Behind Enemy Lines: Bears, Part I

Our experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Tim Yotter of Viking Update, break down Monday's game between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. Let's begin this three-part series with five questions from Tim to John.

Tim Yotter: The Bears put together very solid back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006, but they have also followed a couple of 13-3 seasons in this century with losing records the next year. Is that an indictment on not having that consistent starter at quarterback, or how do you explain the up-and-down travails of this franchise since 2001?

John Crist: First of all, that 13-3 team in 2001 was arguably the worst 13-3 team in NFL history, so nobody in the Windy City was completely shocked when Dick Jauron and Co. came crashing back to reality a year later. As for this season, I think this precipitous fall is simply further testimony of how narrow the margin is in this league between being pretty good and being pretty bad. The Bears have suffered their fair share of injuries, just like every team in the league, but the schedule has proven to be tougher than a year ago, there hasn't been any consistency offensively or defensively, and the rest of the NFC North has gotten decidedly better – the Vikings included.

The seemingly never-ending quarterback carousel certainly hasn't helped matters, but putting all of the blame under center is simply irresponsible because Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton have all shown that they can win games at this level.

TY: The last time Kyle Orton took a snap was two years ago in the Metrodome. What have you seen from him in practices and camps since then?

QB Kyle Orton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

JC: Coming into the 2005 season, even though he was just a rookie, Orton probably took a peek at the other quarterbacks on the roster at the time – Chad Hutchinson as the No. 1? – and figured he had a decent chance to win the starting job – he ultimately did. But heading into last year, with Grossman fully healed and Griese brought in to be that veteran backup the franchise so desperately needed, it didn't really matter how well he performed in training camp because he was going to be third string no matter what – and it showed in his play. But to his credit, Orton looked much better in Bourbonnais this past summer and appeared to be taking football seriously again.

There was some talk during the preseason that Orton might move past Griese on the depth chart behind Grossman because he was clearly the better player on the practice field, but he's due to be awfully rusty Monday night since he hasn't played a meaningful game in about two years.

TY: When these two teams last met, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson rushed for 224 yards. Despite his struggles last week, do you expect the Bears to sell out like San Francisco did last weekend with cornerback blitzes to try to limit him?

JC: Even if this turns out to be the formula to slow down the slam-dunk Offensive Rookie of the Year, I don't expect the Bears to follow this approach on game day. The Cover 2 is not a blitzing defense by any stretch of the imagination, at least not the way head coach Lovie Smith wants it run, and certainly not considering how destroyed his defense has been by the injury bug. Not only has defensive tackle Tommie Harris been limited by a nagging knee sprain since Week 4, but it's been a rotating M*A*S*H unit alongside him in the trenches – first Dusty Dvoracek is lost for the year in the season opener, then newcomer Darwin Walker battles a few bruises and doesn't play up to form, and now both Anthony Adams and Antonio Garay were added to the injured reserve list just the other day.

The safety position – critical to this overall scheme in terms of run support – has also been lacking all season long, as Mike Brown can't stay healthy, Danieal Manning seems to be regressing instead of progressing, and Adam Archuleta might be playing his way out of the league.

TY: Chicago's Adrian Peterson has been getting an increased role for the Bears of late, and I've never been convinced that Cedric Benson is a star back. Have the Bears' running woes been a product of the offensive line or a lack of talent at the running back spot?

RB Adrian Peterson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

JC: After being very high on Benson's prospects heading into the season and convinced that this team wouldn't miss Thomas Jones one bit, my eventual career as an NFL talent scout has apparently come to a screeching halt. Benson was nothing short of awful in 11 games as the starter, although he's been somewhat absolved of responsibility with Peterson's equally unproductive stint as the featured back after Benson was moved to injured reserve two weeks ago. Rookie Garrett Wolfe finally saw some significant action on offense with Peterson disappointing yet again last Thursday in Washington, but there's no question that this offensive line has gone from "experienced" to "old" almost overnight.

Perennial All-Pro center Olin Kreutz is having a down year, nine-time Pro-Bowl left guard Ruben Brown didn't play very well even before he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, and 12th-year right tackle Fred Miller has been a swinging gate more often than not – an influx of young bodies is long overdue.

TY: Chicago hasn't lost three games in a row this season, but they are on their second two-game losing streak. What is the mental state of the team now that they have been all but eliminated from the playoff race with a 5-8 record?

JC: Quite honestly, this feels like a defeated team when I walk through the locker room these days. I firmly believe that many of the players in Chicago simply figured that they were still the best squad in the NFC and would be right back in the Super Bowl for another shot at the Vince Lombardi Trophy this February, so perhaps they're finally coming to grips with the reality of just how special last season was. They seemed to be in complete control of the Giants for most of the game in Week 13 yet found a way to lose 21-16 in the closing minutes, ending any realistic hope of making a late push for the postseason and unofficially closing the book on a highly disappointing 2007.

Aside from tight end Desmond Clark on offense, left end Adewale Ogunleye on defense, and the incomparable Devin Hester on special teams, there isn't one Midway Monster who has exceeded expectations and authored the proverbial "career year" that organizations need up and down the roster if they're going to compete for a championship.

Be on the lookout for Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where Tim answers five questions from John, on Thursday.

John Crist is the publisher of Bear Report. Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update.

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