Let me be up front about this: My disadain for the Bears is almost as bad as it is for the Packers. But I have to say, the Bears SB Nation blog Windy City Gridiron is a pretty good place to go to talk football, and they run a really good blog.
WCG blogger Kev H and I met under the banner of truce in the middle of No Fan's Land and were able to exchange some questions and answers before high command got wind of it and started shelling us. My answers to his questions can be found right here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. Coming in to 2011, I thought that your offensive line would actually be a strength of the team. I loved the Gabe Carimi pick in the draft (well, as a Vikes fan I hated it, but as a fooball fan I thought it was a great pick for your team), Olin Kreutz was a fixture on the line, and they seemed to play better towards the end of last year. How bad is Carimi's injury, and it looks like releasing Kreutz was a big mistake. Is the line as bad as we saw against the Lions, or are they better than that?
WCG: It's hard to say, because we really haven't gotten to see them. It's been officially proven that Frank Omiyale sucks. Well, actually, that was proven last year, but instead of getting better swing players, they just kept trotting him out there. He's benched now, so that's a hopeful sign. Carimi is expected to be back, maybe in time for the London game, but I would say he's definitely going to be back after the bye.
I'd like to believe that the line we saw in Week 1 is the one that we'll truly have-they were able to block, there were a few pockets for Cutler, and the offense looked pretty solid. If that line returns we'll have a shot at maybe doing something in the second half of the season.
As far as Kreutz goes, it was the right decision. He's not blowing anyone away in New Orleans, and he just wanted too much. He got greedy, thought the Bears wouldn't call his bluff, and he missed out. Garza hasn't been doing any worse than Kreutz, and the other guys seem to have rallied with him. For better or worse, we're looking at Webb, Williams, Garza, Louis, Carimi for the near future.
2. It seems like there is the potential for a contract squabble with RB Matt Forte sooner rather than later. Is he a guy that the Bears need to re-sign, or do you see them parting ways with him and moving on to someone else? And has that distraction played a part in his uneven start?
He's a guy the Bears definitely need to re-sign, which means that they will let him go and sign a 6th round guy. Kidding aside--the contract negotiations are going to get brutal, and the front office is only going to look more foolish as he continues to look like a stud running back propping up an average, at best, team. He's great out of the backfield, and give him decent blocking, he'll make some plays.
As far as an uneven start--that's on Mike Martz. He chose not to run it much in the beginning of the season (though they did use him a lot in the passing game.) Then, they re-commit to the run against the Panthers, and Forte puts up two hundred yards. That just adds to his argument, and will be the kind of performance his agent will point to when he gets paid. I really hope that's by the Bears.
3. Obligatory Lovie Smith on the hotseat question: Last year the Bears played host for the NFC Championship game, yet now you find youself at 2-3 and a pretty brutal stretch coming after this always tough divisional game (@Tampa, bye, @Philly, Detroit, San Diego). Is Chicago a playoff team in 2011, and will Lovie Smith keep his job if the Bears don't make the playoffs?
Well, we're "At Tampa", but in actuality, we're in London, which I always thought was great until my team had to go play in it. Then the bye week, when this team should truly get it's business together, and the offensive line should be back to game 1 starters at that point. Then there's Philadelphia, and their offensive line is fighting for the title of "worst trench performance" this season. Then Detroit and San Diego at home, where the Bears historically perform much better.
I think the Bears could have a legitimate shot at coming out of this stretch 3-1, IF, (and that's a big IF) they can get away from the tradiional Mike Martz playbook. When Martz came in, I genuinely hoped that something really great might happen. We finally had an offense that would take chances, and a QB who had the arm for the throws. However, the front office's complete inability to comprehend the fact that passing requires pass blocking caused them to give up a ridiclous number of sacks, and to neuter the biggest strength of the QB and cause him to fear for his health.
It's hard to feel super confident that they can make it to the playoffs, though. To get a Wildcard slot, a team is likely going to need at least ten wins, probably eleven. The Bears have only played conference games so far, and have already hurt themselves quite a bit in the tiebreaker categories, being 2-3 in the conference and 0-2 in the division. They're going to flat-out need to win 8 or 9 out of 11 games to pull it off. But if they don't? Lovie Smith isn't going anywhere. The McCaskey family isn't the kind who'll pay people not to work, and since he's locked in for at least a year, we'll see him again in 2012, barring new circumstances the likes of which we've never seen in Chicago.
4. The Jay Cutler era has been a bit of a mixed bag, and I would argue that the Bears have not performed as well as most people thought they would when they made the trade for him. Lots of TD's, but lots of picks. Yes, there was the NFC championship appearance last year...but his toughness was questioned when he didn't return after an injury. 7-9 in his first season, but won the division last year. Great, All-Pro talent, but is perceived (fairly or not) as a sulker that isn't a team leader. Two plus years in, was this a good trade for the Bears, or is there any buyer's remorse setting in?
I would say that most fans are pretty reasonable when it comes to this situation, so there's generally not much buyer's remorse. Fan anger is typically pointed at the coaching staff and the front office for getting a QB, and thinking that they're done with their job. It's hard to be much of a QB when your scheme tells you that you have to take a seven step drop, and you have Frank "Gate 68" Omiyale swinging wide and loose, and a defensive end stepping on your chest around step five in your drop.
The toughness angle is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Why would a guy get brutalized all season long, take sack after sack, keep getting back up and going under center, and then just decide he didn't feel like it in the biggest game he had ever played in? Furthermore--why would you want a guy who obviously can't go in the game? Philip Rivers played in a game with two bad knees, and he was hailed as a tough gritty hero who put it all on the line, but in actuality, he really shouldn't have been on the field. He wasn't mobile, and it allowed the opponent to key in on their offense. As far as the "sulker" thing goes--welcome to TV, I guess. Yeah, you're not going to be happy when you're being manhandled, but the idea that he isn't talking with teammates and coaches is just silly. If you've seen a game in person, or you get the rare glimpse that FOX gives you when he is doing it, you'll see he's working with the coach, with Hanie, and trying to figure things out. He celebrates with guys when the D or Special Teams makes a play, and he's just as invested as anyone else.
The game against the Lions showed, I think, why you want Jay Cutler on your team. The offensive line was clearly not up for the challenge, so Jay did what he does best--got on the move. He got his feet going, got outside his crumbling (if even existent) pockets, and threw to the open guy. That's the type of QB he is--he's not a "throw to the spot" guy, he's a "trust my arm and get it to the guy" passer, and if we can get even a semblance of blocking and continued play like that, the Bears could still maybe make something of this season.
5. A tough, hard nosed defense has been the backbone and identity of the Bears for almost my whole life, but this year they seem to have lost a step. I just read that both safeties are being replaced this week for the Vikings game, and Julius Peppers might or might not play because of a knee injury. The Bears have given up 24 or more points 4 straight games, and I can't remember the last time that happened. Is this defense vulnerable, or is this a good defense that has just had more than their fair share of bad luck?
Both? This defense is like it always is: predicated on the front four. After showing up in Week 1 against the Falcons, they have more or less disappeared, and as a result, the defense suffers. Having a banged up secondary hasn't helped, either. Contain the big plays agains the Lions, and we could be talking about how the 3-2 Bears have new life after taking down the undefeated Detroit team. Alas, that's not the case, and now the man that we expect to set the tone for the defensive line is hobbled even more.
As far as the safeties go, they might as well, really. Brandon Merriweather showed us quickly why he was let go from the Patriots--you can't trust him. He doesn't play the game or the position correctly, choosing to go for the big hit (and bounce off) than to make a secure tackle. Chris Harris is hurt, and even when he isn't, isn't particularly that quick, and lets receivers get behind him more than a cover 2 safety should.
And really...this defense is getting old, from a player standpoint, and a scheme standpoint The playmakers are all on the wrong side of 30, and teams know that if you get extra bodies on the defensive line, you will have most of the day to be able to throw. With the right personnel, this scheme can still be effective--but they just don't make them like they used to.
Thanks again to Kev H and Windy City Gridiron. Good luck this season...except this Sunday night, and whatever other time we play.