Tim Yotter: The Bears have had very different results in their last two games, losing badly to the Packers 37-3 and winning easily over the Rams 27-3. Beyond the obvious difference in quality of opponent, were you able to discern other reasons for what was different in those games for the Bears?
John Crist: The Bears are a much better football team when they can get out to an early lead and play from ahead, as their offense is far from high powered and their defense can then push the issue by forcing turnovers. Make no mistake about it: Getting blasted by the Packers in Green Bay said much more about this team than their blasting of the Rams in St. Louis. Against the Rams, Chicago made a greater commitment to the running game and got a great performance from the defensive front, both of which helped hide its weaknesses – Green Bay, on the other hand, exploited those weaknesses.
I don't think the Bears are as bad as they were at Lambeau Field, but they're not as good as they were at the Edward Jones Dome either.
TY: Last year when the Bears and Vikings met at Soldier Field, it was Adrian Peterson rushing for 224 yards. This year at Soldier Field, it was Gus Frerotte nearly becoming the first quarterback in the Brad Childress era to throw for 300 yards. The Bears are ranked 30th against the pass, so do you see a similar concentration on Peterson by the Chicago defense at the expense of the passing game?
JC: Head coach Lovie Smith swears that his defense is not selling out to stop the run, although the statistics 11 games into the season certainly suggest otherwise. The Bears did a decent job keeping Peterson under wraps – he did break off a 54-yard TD run, however – in the first meeting, and Frerotte took advantage with 298 yards passing because he had all kinds of time in the pocket. Both Nathan Vasher and Mike Brown got banged up again in Week 12, meaning the Chicago secondary could be playing a man or two down, as has been the case most of the year.
Chicago has played its best D this year indoors since the personnel is largely undersized and built for speed, including dominating efforts at Indianapolis, Detroit, and St. Louis.
TY: I'm not sure Kyle Orton gets a ton of respect yet because the passing game is only averaging 200 yards per game and he has only 11 touchdown passes. His 11-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio would indicate he is "managing the game," but will that kind of play be enough to win the division?
JC: I think Orton has had a great year for the most part and is deserving of a contract extension in the offseason, especially when you take into consideration that he has no reliable threats at the wide receiver position. No quarterback likes to be described as a game manager, but that's what Orton has done since his weapons on the outside are lacking and his defense hasn't been as good as it was forecasted to be back in training camp. The former Purdue Boilermaker has now gone six straight games and 185 consecutive passes without throwing an interception, which is a franchise record and yet another indication of how much better he's been than the turnover-prone Rex Grossman.
The Bears have been in contention in the NFC North from the beginning, even though this was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year, so I believe the division title is theirs should they win this game.
TY: Matt Forte is having a terrific rookie season with 909 yards and six touchdowns rushing and 336 yards and three touchdowns receiving, both leading the team. Do you see any signs of him hitting the proverbial "rookie wall"?
JC: Everyone keeps asking this question because Forte leads the NFL in touches and seemingly never takes a series off when the Bears have the ball. As a matter of fact, Kevin Jones, the former first-rounder brought in from Detroit to be the rookie's insurance policy, has been inactive the last two games – Adrian Peterson (the other one) and Garrett Wolfe are nothing more than special teamers and garbage-time ball carriers. There has been a trend lately that suggests talent evaluators would rather have a running back with very little mileage on him during his collegiate career because there are only so many hits a body can take, but Forte is bucking that trend because he was a workhorse at Tulane, too.
Forte looked just as fresh in Week 12, when he rushed for a career-high 132 yards, as he did in Week 1, when he debuted with 123 yards, so expect him to get the ball early and often against the Vikings.
TY: The Bears have outscored their opponents by 30 points this year total. They've outscored their opponents in the first quarter by 31 points. Why such a dominating first quarter for this team – interceptions and turnovers, or just well-scripted drives to start games?
JC: People in our line of work hate it when coaches and players answer questions in this fashion, but I simply have to say that it's been a little bit of everything – special teams have played a role as well, including a first-quarter blocked punt return for a TD against Carolina. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has done a good job of establishing Forte and the rushing attack early in games, although he has a bad habit of going away from his most consistent weapon in the second half if the Bears are trailing. On the other side of the ball, for some reason, defensive coordinator Bob Babich always seems to be more creative and aggressive before intermission.
It's hard to believe that All-Pro return man Devin Hester hasn't played a role in that opening-stanza success this year, as his struggles off punts and kickoffs continue to be a mystery.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this three-part series, where Tim answers five questions from John, on Thursday.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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