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Thursday, October 25, 2012
Four Downs: Concern for Cutler's ribs?

By ESPNChicago.com

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler said his sore ribs affected his throwing in the second half against the Lions.
Jay Cutler says his sore ribs, courtesy of the Lions' Ndamukong Suh, won't keep him out of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. And the injury didn't prevent him from finishing the Bears' 13-7 victory over Detroit on Monday night.

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:

First Down

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.
Jay Cutler
Jay 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?


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Panthers coach Ron Rivera is right, this Bears team is better than the 2006 Super Bowl squad.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Sorry, I need to see it first. The Bears were 7-3 last season when Cutler went down and finished 8-8. NFL seasons can turn on one play. Look at the Suh hit on Cutler the other night. Be honest, it looked for a second there like Cutler suffered a serious injury. How confident are you that Jason Campbell can lead the Bears to the playoffs? My only point is that people love to rush to judgment after only six games. There are still 10 games left. When the Bears win the Super Bowl, then I'll consider them better than the 2006 team. But we have a long way yet until we reach that point.

Charles Tillman
Old defense? Charles Tillman and his fellow 2006 holdovers beg to differ this season.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. I'm going to continue to resist this comparison because it's too early in the season to cast judgment. Too many variables could affect things positively or negatively. I'd be willing to say that this year's team is better than the '06 squad through six games. But let's be real here, the cumulative record of the teams Chicago beat over the first seven weeks of the season is 12-19. The Packers are the only team the Bears faced with a record better than .500, and we saw what happened there. So while there's nothing wrong with reveling in the team's accomplishments thus far, they should still be put in proper perspective. Two of Chicago's next four opponents (Houston and San Francisco) own winning records. Let's see what happens after those games. If the Bears come out victorious, I might buy the Super Bowl comparisons then.

Scott Powers: Fiction. It's still too early in my eyes to start making such proclamations. The Bears still haven't faced a whole lot of competition. Outside of the Packers, the Bears haven't played a team that's likely to make the playoffs. This year's team, especially the defense, has played well so far, but I'm curious to see this team when it matches up with the Texans, 49ers, Vikings, etc.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. And it starts with Cutler. I think everyone would take Good Jay/Bad Jay over Good Rex/Bad Rex. The defense is playing at a record pace and the running game is on point. The offensive line is still a question, but not a disaster. Of course, the true measure of a great team is how far they go in the playoffs, so you can't really judge this Bears team until it matches or eclipses what that team did. Plenty of very good NFL teams have bowed out in the playoffs. It's this team's job to make sure it realizes its potential. I think the defense, led by 2006 veterans Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, realizes this opportunity is precious. Their play has certainly proved that this group is at least equal to that defense, probably better.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: A year later with no Mike Martz, trading Greg Olsen to the Panthers was a mistake.


Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Save me the Olsen can't block debate. He would give the Bears offense an element it lacks: an above average pass catching tight end. Of course, Olsen would have needed a new deal to stay in Chicago since his original rookie contract expired after the 2011 season, but he would add value to an offense. So far this year Olsen has 26 catches for 324 yards. Will Kellen Davis reach those numbers in 16 games?
Greg Olsen
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen has 26 catches for 324 yards and a touchdown this season.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's easy to say what the Bears “could have done” in the offense had they never traded Olsen. But from what I've seen so far out of the tight ends in Mike Tice's offense, not much has changed when it comes to the role of the position in the passing game. Tight ends still are used mostly as blockers, and that can be attributed to the issues in protection. Besides, we all know blocking wasn't necessarily Olsen's strong suit. Tice said on Wednesday that the plan is to expand the role of the tight ends in the offense as the season progresses. But until it actually happens, I'll remain skeptical. That's why I'm not sure whether the Olsen trade can be called a mistake at this point. It's also important to remember that the Bears received a third-round pick for Olsen, and traded that as part of the package sent to Miami to bring in Brandon Marshall. Would you rather have Olsen or Marshall at this point?

Scott Powers: Fact. Sure, Olsen would be an upgrade for the Bears. He's caught 26 passes for 324 yards and one touchdown. At the same time, I don't think Olsen is a game-changer or anyone you miss too much.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Well, the Bears used the third-round pick they got for Olsen to land Marshall, but they did have another one. Yes, listening to Mike Martz's tight end demands backfired -- Brandon Manumaleuna? -- and Olsen would certainly be an upgrade over Davis. But would the Bears have wanted to pay Olsen? Did he fit in their plans? Tice wants his tight ends to be strong blockers. Olsen's strength is certainly as a receiver. I would love to know what Phil Emery would have done with Olsen, but I guess it's just conjecture. As Emery's predecessor Jerry Angelo would say, this is just whistling dixie.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The 2012 Cam Newton is a lot closer to reality than the 2011 version.


Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I'm not going to bail on Newton after six games. The player I covered last year at Soldier Field ran all over the Bears' defense to the tune of 374 passing yards, one touchdown and two rushing scores. He can play. I highly doubt he's the only reason the Panthers are a disappointing 1-5. That's not to make excuses for Newton, who owns a pedestrian 79.3 quarterback rating heading into Sunday, but that kind of talent doesn't just disappear overnight.
Cam Newton
Cam Newton is still trying to get his 2011 swagger back.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. And that's not a bad thing at all. It's just that the real Newton is somewhere between the phenomenal rookie season he experienced, and what he's going through now. He's still talented with a big arm, uncanny mobility and a winning pedigree. But teams have quickly caught on to how to defend Newton. The key for him now is to make the necessary adjustments to put his team back on a winning track. Rivera said on Wednesday that his club made tons of changes on offense to stay ahead of the curve knowing that defenses would eventually learn how to defend Newton. Maybe the Panthers got too far ahead. Several coaches have talked about how extensive Carolina's offense is, and maybe that's causing execution issues all around. If you look at Newton's numbers through the first six games, they're really not much different from what they were in 2011 when the Panthers started 1-5. Everything just seems to be more magnified because of the expectations coming into 2012, after Newton led the Panthers to four wins over the last six outings of his rookie season.

Scott Powers: Fiction. It's still early to gauge what type of NFL quarterback Newton is going to be. Newton was a stud last year. Opponents have adjusted this season, and he's come back down to Earth. Next year or even later on this season, he could make his own adjustments and return to being successful. With him being so young, he's bound to learn with more experience. Even with more time on the job, though, he may just be a one-year wonder. I just don't think we can say at this point what his reality is yet.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. I don't mean that in a disparaging way. Not really anyway. I don't have any real window into Newton's attitude or ceiling, but this is a difficult game. This is a country where every athletic boy wants to be a quarterback, yet at the highest level, the league is dotted with guys who are mediocre to terrible at their jobs. Why is that? Because it's the hardest sports job in the world. There's a reason these guys are paid so well and idolized like sultans. Newton's 2011 season was a revelation, but even though he set a rookie record with 4,051 passing yards and ran for 14 touchdowns, he still threw 17 interceptions, along with 21 touchdowns, and completed just 60 percent of his passes. He's at 58.4 percent right now with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Rookie years for quarterbacks are almost always struggles, but Newton was great, which elevated expectations. Newton is certainly better than what he's shown this season, but without some monk-like dedication, and perhaps more importantly, a strong support staff, he'll struggle. It's a tough job.