The Chicago Bears lost control of the NFC North with their loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. What does that defeat say about their three previous wins, and about their chances against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday?
And after the first quarter of the season, what’s the takeaway on their veteran defense and quarterback Jay Cutler?
Fact or Fiction: The Bears’ 3-0 start against mostly inferior competition is being exposed.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I can’t stand when people take shots at a team based on the supposed strength of its schedule. The NFL makes the schedule, not the Bears. Despite the Bengals’ 2-2 record, they are a strong playoff contender in the AFC. The Steelers (0-4) and Vikings (1-3) are bad, that is a fact, but bad teams beat good ones all the time in the NFL. Actually, the mark of any “good” team is that they rarely lose to inferior competition. If the Bears don’t turn the ball over four times versus the Lions, then maybe that game has a different outcome. Every team has flaws. But not every team in the league has three wins in the first four weeks. The Bears have nothing to be sorry for.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears don’t have to apologize for beating two lousy teams in Minnesota and Pittsburgh and outlasting Cincinnati. But last week showed how the Bears’ weaknesses, already exposed, can be taken advantage of by more credible teams. The problems that looked fleeting early have become critical -- bad tackling, special-teams blunders, light defensive line pressure and offensive turnovers. That’s not to say this isn’t a playoff team, because it very well could be, but there are concerns to be addressed.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears’ defense, second-oldest in the NFL, is showing its age.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Last I checked, veterans such as Lance Briggs, James Anderson, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman have held up OK through the first quarter of the season. Collectively, the entire defense (No. 20 overall) can stand to improve, but it’s time for certain younger players to step up. I’m sure Chris Conte, Major Wright, Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea all feel they can do better. And they can. It’s easy to point fingers at the veterans and blame the defensive woes on age. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Is age the excuse for uneven play? Really, it’s the philosophy of the defense that is betraying it right now, because the players are doing the fundamental things to make their defense truly scary. The Bears need more than what they’re getting out of the front four, and you can tell how much they miss their former coordinator/defensive line sage Rod Marinelli. Reggie Bush had big gaps to run through. The line play doesn’t just affect the secondary, but also the linebackers. The Bears are still getting their turnovers, they just need a few more stops, and they need the offense to stop turning the ball over, putting them in bad situations.
Fact or Fiction: The 4-0 Saints won’t have a problem Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears aren’t pushovers. Marc Trestman is expected to have the team ready to bounce back after that disappointing Week 4 loss to the Lions. Plus, the Saints are a dome team. New Orleans is winless in their last three trips to Chicago. Now, the Saints are a better all-around team and should leave Chicago 5-0 on Sunday night. But nothing is guaranteed. What if the Bears have another one of those games where they score a defensive touchdown or two? The Bears’ offense should be able to score points, even though the New Orleans defense is vastly improved. My prediction is the Bears lose, but not without a fight.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Saints lost their last two regular-season games at Soldier Field, not to mention that blustery NFC Championship Game. The Saints look like they’re back to Super Bowl-like form with the return of coach Sean Payton. Rob Ryan has the defense playing at a high level, too. But if the Bears' defense can get to Drew Brees, and that’s a big if, and if the secondary can force a few fumbles, it could be a rough trip. Count on Cutler to have a more efficient game than last week, and for Matt Forte to have a big role. It’ll be close regardless.
Fact or Fiction: Cutler's second-half performance against the Lions showed growth as a quarterback.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I did appreciate that Cutler fought until the bitter end last week. The Bears just simply ran out of time. Of course, Cutler and his four turnovers were a major reason the Bears lost in Week 4, but he made it interesting at the end. It was nice to see Cutler stick it out and not throw in the towel when the game got out of reach in the fourth quarter. To me, that does signify a certain degree of growth. Cutler is usually pretty effective the week following a high-turnover game, and the Bears will need their quarterback to be at his very best on Sunday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. When you’re getting beat like that, you expect the other team to lessen up a bit. Cutler did a good job in the second half to get the Bears within striking distance, aside from, you know, that costly fumble that turned into a touchdown and that interception. But let’s not give him any awards for doing his job and not acting like a jerk. I think “old” Jay Cutler would’ve handled losing under Marc Trestman better than he did under his previous coordinators. Sure, he’s matured, as we all do when we get older and have a library of experiences to educate us, but Cutler knows he has a better support system around him now and is less likely to lash out. Last week’s performance shows he still has a ways to go.