The Bears' brutal three-game stretch to open the season ended Sunday with a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. As Lovie Smith likes to say, the first quarter of the season ends Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, and the Bears have a chance to get to 2-2.
But there are plenty of issues worth pondering before then, and our ESPNChicago.com roundtable weighed in on a few in this week's Four Downs:
Fact or fiction: The Bears need to end the Roy Williams experiment.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fact. There is zero chemistry between Williams and Jay Cutler. None. The groin injury can't be used as an excuse because even before Williams got hurt in Week 1 he failed to show anything of substance in training camp or the preseason. He dropped a sure touchdown against the Packers, and his lack of effort on a few other throws was unacceptable. At this point, the Bears would be better served giving Johnny Knox all the game reps. Knox might drop some passes, but at least he runs full-speed while doing it.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fiction. Three games into the season? Seriously? Williams is playing on bad wheels, which is part of the reason for his struggles thus far. But if you look at that game against the Packers, yes, Williams was targeted four times, and he was unable to come up with a catch. But three of those passes were off the mark. The slant in the end zone, however, he should have hauled in for a touchdown, no doubt about it. But I’m not ready to ship a guy out of town for dropping one ball while trying to play injured. Williams is still as good or better than any of the receivers on the roster.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Williams didn’t catch a pass in his second game with the Bears, but only one, a touchdown drop, was without a doubt, his fault. Maybe he’s not running the right routes, but the two picks Cutler threw while targeting Williams looked uncatchable. Maybe Williams should’ve broken them up, but give him a little more rope before we send him to the gallows. Williams had a decent first game before suffering a groin injury.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction -- for now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all season. I’m not saying cut Williams, but if significant improvement isn’t evident soon, as in a couple more games, he certainly doesn’t have to start. Granted, Jay Cutler had a bad day accuracy-wise against the Packers. But he should not have been as far off target as he was to Williams, if the receiver was where he was supposed to be. Even last year’s ho-hum corps, especially with the return of Earl Bennett, would be addition by subtraction.
Fact or fiction: Lovie Smith needs to get more involved in the offensive game plan and play-calling.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fiction. Lovie Smith is a defensive coach. Now, as the head coach, Smith certainly shares his views on offense with Mike Martz and the assistants. But you can't expect him to start calling plays at this stage of his career. If the Bears wanted an offensive minded head coach, they should've hired one in 2004. Smith knows defense. Martz is supposed to know offense. Supposed to.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fiction. As the head coach, Smith’s job is to delegate, and let his coordinators handle their responsibilities. Otherwise, what’s the team paying them for? If anything, Smith should get offensive line coach Mike Tice more involved in the game-planning and play-calling. Tice actually has the chops to be an offensive coordinator in this league, and his influence in Jacksonville was a big reason the Jaguars led the league in rushing from 2006-07 with an average of 154.1 yards per game. Put it this way, if Tice had more say in the play-calling, the offense would resemble the “Bear football” everyone constantly talks about.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Offense isn’t Lovie’s bag, is it? Yes, he should remind Mike Martz to run the ball, but let’s not get crazy about a power struggle for the play-calling. While the Bears need to run the ball more, for Cutler’s health especially, it’s not as if the lanes were open early for Matt Forte.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction. Mike McCarthy can call his own plays, handle his other responsibilities and obviously pull it off. But Smith isn’t an offensive coach, and if he needs to yank the Mike Martz’s headset away, then both should be fired -- Smith for hiring him and Martz for failing so miserably. That does not mean Smith should not exercise more authority than he seems to be when Martz strays off course, but no, he is not the answer offensively.
Fact or fiction: The Bears miss tight end Greg Olsen.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter:Fact. Trading Olsen to Carolina makes absolutely no sense if the Bears are going throw the ball 40 times a game. So now all of sudden, the Bears want the tight end to be a threat in the passing game? What happened to the great emphasis on the blocking tight end? The Bears made a major mistake, not just shipping Olsen off to the Panthers, but also releasing Desmond Clark. If you're going to throw the ball, these two guys should've been on the opening day roster.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fact. With Earl Bennett out of the lineup, the Bears are missing the target quarterback Jay Cutler has total faith in. Olsen wasn’t what you’d call a world beater in Chicago, but he was the huge target Cutler could count on underneath whenever he was under duress. Olsen averaged 10.2 yards per catch in 62 games with the Bears, and presented matchup problems for opposing safeties. He didn’t provide much as a blocker. But when the team was creative and moved him around, Olsen was a valuable weapon.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Olsen didn’t fit in this offense, and he wasn’t good enough to make a dramatic exception. Splitting Olsen out wide didn’t create any Jermichael Finley-type mismatches. He was pretty reliable, sure, but he only caught 41 passes last season. He was replaceable. It’s fun to blame the early struggles of the Bears' offense on a personnel absence, but Olsen wouldn’t have changed much thus far.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fact. Few would imagine the Bears missing Olsen, which speaks to the current state of their offense. But especially with the absence of Bennett, Cutler clearly needs a go-to guy. His impressive catch and touchdown run aside, Kellen Davis has three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Davis, like Matt Spaeth, is there for blocking, but there hasn’t been an abundance of that either. Davis whiffed badly on what resulted in a sack on Sunday. Although Olsen was never known for his blocking, he could at least catch third-down passes and was reliable in the red zone.
Fact or fiction: I would take Cam Newton over Jay Cutler as Bears QB right now.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fiction. Cutler is a traditional NFL quarterback with a big arm. Newton is off to a good start, don't get me wrong, but I worry about a quarterback that runs the ball so much. It will eventually catch up to him. Cutler is the smarter choice, although I'm beginning to wonder how much longer he'll last in Martz's offense. Plus, you can't expect Newton to step in his rookie year and run this system with any degree of success. Heck, Cutler can't do it after a full year around Martz.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fact. I’ll be the one to say it: Give me Cam. It’s just a matter of personal preference in this case, and I know folks will start with the lack of weapons and bad offensive line excuses. But in 71 games over five years with the Denver Broncos and Bears, Cutler hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s an elite quarterback. And for what the Bears gave up (two first-rounders) and are paying Cutler, he should be just that -- an elite quarterback -- and not what he is -- a player with an “elite” skill set, and 32-33 record as a starter. Three games into his NFL career, Newton already has two 400-yard passing games, while Cutler has one over five-plus seasons. Newton also strikes me as a natural leader, and a guy willing to do anything to win. I just haven’t seen those same intangibles from Cutler. Besides that, I think we’ve pretty much seen the best of Cutler, while Newton still hasn’t fully tapped his potential.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fact. Does Cutler look ready to take the Bears to the Super Bowl? No. So the immediacy of "now" is overrated. Newton’s fast start has temporarily obscured the problems he will have this season as a rookie quarterback, but I would absolutely take him over Cutler right now. The unknown in Newton is definitely better than the known in this case. And I bet a straw poll of the locker room would find a closer vote than one would think.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction. Newton has upside like Cutler has critics. But three NFL games does not an NFL career make, and Martz’s system could very well ruin Newton just as it is dragging down Cutler. Considering the current condition it is in, the Bears' offense could swallow up and spit out any quarterback, particularly a young one.