John Crist: In Week 1 at Green Bay, Cutler simply tried to do too much and forced the issue downfield hoping his receivers were seeing the same things he was seeing, which makes him mostly to blame for taking chances but the wideouts partially to blame for not finishing routes. In Week 2 against Pittsburgh, Cutler did a much better job of taking what the defense was giving him, only pushing the envelope with longer throws when the matchups were in his favor – hence, the much better performance. Even though the Bears have always been built around the running game and playing tough defense, offensive coordinator Ron Turner prefers the vertical passing game and finally has a signal caller that can run his scheme properly.
Cutler told the Chicago media it would be perfectly fine to judge him after the season since it's going to take some time for all this to work out, but I do believe he's exactly what Bears fans have been craving for generations.
DF: So, who kidnapped Matt Forte in that season opener, and how do the Bears plan to use him? Obviously, he won't be more responsible for total offensive production than any other back in the NFL, as he was last year, but are the coaches cutting off their noses to oversell a pass-first gameplan?
RB Matt Forte
AP Images: M. Spencer Green
JC: The coaching staff made sure to take it easy on Forte during training camp and the preseason because he simply got overworked as a rookie, causing him to break down to some degree in December. The plan was for Kevin Jones to take some of the workload off Forte's Atlas-like shoulders since he was finally healthy again after knee surgery late in 2007, but he tore foot ligaments in the final exhibition contest and has been shelved on injured reserve – suddenly, Forte runs the risk of too much exposure once again. While he has certainly struggled through two games and is only averaging 2.2 yards per carry so far, the offensive line has done a poor job opening up holes and obviously needs time to jell with three new starters.
Watching Frank Gore run roughshod over the Seattle defense to the tune of 207 yards in Week 2 had to have been a welcome sight for the offense in the film room, so look for Turner to feed Forte the ball 20-25 times Sunday.
DF: Both the Seahawks and Bears have spent time without their franchise middle linebackers of late, though Brian Urlacher's "vacation" is a bit more long-term. How will they plan around him this year? Also, is the Chicago defense mistakenly termed a "Tampa-2"? It seems to me that they play more Cover 3 or single high than what Lovie Smith worked with back in Tampa Bay.
JC: I've been writing for quite some time that Lance Briggs is the best linebacker in the Windy City, passing Urlacher in the process, although Urlacher is tougher to replace – lots of players could step into Briggs' spot on the weak side and flourish. But in the middle, Urlacher has a ridiculous amount of responsibility in this system, from sideline-to-sideline run support to deep coverage between the numbers against the pass. The Bears would be foolish to ask new starter Hunter Hillenmeyer to do the things Urlacher has always done, so they're spreading it out and making multiple players pick up their share of the slack.
Smith's way of playing defense is known as the Cover 2 even though he only calls it about a third of the time, with another third being the more conservative Cover 3 and the final third a blitz of some sort.
DF: Let's talk about the Chicago receivers. It's a well-known weak spot, but how much better will Cutler make those guys? I'm thinking specifically of Johnny Knox, who would have been wasted in an offense run by a quarterback with no downfield efficiency (i.e., Kyle Orton). Who will Cutler's arrival most benefit in that receiver corps?
WR Johnny Knox
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh
JC: I know the Midway Monster wide receivers have been a punching bag in this town since even before Cutler arrived on that silver platter, but I for one believe this issue is being blown out of proportion. Cutler doesn't necessarily need Devin Hester to turn into the new Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett to turn into the new Eddie Royal – they're not capable of doing that anyway. But if both Hester and Bennett can prove to be worthy of a starting assignment in this league, Greg Olsen continues on his ascent toward Pro Bowl status and Forte still does his share of damage on screen passes and check-downs, No. 6 can be successful through the air.
I don't expect Knox to go from no-name rookie to 91-catch household name, as Royal did a season ago, but the speed this fifth-round pick brings to the table is legitimate and would have been wasted by Orton since he isn't nearly as accurate throwing deep as Cutler has shown to be.
DF: Bears GM Jerry Angelo, who goes back some years with Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell, made a very bold move with the Cutler trade – the kind of move that could define a franchise for half a decade (either good or bad). Was this a case of an executive pushing the chips in to save his job, or a guy with enough pull in the organization to gamble this high? How safe is safe for Angelo?
JC: Angelo has two things going for him with regard to job security: first, he signed a contract extension through the 2013 season about a year and a half ago; second, the McCaskey family has never been fond of writing big checks to make their problems go away (see Wanndstedt, Dave). It was somewhat surprising to see Angelo so adamant at his year-end press conference this past January about getting the quarterback position settled, especially with Orton coming off a relatively successful season under center. I think the fray that developed between Cutler and the Broncos once Josh McDaniels came to Denver provided Angelo with an opportunity to strike, and strike he did.
Smith has more to worry about in the short term if the Bears don't make it back to the playoffs because his deal expires in 2011, but how Angelo is remembered – positively or negatively – is ultimately going to be based on this trade and this trade alone.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Doug answers five questions from John, on Thursday.