time record with six return touchdowns this season.
Not only has he scored half a dozen times, but he’s also helped out tremendously in the field position game since coaches simply don’t want to kick to him anymore. If Hester does have a flaw, it’s that he struggles to field punts consistently and has been prone to make poor decisions every now and then.
DF: In summary … how are the Bears more vulnerable than they were on October 1st? It’s not hard to see that they’re a better team than the Seahawks, but where are the ‘chinks in the armor’ that could lead to an upset?
JMC: First of all, the Bears had Tommie Harris and Mike Brown healthy in Week 4, and that won’t be the case this Sunday with both of them on injured reserve. On the other side of the ball, Grossman was the best quarterback around back in September but has been on a non-stop roller coaster ride ever since. The Bears had all kinds of trouble stopping the run in the middle of the season, and although they seem to have fixed that problem, now they can’t seem to defend the pass.
Head coach Lovie Smith may have seen his team peak way too early because the Monsters of the Midway haven’t had a truly dominant performance since Week 8 against San Francisco. If Hasselbeck gets time to throw and Grossman suffers from another case of turnover-itis, Seattle can go into Soldier Field and win.