J'Marcus Webb has gotten most of the public criticism for failing to protect Jay Cutler early in the season, even from the quarterback himself. But how has right tackle Gabe Carimi, last year's first-round pick who has just six NFL games under his belt, fared in protecting Cutler and paving the way for Matt Forte and Co.?
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.
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.
Fact or Fiction: This Bears defense is as good as the one that led the team to Super Bowl XLI.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears' defense has been incredible through four games, but are they really better than the 2006 version? That's really a tough one. Maybe this year's group is better on the defensive line anchored by Julius Peppers, but don't forget the Super Bowl team had its share of pass rushers in Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown. However, I am willing to admit the 2012 defensive line is deeper. You could also say the safeties are a wash with Chris Conte/Major Wright vs. Mike Brown/Danieal Manning. So far, Tim Jennings looks superior to Nathan Vasher, but Vasher did make the Pro Bowl in 2005. The deciding factors for me are two fold; (1) Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman were all younger and in their prime, and (2) the 2006 team won the NFC Championship while the 2012 team is simply off to a 3-1 start. It's a little early to crown these Bears a la Denny Green in 2006.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. That’s only being said because we’re just four games into the season. What will be interesting to see is how the Bears will perform once teams start to get a handle on protecting against their front four. This defense definitely has the ingredients and potential to perform better than the Super Bowl defense from 2006. But for me the verdict is still out. Turnovers have come in bunches for the Bears, but I’m still a little skeptical that will continue moving forward.
Scott Powers: Fact. It’s obviously not a complete body of work yet like the 2006 defense, but this year’s defense appears as if it could be another special one. In the 2006 regular season, the Bears had 23 interceptions, 25 sacks and 20 forced fumbles. Through four games this season, the Bears already have 11 interceptions, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. The 2006 defense was better at some positions. You’d rather have the 2006 version of Urlacher, but you’d probably take the 2012 secondary over the 2006 version. You’ll know exactly what you have in this defense in the coming weeks with games against Detroit, Houston and San Francisco.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. It could be, anyway. Yes, the stars of the defense are seven years older, old men on their last legs, as Lance Briggs recently joked, but the blend of continuity, experience and dynamic talents make this defense just as formidable -- through four games at least. The 2005 Bears didn't have Peppers, and his D-line looks every bit as formidable as the Super Bowl one. The current safeties still have to prove they can play at a high level all year, but so far, so good. Urlacher isn't the same athlete, but seven years of experience can't hurt. In 2005, teams ran more on the Bears, nearly 28 attempts per game. Right now, teams are running less (18.5), but the yards per carry averages are the same, 3.7 (2005) to 3.6 (2012). In 2005, the Bears gave up nine rushing touchdowns. Today, it's one through four games, which will surely go up. The 2005 Bears had 24 interceptions and recovered 10 fumbles on defense. The current Bears have 14 takeaways. Now that won't continue apace, but it's a good start. We keep waiting for the old guys on the defense to show their age, but it looks like we'll be waiting another year. This defense looks special.
Fact or Fiction: Devin Hester was right, he needs to have more touches on offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. In fact, Hester played fewer snaps on offense in Dallas (eight) than he did Week 4 (11) when he voiced his displeasure over not receiving enough touches. The key difference is that Hester capitalized on his opportunities, unlike in previous games against St. Louis and Green Bay. Hester's momentum-changing 34-yard touchdown just proves that it only takes one play to make an impact. Hester doesn't need more touches. He just has to make sure he makes whatever touches he gets count.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. But he doesn’t need the touches just for the sake of getting them. The touches have to be impactful, and that’s where the Bears are struggling as a staff. They’ve got to figure out a way to get Hester the ball in ways that he can make an impact. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice and receivers coach Darryl Drake discussed a "Hester package" during the offseason. But I’m not sure we’ve seen that just yet, and the reason is likely that the Bears are still trying to figure it out. As the new offense continues to evolve, so will Hester’s role in it. But absolutely he needs more touches. At the same time, the staff needs to mindful of making Hester’s touches impactful. A handoff on a reverse for a 7-yard loss isn’t exactly the way to make that happen.
Scott Powers: Fact. Not only Hester, but everyone needs more touches. Brandon Marshall will always be the focus, but the Bears need everyone to be involved in the passing game for them to be successful. If defenses are concentrating on Marshall, those other receivers have to be able to step up. And if that happens, it could also work to Marshall’s benefit where he’s occasionally given more breathing room. If Hester can run crisp routes like he did on Monday’s touchdown play, he could see more balls thrown his way in the coming weeks, too.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Marshall, now the unquestioned leader of the receivers, has been singing Hester’s praises since he got here, and not just because of Hester’s lightning speed. Marshall, not to mention Cutler, have praised his ability to run precise routes. Hester feeds on confidence, he’s an emotional guy, and he we’ve seen what happens when he feels unstoppable. Hester’s touchdown catch in Dallas was a perfect example of what he can do.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears can now be considered favorites in the NFC North.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. As Mike Tice would like to say, "Let's not get too full of ourselves." Green Bay is still the favorite in the NFC North until the Bears prove they can beat them. Plain and simple. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Bears and their 3-1 start, but it's early. Let's not forget that Green Bay is one blown call away from having an identical 3-1 record. You can argue that Minnesota will eventually come back down to earth, or that all those offseason problems in Detroit have caught up to them. But isn't it premature to declare the Bears the team to beat in the division? My feeling on the matter is yes.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. They’ve earned that by virtue of their 3-1 record through the first quarter of the season. Still, it’s not exactly clear sailing for the Bears. Tied with Minnesota at 3-1, the Bears still need to handle business against NFC North opponents, starting with the Detroit Lions at home on Oct. 22. In addition, the club’s upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Coming out of the bye week, Chicago faces the Lions, Panthers and Titans, before playing a string of games against the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, and Minnesota Vikings, teams at this point that look like contenders. So, sure the Bears earned the right to be called favorites in the NFC North. They’ve still got to maintain the momentum, though.
Scott Powers: Fiction. Let’s not go overboard just yet. If the Bears had lost Monday, there would have been some people panicking. Monday’s win was a step in the right direction, but there are still plenty of steps remaining for the Bears to win the North. I’m not sold on the Vikings just yet, but you can’t ignore their strong start. I also still think the Packers are the team to beat in the division, and they did take care of business against the Bears. It may be a month or so before you have any real answers about the North.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. All things remaining equal, the Bears have to beat Green Bay on Dec. 16 to be considered favorites. I think each team will lose two-three games between now and that matchup, so it’s bound to be extremely important. But since the Packers won Round 1, I’ll give the edge to the incumbent.