To get ready for Monday night's game, I exchanged five questions with Dane Noble of Windy City Gridiron, SB Nation's Chicago Bears blog. My answers to his questions can be found here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. The Bears were finally able to get Matt Forte going last week, and he rushed for 205 yards on 25 attempts. What changed for this to happen after three straight relatively lackluster weeks for the Bears running game?
In Forte's first three games, he tallied 158, 166, and 82 total yards (rushing and receiving), but his breakout against the Panthers could be largely credited to Mike Martz's commitment to the running game. Forte registered more rushing attempts last week (25) than weeks two and three combined (19). The offensive line did their jobs, and everything just came together. Remember, last year against the Panthers, Forte had big success on the ground as well, rushing for 166 yards on 22 carries with 2 TDs, so with the Bears trying to get their running game back on track, it's no surprise they did so versus Carolina.
2. Forte seems to be the best player on the Bears offense, as evidenced by his ability to run and catch passes. What makes him so dangerous in the passing game?
Going all the way back to his Tulane days, Forte's biggest assets are his vision and shiftiness. He has always had an incredible ability to see a seam developing, and then be able to instantly shift into it with a surprising quickness. Last year, he added another dimension to his game: Speed. Out of nowhere, Forte was suddenly outrunning defensive backs in the open field, and when you combine his vision, shiftiness, quickness, and speed (not to mention great hands), you've got a complete running back for Mike Martz to play with.
3. After how last season ended for Chicago, all of the question marks in the offseason seemingly surrounded Jay Cutler. How has he played so far this season, and do Bears fans view him as a quarterback that can lead their team to a Super Bowl title?
I would argue that all of the question marks were about Cutler. The media did a great job on focusing on the toughness thing, but at the end of the day, all they did was make themselves look silly. By far, the biggest question marks in the offseason were related to the offensive line, not the quarterback. So far this season, he's been effective. But we have to remember that Jay Cutler is only as good as his offensive line allows him to be. If he has time to read through his progressions, and time to plant his feet, he will carve up a defense in a big way. But when he's under pressure, which is all the damn time, he gets happy feet and tries to force plays to happen. The offensive line is much better than last season, but still among the worst in the league. Once we build a unit that can consistently protect Cutler, the team will be able to take that next step towards a Super Bowl.
4. What did you think of the performance of the Bears defense during the first four weeks of the season?
After four weeks, the Bears are ranked 25th in rushing yards allowed per game, and 30th in passing yards allowed. Not having safety Chris Harris the last three weeks (hamstring) has been an issue, but the entire defense has been getting blown up in the last three weeks as well. We can't give up 30 points per game and expect to compete. I will say this: Typically, about once per year we see the Bears defense forget how to tackle, generate a pass rush, or cover WRs. That usually goes on for about a three game stretch in the middle of the season. I don't know why it happens, but it does. Maybe this is just our way of getting it out of the way early in the year. We will see.
5. Whenever somebody talks about the Bears, it seems like they point out the issues on the offensive line. Are the problems on the O-line overblown or are there legitimate concerns going forward?
If anything, they are underblown. People who don't follow the team closely truly have no idea how bad this unit has been, even when they know how many times Cutler has been sacked. Drafting OT Gabe Carimi was a huge upgrade, and Mike Tice's second year with some of our younger guys will be helpful, but we still have 2-3 offensive linemen in our starting lineup that would have trouble seeing the field for most other NFL teams. Not to dwell on the negative, there have been flashes of improvement (versus Atlanta and Carolina) this season, so hopefully when we get Carimi back from his knee injury, we will continue to see an upswing in performance.