Four Downs: Suh to put Bears' line to test
Suh might not have gaudy numbers against the Bears -- three sacks and 13 tackles in his career -- but he applies plenty of pressure and disruption to the offense. Oh, and big hits like when he slammed Jay Cutler to the turf last season, leaving the Bears quarterback with bruised ribs.
How will the revamped line, including Long, fare against Suh? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears' offensive line will neutralize Ndamukong Suh on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I'll never understand why Suh behaves the way he does. He is one of the most athletically gifted defensive tackles in the game. He doesn't need to take cheap shots. So why go down that road? All the negativity surrounding Suh makes people forget how good he really is. He had 8.0 sacks last season. The Bears offensive line has done a terrific job protecting Jay Cutler, but Suh is expected to be a tough assignment on Sunday. When the Lions are good, which isn't often, the indoor atmosphere at Ford Field is a tough venue for road teams. Expect the crowd to make it difficult for the Bears to hear Cutler at the line of scrimmage. That little extra edge for Suh could make a big difference in the game. Suh enters Sunday with zero sacks on the season. My best guess is he probably doesn't finish the game with zero sacks.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Though with Suh, neutralize is relative. I like what I've seen out of the first three weeks from this group, and furthermore, I like what I've seen out of Cutler. His decisiveness is making his line look good. [Coach Marc] Trestman has been calling quick throws, which means the line doesn't have to hold their blocks for an ungodly amount of time. There is a synchronicity to this group right now. Suh will get some pressure and I'll bet he records at least a couple hits on Cutler. But I think the rookies Jordan Mills and Long will hold their own, with Cutler's help.
Fact or Fiction: Henry Melton is a devastating loss for a defensive line already struggling to pressure the quarterback.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Melton's loss hardly falls under the "devastating" category. If Lance Briggs tears his ACL, that's devastating. If Charles Tillman suffers a season-ending injury, that's a devastating blow to the defense. While Melton made the Pro Bowl in 2012, he has the reputation of being an up-and-down player. In certain games, Melton brings it and provides the Bears with an above-average inside pass rush. But Melton has gone through long stretches during his career where he was a complete non-factor. Just for the record, Melton's last sack occurred on Nov. 25, 2012. Nate Collins is an adequate replacement for Melton at defensive tackle, while Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers have the ability to line up at the three-technique. The Bears should be OK without Melton. Of course the defense would be better with a healthy Melton, but in the grand scheme of things, his injury doesn't rate as a catastrophe.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. It's not about his lack of performance in the first three games. Melton, who missed most of the preseason with a concussion, was likely working off the rust. It's about depth. You can never have too much defensive line depth, and Melton was a key cog in the middle of the Bears' defense. Maybe it would have taken him half the season to play at his best, but you can bet he would have affected the outcome of several games. Melton is a major loss for a defense already struggling to create pressure from the front four.
Fact or Fiction: Regardless of the situation, Jay Cutler needs to slide when he scrambles.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I would advise Cutler to avoid initiating contact like he did against the Steelers in Week 3 when he plowed into a Steelers defender, but to ask Cutler to slide every time is silly. There are going to be situations when the Bears are in dire need of a first down. And if Cutler has to take a hit to move the chains, so be it. Now, if Cutler needed only 10 yards for a first down and he still doesn't slide when defenders are approaching after gaining 30 yards, well, that's another story. But Cutler seems smart enough to slide or run out of the bounds after he picked up the necessary yardage.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Yeah, yeah, sliding is the right thing to do, to play it safe. But how do you play it safe in football? Here's my take on it: Jay, play how you're comfortable playing. In Sunday's win over Pittsburgh, Cutler famously dealt a shoulder blow to a Pittsburgh safety. He said he wanted the first down and didn't want to slide too early. Of course he ran for 3 yards past the first down marker already, but Cutler was prepared to dish out the hit and comported his body as such. Even quarterbacks can handle some physical contact when they know it's coming. It's the hits you don't prepare for, the unnatural moves you make to spare your body that are most worrisome. Cutler knows how to play football.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears are legitimate contenders to win the NFC.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Sure, after three weeks. A lot can change over the course of an NFL season, but you have to like the Bears' chances to reach the playoffs. Since 1990, teams that start the year 3-0 have qualified for the postseason 75 percent of the time (86-of-114). And if recent NFL history has taught us anything, it's that anything can happen when a team reaches the playoffs. What matters is getting in. The Bears aren't going to run the table and finish 16-0, but if the offense keeps protecting Jay Cutler and the defense continues to force turnovers, the Bears have a good shot to still be playing deep into January, and perhaps even later.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. It's a little early to call any team a contender, especially one that has needed two fourth-quarter drives to win, and another to hold off a comeback attempt. But this Bears team has all the makings of a conference champion contender. It has a strong quarterback, a star running back and a game-breaking wide receiver. The offensive line is jelling faster than expected and a veteran defense that continues to excel in takeaways. New coach Marc Trestman has been a revelation. The best thing about the Bears' chances is that at 3-0, they have plenty of room to improve. Cutler's numbers will improve as he continues to get comfortable in the offense. If the defensive line can create more pressure and limit big passing plays, this team is up there with Seattle as a Super Bowl contender.