Bears: 2012 Four Downs
The process that has followed has been described as "fast, furious and thorough" by Emery, who is scheduled to interview New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on Thursday.
Coming off three straight head coaches with defensive backgrounds, should the Bears go for an offensive mind this time?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should hire a head coach with an offensive background.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Smith got fired for two reasons: missing the playoffs five out of the past six years and never fixing the club's stagnant offense. So if offense is the reason Smith was fired, it only makes sense for the Bears to hire a head coach with an offensive background. The Bears can still play good defense without Smith in charge. Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings all remain under contract, which tells me the defense isn't about to fall off the cliff, even if the scheme is tweaked by the new coaching staff. But I can't say the same about the offense. This group is in dire need of new leadership and direction, and a head coach with a working knowledge of how to successfully run an NFL offense will only hasten the transformation. Plenty of good defensive and special teams candidates are out there, but the Bears need to focus on the offense. And to do that they need a head coach who knows offense. That guy hasn't existed in Halas Hall since Mike Ditka. Wrap your head around that for a moment.
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsAn offensive background didn't help the Browns with coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired at the end of the season.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It doesn't matter. Even if the new coach calls his own plays, he'll still bring in an offensive coordinator. Although the trend seems to be going toward coaches with backgrounds on offense, we've seen defensive guys get it done such as Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick and John Fox as well as special teams guys like John Harbaugh. Recently fired coach Pat Shurmur has an offensive background, as does Chan Gailey (fired), Andy Reid (fired) and Joe Philbin, who just finished 7-9 in his first season with the Miami Dolphins. So although folks tend to want the Bears to go with an offensive-minded coach, the club can easily make a mistake going that route. In addition to bringing in an offensive coordinator, the new coach needs a good defensive coordinator, too. As good as Chicago's defense has been, it's important to remember that it hasn't coached itself. The Bears need a coach that motivates players, has the ability to put together a top-notch staff, and possesses a vision for how he'll move the team forward. Those types of guys coach every phase of football. In fact, I like the idea of special teams coaches becoming head coaches because on every staff, they're the only people to actually touch every facet of the roster in doing their daily duties. It doesn't really matter what background the new coach possesses, as long as he can get the job done.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I'm not sold that a head coach has to possess an offensive coaching background to create an successful offensive team. What held the Bears back offensively over the years wasn't necessarily Smith, but rather their offensive personnel and offensive coordinators. Provide them a competent offensive line and an experienced offensive coordinator not named Mike Martz, and I think the Bears would have a chance. Whether Emery hires a head coach with an offensive background or not, it's still going to be vital to bring in an intelligent offensive coordinator and upgrade the offensive line.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. In the age of specificity, I'm all for a football coach with familiarity on both sides of the ball. But it would make sense to hire a coach who can think creatively and utilize the weapons the Bears possess. Really, though, without an improvement on the offensive line, there is no coach who could turn this group into a top-10 unit. If there's a coach out there with a defensive or special teams background who will make the right hires for the offensive side of the ball, hire him. But given the age and experience of the defense, and the need for a jump start on offense, the Bears should hire an offensively-oriented coach.
If that happens, and the Bears make the playoffs, does that warrant a contract extension for Lovie Smith? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Will that potential change include the head coach and a franchise icon? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Sunday's game was the last as Bears at Soldier Field for Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears could prove me wrong, but I don't see the team making the playoffs. And if the Bears miss out on the postseason for the fifth time in six years, I just can't fathom how the organization can retain Smith for another season. So if Smith goes, my hunch is Urlacher follows his guy out the door. Unless Urlacher truly believes the Bears can be contenders next year, I'm not sure the 35-year old middle linebacker wants to be part of a rebuilding process. Plus, there is the issue of Urlacher's knees, which might require an off-season clean up, and the current hamstring injury he's dealing with. Is it worth it to put in all that work for one more NFL season? Only Urlacher can answer that question. But if Smith gets out the door, the decision probably becomes much easier. Smith and Urlacher are a package deal, in my opinion.
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLovie Smith has one year left on his deal with the Bears.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. I've got to think general manager Phil Emery is a smart enough man to know this team's failures haven't been a result of Smith's coaching. This team simply lacks talent on offense in several areas, and depth in others, and it's Emery's job to make sure that changes. When your best two offensive linemen are merely average, that points to a serious deficiency in talent. So if ownership doesn't take the decision out of Emery's hands, it wouldn't surprise me if the GM let Smith finish out his contract. As for Urlacher, I don't see him returning unless he's willing to take a major salary reduction. The Bears likely will extend a one- or two-year offer based on Urlacher's past contributions. It will then be up to Urlacher to decide whether to take it. It's difficult not just for me, but surely all the Bears fans to imagine Urlacher wearing another uniform. So for now, I'll lean to him returning for at least one more season.
Scott Powers: Fact/Fiction. I could see a scenario where Sunday was Smith's last home game. If the Bears don't reach the playoffs, Smith's job is likely on the line. Even if they sneak into the playoffs and get bounced in the first round, he could be in jeopardy of being fired. As for Urlacher, I'm not convinced he isn't coming back next year. Unless the Bears sign or trade for a suitable replacement, he may be their best bet at linebacker. Urlacher isn't his old self, but he can still play a role.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Urlacher's done but Smith stays. It's painful to some to hear that opinion. While I don't see how the Bears bring back Lovie Smith if they miss the playoffs, I think this dead team comes back to life the last two weeks. There is nothing to buttress my opinion but the lousiness of the Cardinals and Lions. I think the Bears win two ugly games, get some help and sneak into the first round, where they get blasted by San Francisco or Green Bay. And Smith gets another year or two tacked onto his deal.
Brandon Marshall started the fireworks on Wednesday, saying this matchup is "personal" after he claims Packers defensive backs took too much credit for Marshall's quiet performance in their Week 2 game.
But now Marshall has raised the stakes with his comments. Will he come to regret them on Sunday? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Brandon Marshall will regret calling out the Packers secondary.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. What does Marshall have to lose? The Bears will no doubt be the underdogs on Sunday, partly because their season is slipping away with four losses in their last five games, but mainly due to the fact Green Bay has won seven of the past eight games in the series. If the Bears fall short on Sunday, well, it was bound to happen anyways. But imagine if the Bears win. Marshall will be praised for setting the tone during the week and taking all the pressure off his teammates so they could focus on the task at hand. It's really a no-lose situation for Marshall. It's not like the Green Bay secondary is going to play any harder because of what Marshall said.
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellTramon Williams and the rest of the Green Bay secondary figures to be fired up for a matchup against Brandon Marshall.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Marshall plays a very emotional brand of football, and he's the type of guy that isn't shy about expressing how he feels. So regardless of how this one pans out, Marshall won't regret anything he said. The Packers pretty much bottled up Marshall in the first game, holding him to just two catches for 24 yards by utilizing quite a bit of two-man coverage, which the Bears struggled to adjust to. Marshall wasn't happy about his performance, and the Packers made the receiver even more mad by their remarks after the game. Obviously, the Bears will go into this one with an answer for the wrinkle the Packers used last time. But surely Green Bay will throw something new Sunday at Marshall and the Bears. Marshall has gained 150-plus yards receiving in each of his past two outings, so naturally he comes into this game confident. The back-and-forth between the players this week is just typical of what takes place in a rivalry like this. Marshall won't regret a word he said, whether he catches one pass or 10.
Scott Powers: Fiction. Marshall is going to get his whether he runs his mouth or not. He's just too good. He's proven that all season. If the Packers are smart, they'll brush off Marshall's comments and just play. They probably won't though, and will likely pick up some stupid pass interference calls and try to overplay him. In the end, it may work to Marshall's advantage and get him a few added yards. Either way, I see another big day for Marshall, but another Bears' loss.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Marshall has nothing to lose starting a war of words. He's, hands-down, the team MVP this year. Marshall has caught 20 passes for 325 yards over the last two games, both losses. He's on pace to break the three main single-season records for a Bears receiver. Whether or not he has an impact game is on Jay Cutler, Mike Tice and the offensive line. Marshall likely will drop a pass, but he will also get targeted 15-plus times if Cutler can perform as expected. One thing people tend to forget is that this is entertainment, not war. We need more guys willing to spice it up with some passion.
Expected to be sidelined at least three weeks by a hamstring injury, Urlacher's contract is up after the season. Will the Bears bring back the veteran Urlacher, who was already dealing with a knee injury?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Brian Urlacher won't be back with the Bears next season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's too early to tell. As it stands now, there is no long-term replacement for Urlacher on the Bears' roster, that's why I refuse to rule out the possibly of the Bears bringing Urlacher back on a one-year deal. What if he returns for the postseason and lights it up in the playoffs? What if the Bears struggle badly in the next few games without him? What if he accepts a one-year deal and wants to retire a Bear? Would any of those scenarios change how the Bears view the situation? Probably so, which is why I can't get myself to write off Urlacher in 2013, yet.
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireBrian Urlacher likely will be a free agent for the first time in his career after the season.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. As difficult as it was to type that, things certainly seem to be trending toward the Hall of Fame linebacker not making a return to the team. The Bears need to make some type of push to bring back Urlacher, but it's unlikely it would consider paying anything remotely close to the $7.5 million he is currently receiving in base salary. So while it's safe to say the team plans to make an effort at signing the face of the franchise to a new deal, the question becomes how much is Urlacher willing to take? Urlacher has expressed excitement about the prospect of free agency, while also stressing he'd like to remain with the Bears. But Urlacher also wants a legitimate opportunity to win a Super Bowl. So if he thinks another team provides a better shot at that than the Bears, Urlacher could opt to go that route in free agency. Also, if the Bears submit an offer in free agency deemed insulting by Urlacher, he could leave based simply on principle because there is sure to be another team willing to pay just a little more.
Scott Powers: Fiction. A healthy and overly-athletic Urlacher has plenty of value as a free agent. The current Urlacher, who will be 35 years old by next season, has a knee which will never be the same and is now hampered by a hamstring injury, isn't going to draw a whole lot of attention or money on the free agent market. The Bears obviously still found value in his leadership and ability this season, and unless they decide to pursue another linebacker in the offseason, it's likely the Bears would want him back. I could easily see him returning to the Bears next season.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Phil Emery may be the general manager, but the McCaskeys still own the team and Lovie Smith still coaches it. Unless Urlacher's injury is worse than a strain, I think tradition and loyalty come through and Urlacher gets another deal for a year or two. He should get another shot to go out healthy. Plus, he can still play if he can run. Regardless, Emery needs to add a young explosive linebacker. Jerry Angelo probably should have drafted one years ago.
Which team will be at the top of the division standings at the end of the season? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears will win the NFC North.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears still have to prove they can defeat Green Bay before we can anoint them NFC North champions. But with a one-game lead over the Packers in the standings, the Bears hold their own destiny heading into Sunday's home game against the Seattle Seahawks. Right now, it looks as if the Bears have a good shot to win their fourth division title under Lovie Smith, but until they can find a way to knock off Green Bay, that kind of talk is somewhat premature.
Kevin Reece/Icon SMIAaron Rodgers has led the Packers to wins in five of their past six games.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. It won't be easy to beat Minnesota at its house on Dec. 9, followed by a struggling Packers squad at home on Dec. 16. But the Bears proved in the 2011 finale they could defeat the Vikings on the road, and I’'m not sure Green Bay can fix its myriad issues sufficiently enough before its meeting with the Bears. It's somewhat concerning that Chicago plays its last two games on the road at Arizona, before finishing up at Detroit. Despite Arizona's 4-7 record, a trip to the West Coast won't be easy. But then again, by then, it's likely the Cardinals would have already given up on the season. Besides, victories in the next three games could pretty much wrap up the division for the Bears. They're certainly capable of winning the next three, but they've got to get off to a good start toward accomplishing that goal Sunday against the Seahawks.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I still think it's the Packers' division to take. They weren't too impressive against the Giants, but I could see the Packers winning out. Their remaining schedule is Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Tennessee and Minnesota. If the Bears defeat Seattle on Sunday, the division likely will come down to their game with the Packers on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field. The Bears have struggled against the league’'s elite teams so far, including their early-season loss to Green Bay, so the Packers have the edge as of now.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Green Bay is going to come into Soldier Field and steal a win on Dec. 16. I took a spin through ESPN.com’'s Playoff Machine, and I had the Bears and Packers going 12-4, with Green Bay taking the tiebreaker. The Bears better hope that doesn't happen, because it could mean they travel to play the New York Giants in the first round. That spells trouble for Cutler and the Bears' chances to return to the NFC championship.
As the Bears prepare to take on NFC North rival Minnesota this weekend, should they still be considered one of the league's elite squads?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears are not a Top-5 team.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Houston, Baltimore, New England, San Francisco, Atlanta and Green Bay all appear better. But let's not rule out the Bears just yet. You don't have to be a Top-5 team to win a Super Bowl. You just need to be in the top six in your conference to make the postseason. Once a team qualifies for the playoffs, anything is possible. It's too early to write off the Bears after two straight losses, but their below average offense makes it hard to place them in the league's highest echelon. In my unofficial power ranking, I'd place the Bears No. 7 or No. 8.
John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesLovie Smith and the Bears are 0-3 against the upper-echelon teams.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. It’s a difficult pill for fans to swallow, but at this point the Bears don’t belong among the best in the league. I’ll leave out Atlanta (9-1), Houston (9-1) and Baltimore (8-2) and discuss the second tier. Of the five teams in that second tier with seven victories so far, I’d place the Bears at the bottom of this group that includes San Francisco (7-2-1), Denver (7-3), Green Bay (7-3) and New England (7-3). Of all those teams, the Bears are the only one in the midst of a two-game skid. Denver and Green Bay have won five in a row, the Patriots have captured four straight and we saw what the 49ers did to Chicago’s defense with a backup quarterback. The Bears offense won’t ever advance to the level required to win championships as long as the horrid line continues to allow undue punishment to Jay Cutler and anybody else under center. While it’s phenomenal what the defense has accomplished in regards to turnovers and scoring, the loss at San Francisco finally proved it was unrealistic to expect that type of play to continue on a consistent basis. The Bears set such a high bar with takeaways that no defense in the NFL could maintain that type of production every game.
Scott Powers: Fact. I’d still put the Bears among the top 10 teams in the NFL, but they have definitely fallen out of the top 5 with their last two performances. You’d have to place the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers ahead of the Bears now. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots would have to be right there, too. The Bears have a chance to put themselves among those elite teams again over the next month with their next four games being against teams over .500.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears are 0-3 against upper-echelon teams, and while plenty of teams go into the playoffs, and even win Super Bowls, by feasting on bad-to-mediocre teams, you can’t say the Bears are a top-5 team with an offense that's near the bottom of the league. Aside from that well-televised blip in San Francisco, the defense is certainly at the top of the league, but with an offense that talks more about its potential than it shows, the Bears aren’t there yet.
Once again the Bears might face life without Cutler, who suffered a concussion against the Houston Texans on Sunday night. Is the veteran Campbell, with 70 NFL starts under his belt, up to the challenge of beating the 49ers on Monday night in San Francisco if Cutler can't go?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears can beat the 49ers with Jason Campbell at quarterback.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. One of Caleb Hanie's biggest issues was the fact he had no NFL starting experience when he took over for Cutler late in 2011. Campbell does not suffer from the same problem. After starting 70 games for the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, Campbell is more than qualified to run the offense if Cutler is sidelined due to a concussion. Granted, Campbell needs to perform better than he did against Houston, where he looked somewhat indecisive in the second half. But a full week of practice should help that, not to mention a decent game plan from the coaching staff that doesn't restrict Campbell from attempting longer throws down the field if the play is open. The Bears haven't won in San Francisco since 1985, so knocking off the 49ers even with Cutler at quarterback would be a difficult task to accomplish. But Campbell should give the Bears a decent shot, which is really all you can ask for from a backup quarterback.
David Banks/US PresswireJason Campbell, a veteran of 70 NFL starts, gives the Bears an experienced backup for Jay Cutler.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Give Campbell a week of real preparation time, and he should be perfectly capable of filling in for Cutler against one of the league's top defenses on the road. Observers point to the tentative nature in which Campbell performed in the loss to the Texans in assessing his skillset. But that would be a mistake, considering how ill-prepared Campbell was due to limited practice reps. Campbell isn't Todd Collins or Hanie. He's a former first-round pick with a .443 winning percentage as a starter that should be taken with a grain of salt since he played for horrid teams in Washington and Oakland before joining the Bears.
Scott Powers: Fact. Part of the equation depends on whether quarterback Alex Smith plays for the 49ers. If he doesn't suit up, the Bears can definitely beat the 49ers. But even if he does play, the defense should keep the Bears in the game. The Texans possess arguably a better offense than the 49ers, and the Bears held them to 13 points. Matt Forte will have to produce more than he did last week, and Campbell is better than most backups the Bears have had in the past. The offense should be capable of getting in the end zone once or twice and setting Robbie Gould up for a few field goals. If the Bears' defense is its normal self, that should be enough.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Well, I mean they can beat the Niners with Campbell by running the ball with their two top-tier running backs and the Bears' typical defensive dominance. But I think the spirit of the question is "will" they beat them, and the answer is no. I'm pretty sure the Bears would lose with Cutler, and probably in a more awful fashion. San Francisco, which operates out of a base 3-4, has the No. 1 rush defense, according to Football Outsider, and in traditional statistics, it ranks seventh in yards per game (95.3) and tied for third in fewest rushing touchdowns (three). I can imagine the game plan will be to stack the box and deny Forte the outside. I foresee a 13-10 win for San Francisco, but hey, maybe the Bears' defense will score three touchdowns and pull out a win.
The combined record of their opponents through eight games is 24-33, and they have faced just one team (Cowboys at 2-1) with a better than .500 record when they played them.
The Texans game begins a tough stretch that consists of games against the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Vikings again and the Green Bay Packers. Will the Bears be exposed on Sunday night or will their 7-1 start be validated?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Texans will expose the Bears as a team that got fat against lesser foes.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Spare me the nonsense about the Bears beating up on weak teams. An NFL team doesn't rank No. 3 in points scored (29.5), No. 1 in turnover ratio (plus-16) and boast a top-10 defense if they stink. The Bears did exactly what they needed to do in their first eight games and shouldn't have to apologize for it. Now, the Texans are talented enough to win at Soldier Field. That is fairly obvious. But even if the Bears get blown off the field it doesn't mean they're not a serious contender in the NFC. How many great teams are there really in the NFL? So far, the Bears look like a team with a great shot to make the postseason. I don't see that changing much regardless of Sunday's outcome.
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireThe Texans' Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 770 yards rushing.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The likelihood of that taking place is definitely there, but it's also legitimate to question whether the Texans are the real deal. Given Chicago's home-field advantage, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the opposite actually took place. The teams seem pretty evenly matched, with both suffering their only loss to the Green Bay Packers. It's also impressive that Houston defeated the Denver Broncos on the road, and destroyed a 6-2 Baltimore Ravens team. If the Texans do manage to leave Soldier Field with a victory, they won't necessarily be exposing the Bears. They will have simply been better than a pretty good Bears team. I do see this game as being one in which Chicago's problems on offense could finally sink the team, the way it did in Week 2 at Green Bay.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I'm not convinced the Texans haven't done the same. They were roughed up by the Packers and have respectable wins over the Broncos and Ravens, but their victories over the Jets, Jaguars, Bills, Dolphins and Titans aren't overly impressive. This is a game for both teams to prove themselves as elite.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. If the Bears lose, it won't expose them as frauds. In fact, I'd argue we know exactly what kind of team the Bears are right now, from their strengths to their flaws. The Bears' defense was good against Green Bay and Detroit, two strong offenses, so it's not like they've only beaten the dregs of the AFC South. The offense has had its problems against all kinds of defenses so far. The Bears should be amped for this game, because it's a nationally-televised showdown against a potential Super Bowl team. But I think we can agree that we know what kind of team the Bears are after half the season, and it's a very good team with a few legitimate weaknesses.
After another slow start to the season, Johnson has rushed for 385 yards over the past three games. Will he be the first running back in 18 games to top 100 yards against the Bears on Sunday? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Chris Johnson will be the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Bears this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are still likely to win the game, but it sounds as if the Titans plan to commit to the run on Sunday. If that turns out to be Tennessee's game plan, then it's a good bet Johnson goes over 100 yards rushing. After a miserable start to the season, Johnson has topped the 100-yard mark twice in the past five weeks, and had 99 yards rushing in Tennessee's last game against the Indianapolis Colts. So far the Bears have given up virtually nothing on the ground and enter Sunday with the NFL's No. 1 defense in fewest rushing yards allowed. But if the Titans give Johnson the ball enough times, he is talented enough to run for 100 yards, even against the highly-rated Bears' defense.
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson has rushed for 385 yards over his past three games.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The Bears haven't allowed a 100-yard rushing performance in more than a year, 18 games to be exact (Oct. 10 2011, when Jahvid Best gained 163 yards). So it's highly unlikely that takes place Sunday in Tennessee. Besides, Johnson hasn't exactly been lighting it up. Johnson's last 100-yard rushing performance came on Oct. 21 (195 yards) against a Buffalo Bills' defense ranked last at stopping the run. Chicago's penetrating interior defenders will make Johnson indecisive and force him to run laterally instead of straight ahead. My guess is Johnson's numbers Sunday could look similar to what he did the last time he faced the Bears (14 attempts, 8 yards) on Nov. 9, 2008.
Scott Powers: Fiction. There are two reasons why this won't happen: Johnson has been inconsistent this season, and the Bears defense is just too good. I expected something closer to when Johnson ran for 24 yards against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. On the season, he has gone over 100 yards just twice. It also helps that the Titans' passing attack isn't lethal.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Mostly because Johnson won't get the carries if the Bears get a decent lead. I think you'll see one big (30-plus-yard run) and a few other 10-plus-yard carries for Johnson, but he's not going to shred the Bears' run defense, which according to Football Outsiders, ranks fourth in the league. The Bears' defensive line will stop Johnson inside, but I think his recent resurgence shows he can still get yards outside. I'm pretty confident the Bears will be ready.
But Cutler admitted his ribs affected his throwing and, in turn, the Bears' game plan in the second half. Are they in for more of the same against the Panthers? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should be concerned about Cutler's ribs on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. How can you not be concerned about a potential injury to your franchise quarterback? Cutler has made it clear he's going to start the game, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice should be mindful about calling too many pass plays if the protection is shaky early in the game. The last thing the Bears want to do is expose Cutler to greater injury with the meat of their schedule coming up in two weeks that begins with a home date against the Houston Texans. I'm not saying Cutler and the Bears should avoid throwing the football, but they need to be smart with how they use the quarterback, at least in this game.
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesJay Cutler says his sore ribs won't keep him out of Sunday's game against the Panthers.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Cutler said he'd be ready to go on Thursday, and I'm going to take his word on that. Besides, we all know of Cutler's reputation for toughness. It's worth noting that even Cutler said the rib injury in the second quarter against the Lions affected his ability to throw in the second half. But five full days of healing should be sufficient for Cutler to play Sunday against the Panthers with no ill effects. He'll definitely feel some pain when he has to drop back and really let it rip on outs and deep balls. But I'm not sure it'll be so painful that Cutler will be negatively affected.
Scott Powers: Fact. It's nice for Cutler to say he'll be fine against the Panthers, but I'd be concerned if I was Lovie Smith. Cuter didn't look like he was comfortable throwing the ball in the second half against the Lions. Aside from his performance this Sunday, I'd also be worried if he takes any more hits there. It's not like the offensive line has all of sudden made him untouchable. The Lions got to him plenty on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. This is assuming he's healthy enough to play, of course. The Bears wouldn't take a chance on starting him otherwise, I assume. Cutler wears a flak jacket for protection, and I can imagine the Bears will protect him as well with extra blocking help. The key, as it is with every team, is to get an early lead and ride the running game. If Cutler can play, he can play. No need to baby him. As we know, he's tough, right?
History shows the Bears should be in line for a good performance when they get back at it against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. Lovie Smith's Bears have won eight of 10 MNF games during his tenure, and they are 5-3 after a bye during that span.
But will they be in for a letdown on national television against a Detroit Lions team coming off an emotional road overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Coming off the bye week, the Bears could be in for a letdown against the Lions on Monday Night Football.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: A letdown against the Lions? Not a chance. Maybe a letdown would be possible if the Bears were scheduled to play a bad team outside of their division, but not Detroit. Make no mistake about it, the Bears don't like the Lions. It's personal. From Ndamakung Suh smashing Jay Cutler in the back with a forearm in 2010, to Suh ripping off Cutler's helmet last year before the bench-clearing brawl that started because Matthew Stafford delivered a cheap shot to D.J. Moore, there is absolutely no love lost between the Bears or Lions. That is why a letdown is impossible. The Bears could lose the game, but it won't be because they failed to show up on Monday night.
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh's Lions rank fourth in the NFL in total defense while the Bears are second.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. That's not to say it's going to happen, but the potential definitely exists with this team coming off a long layoff just when it seemed things were rolling on both sides of the ball during a 41-3 demolition of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 7. History, however, says the Bears handle business on Monday night. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears have won five of their last six after a week off. Besides that, the team hasn't lost to the Lions at home since 2007. It's also worth factoring in the club's 8-2 record on Monday Night Football under Smith. So, yes, it's a fact there's a potential for a letdown against the Lions. But I really don't see that happening.
Scott Powers: Fiction. The Bears may not roll as they have in recent weeks, but that will have more to do with the Lions. Detroit isn't an awful team. At 2-3, the Lions have won two games by no more than four points and haven't lost by more than eight points. If the Bears don't show up, they could very well lose. But I don't anticipate that happening. Smith's teams have normally been prepared follow their bye. The Bears have won five of the last six years following their bye week.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears, as they should be, are led by the defense, emotionally and on the field. This is a group that knows how to prepare and play after a week off, so there's little reason to worry about over-confidence or anything like that. As if Smith would let his team get puffy-chested. Since Smith took over, the Bears are 5-3 after a bye with two losses coming in his first two seasons. Chicago has won five of six on Monday Night football. In the last two seasons, the Bears have won after a bye, knocking off Philadelphia and Buffalo, both on the road. I think the week off can only help the offense, which took a positive step forward in Jacksonville.
With his linebacking buddy not 100 percent, Lance Briggs has been his usual Pro Bowl self, teaming with Charles Tillman to make NFL history by returning an interception for a touchdown in two straight games.
Has Briggs replaced Urlacher as the face of the Bears' defense? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs has replaced Brian Urlacher as the face of the Bears' defense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Urlacher will always be the face of the Bears' franchise until he retires or leaves town via free agency. Being the face of the franchise doesn't mean Urlacher is outperforming Briggs -- he's not -- but the middle linebacker continues to be the most recognizable person on the roster. That's not meant to diminish the accomplishment of Briggs, who's a great player and could end up one day in the Hall of Fame, but Urlacher is still the proverbial guy.
Phil Sears/US PresswireLinebacker Lance Briggs leads the Bears with 29 tackles this season.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. No matter what Briggs does, Urlacher is the face of the defense as long as he remains a Bear. He's built up too much equity with all the things he's done in the past; the Pro Bowls, the big plays, etc. Besides that, Urlacher isn't washed up by any means. He's still struggling to return to form, and all signs indicate he'll be successful at that endeavor. That's not to take anything away from Briggs, who has been absolutely brilliant through five games and throughout his own storied career. In fact I'd venture to say Briggs has been a better player than Urlacher at least over the past three years. Briggs just had the misfortune of joining the team three years after Urlacher, who by then had established himself. Briggs' time will come, but I don't see it happening as long as Urlacher is still on the team.
Scott Powers: Fact. Urlacher just isn't the player he once was. He's still respected around the league, but opponents fear Briggs much more now. Briggs is arguably as good as he's ever despite being 31 and his 10th year in the league. He leads the team in tackles (29 with 26 solo tackles) and has one sack, six passes defended, two interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The term "face of franchise" is obviously ceremonial. When someone says "Bears defense," whom do you think of? Urlacher. Some would say that's just the curse of Briggs' career, and surely it's probably hampered his money-making potential, but Briggs will always be remembered as being Robin to Urlacher's Batman. Wait, Briggs is a comic book fan. How about Green Arrow to Urlacher's Green Lantern? Yeah, that's more legit. Briggs should know how respected he is around the NFL, Chicago and in his own locker room. He's always been Urlacher's equal, and now his superior, on the field. But the visage of the Bears is Urlacher's scowling mug. Life could be worse.
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The play of Carimi is actually more concerning than that of Webb.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Make no mistake, Carimi has endured his share of struggles on the season. But the smart money says Carimi turns it around and eventually starts to totally trust that knee. Carimi wasn't a first-round pick by accident. He can play. Remember, Carimi hasn't even played in six full NFL games yet. On the other hand, seventh-round pick Webb has started 32 games, so we've seen it all, the good and the really, really bad. It's always more concerning when your blind side protector has occasional lapses, because the quarterback generally can't see what's coming until it's too late.
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireBears tackle Gabe Carimi has allowed two sacks, three quarterback hits, and 13 pressures.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Carimi performed much better against the Cowboys than he had in the previous three games. But cumulatively, Webb has actually played a little better in pass protection, believe it or not. Webb has given up three sacks, seven pressures and a quarterback hit. Carimi, meanwhile, has allowed two sacks, three quarterback hits, and 13 pressures. So while Carimi has performed better than Webb as a run blocker, he’s definitely struggled in protection. Maybe it was the confrontation with Cutler that caused Webb to be the offensive line’s whipping boy. But the truth is Carimi hasn’t been any better in pass protection.
Scott Powers: Fiction. Both are certainly a concern and need to improve, but you worry more about Webb simply because of where he plays. At left tackle, Webb is more often going up against elite defense ends, such as DeMarcus Ware, who can put a massive licking on Jay Cutler if Webb doesn’t do his job. It’s because of Webb’s problems the Bears have had to adjust their blocking schemes to give Cutler more protection.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. They’re both worthy of your concern. Carimi is still getting into gear after missing almost all of his rookie year. Webb is still dealing with his own deficits. Both need work, and I think we’ll see improvement, good health willing, the more snaps these two get. But I’m still more worried about Webb protecting Cutler’s blind side.
As they prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, is there cause for concern? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears’ offense is dangerously inconsistent, and it will be in for a tough night against an aggressive Cowboys defense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I'll go with fact just based off the last two games, but eventually the Bears' offense is going to figure it out. There's too much talent on that side of the ball for it not to happen. The fear, of course, is that DeMarcus Ware puts on a show and buries the Bears offensive line and Jay Cutler in the process. However, I'm not so knocked out by the Cowboys, so I could see a scenario where Cutler and Co. get back on track. But given Cutler's recent history in prime time against playoff caliber opponents, not to mention the rough outing the offense had last week at home against the Rams, I'm compelled to predict that the Bears will struggle. But I only do so half-heartedly.
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWill Mike Tice and Jay Cutler get their offense back on track against the Cowboys?
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Sure, the Bears face a formidable defense in Dallas and it’s not an ideal time for the team to be experiencing growing pains on offense. But if Chicago can play a ball control type of game against the Cowboys by running the ball effectively, America’s team will make a catastrophic mistake on which the Bears can capitalize. Let’s remember for a second that Dallas’ offense is wildly inconsistent, too. And like the Bears, the Cowboys have several issues on the offensive line. It’s also worth noting that three of the five safeties on Dallas’ roster are injured. So there might be a few opportunities to hit the long ball.
Scott Powers: Fact. The Cowboys’ strength is their pass defense. They’re ranked second and have allowed 137 passing yards a game. Of course, two of those performances were against rookie Russell Wilson and Josh Freeman, but the Cowboys also contained Eli Manning. Where the Cowboys have shown some weakness is in their run defense. They rank 20th in rush defense, and Marshawn Lynch gained 122 yards on them. If Matt Forte was healthy and productive, the Bears could take advantage of that. But I don’t see that being the case this week.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. If I were a betting man, I’d probably stay away from this game, but if I were forced to pick, I’d take the Cowboys to win. Dallas has allowed the fewest yards per game and has forced four fumbles. Conversely, the Cowboys only have seven sacks and one interception. Expect those numbers to go up against the Bears. I think the Bears will start to get it together on offense, but I predict another off night in Dallas.
Fact or Fiction: Tony Romo is better than Jay Cutler.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. There really isn't a debate here. I'll give you that Cutler could outplay Romo when the Bears visit Dallas in Week 4, but in terms of their overall bodies of work, Romo is superior in basically every aspect: Wins, playoff appearances, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, quarterback rating, etc. It hasn't hurt Romo that the Cowboys have done a better job over the years surrounding him with offensive talent, but he's generally made the most of it. In terms of pure athleticism, Cutler should be better than Romo, but he isn't.
Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesTony Romo has had more offensive weapons to work with in Dallas compared to Jay Cutler in Chicago.
Scott Powers: Fact. It’s not as if Romo is torching defenses, but he’s certainly superior to Cutler right now. The only quarterback with a lower passer rating than Cutler is Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill. Cutler is at 58.6, and Tannehill is 58.2. Romo has been somewhere in the middle this season. He ranks 15th in passer rating at 89.3 and has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Romo has better weapons and more system consistency with a long-time relationship with head coach Jason Garrett, formerly his offensive coordinator. But Cutler has a bigger arm, plenty of athleticism, and more confidence than Jerry Jones. Well, he’s close. Cutler isn’t the most trustworthy quarterback in the game, but wouldn’t you rather see him quarterback your team than Romo?
Fact or Fiction: Cutler, who has targeted Brandon Marshall (31) more than twice as many times as the next Bears receiver, has to spread the ball around more for the Bears to be effective.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. So wait, Bears fans wait forever for the club to acquire a true No. 1 wide receiver and now people are going to complain he gets the ball too much. Marshall needs to be featured every single week, so there is no issue with his number of targets through three games. Now, it would be nice to get Earl Bennett more involved in the game plan, because while Marshall is the best receiver on the team, Bennett remains the best pure pass catcher. But Bennett's increased role should come at the expense of Kellen Davis or Devin Hester, not Marshall or Alshon Jeffery.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall has been targeted 31 times in three games by Jay Cutler.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Defenses go into games against the Bears with stopping Marshall as one of the top priorities. So opponents are definitely going to devote schemes and coverages to the receiver. But at the same time, the Bears still need to test defenses regularly just to make sure they’re on the job. Marshall is the club’s featured weapon on offense and despite his tendency to drop catchable passes, he’ll often make grabs he’s not supposed to make. So on one hand the frequency of targets to Marshall is understandable. But on the other, there are too many weapons on the field to be unnecessarily wasting passes on Marshall with throws into double and triple coverage. Besides that, if a defense is double teaming a receiver it means somebody else is running free somewhere or in man-to-man coverage. It’s up to the other receivers to win their individual matchups. But it’s also on the quarterback to find them.
Scott Powers: Fiction. Marshall is the guy, and it’s fine that he’s being targeted so much. It’s not as if he hasn’t been catching a majority of the passes. The Bears’ passing problem is divided between Cutler’s occasional inaccuracy and the other receivers occasionally dropping passes. Cutler has looked for the rest of the group enough, and I still believe the depth is good there. They just haven’t connected enough.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Cutler just needs to throw better passes to Marshall. Yes, I’d like to see a little more attention paid to Bennett, but if the Bears can create longer drives, the looks to Bennett will come. Same with Jeffery. Cutler and Marshall need to click in the first quarter to open it up for the other receivers, and then, allow Marshall more room later in the game. But getting it to Marshall is key.
Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is a more impactful player than DeMarcus Ware.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Peppers remains a great player at this stage of his career, but in terms of sheer impact on a game, the younger Ware has to get the nod after recording 19.5 sacks last year and 15.5 in 2010. However, it needs to be mentioned that Peppers' impact sometimes doesn't show up on the stat sheet, as he constantly has to fend off double and triple teams for the betterment of his teammates. But Ware's numbers since he entered the league in 2005 have been outrageous, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. That's why he gets the call over Peppers in this particular category.
Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PresswireDeMarcus Ware has four sacks this season and 66 over the previous four full seasons.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. This is somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison because of the way they’re used in their respective defenses. If we’re talking about impact from the sheer standpoint of disrupting the quarterback, Ware wins this one by virtue of the fact he’s put together six consecutive double-digit sack seasons, including a 20-sack 2008 campaign and 19.5 sacks in 2011. Peppers’ year in terms of sacks came in 2008 (14.5), and he’s never recorded more than three double-digit sack years in a row. To me, impact is determined by a player’s overall value. In that category, Peppers edges Ware. In eight seasons, Ware has generated one more sack (103.5) than Peppers has in 11 years (102.5). But Peppers has forced more turnovers (36 to 29), broken up more passes (54 to 21) and intercepted more balls (8 to 1). Peppers is also asked to be more of an all-around defender than Ware, who is more of a pass rusher. Both command similar attention from offenses. But from this vantage point, Peppers does more overall and still manages to perform against double teams and sometimes triple teams. Let’s not forget that in 2010, Frank Omiyale -- that's right, Frank Omiyale – held Ware to no sacks and three tackles when the Bears beat Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. Think Omiyale could have done that to Peppers?
Scott Powers: Fiction: Both have certainly made an impact, but Ware has made more of one this season. He has 18 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. Peppers has eight tackles and 2 1/2 sacks. This week should be interesting as both offensive lines have had their troubles, and both linemen could be differencemakers.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Ware is no slouch, but Peppers is just a bully out there. Watching him against the Rams was like watching Deebo terrorize the neighborhood in "Friday." Asked to explain his 15-yard penalty for shoving Steven Jackson, Peppers said, "I finished the play." He envelops blockers and when he gets to a quarterback, well, he finishes the play.