To get ready for Sunday'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. After falling to Detroit on Monday Night Football last month, the Bears were a dismal 2-3. Since then, however, Chicago has won three straight games and is now right back in the hunt for a playoff spot. What has been the biggest factor in the Bears' sudden turnaround?
Offensively, everything starts and ends in the trenches. The offensive line has been a huge surprise recently, playing better than they have in years. When they do well, Mike Martz is able to keep defenses off-balance, and Jay Cutler can really carve you up when he has time to make things happen. Defensively, our guys have suddenly remembered how to tackle, and have regained the aggression that they have been known for in recent years. It looks like things are finally just starting to come together.
2. As much as it pains me to say this, Jay Cutler has really impressed me this season. He seems to be doing an excellent job of fighting off the pressure, keeping plays alive and making big throws, especially in the last few weeks. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to be playing much more consistent football as of late. Has something suddenly changed with Cutler, or is this the quarterback Bears fans knew they had all along?
Again, it's the big guys up front. Cutler can be an elite QB in the league when he has time to throw the football. His accuracy can be mind-bogglingly good, and his instincts are as good as any other QB in the game. The Cutler we're seeing now is the Cutler we knew we'd see if/when the OL stepped up their game.
3. Much has been made about Matt Forte's contract status, especially with him playing so well. What's the latest with that situation?
Nothing has changed. He wants to break the bank, and the Bears are being cautious. It is pretty much a given that the team will franchise him next year, and maybe even the year after. But I don't think the Bears front office, even with all of their bone-headed moves of the past, would let the team's best RB since #34 walk out the door.
4. At this point just about everybody seems comfortable with penciling in the Packers as the NFC North champion and the NFC's top seed. Do you think the Lions or Bears can make things interesting in the NFC North at all, and do you see anybody getting past Green Bay in the playoffs?
The Packers are good. Scary good. The only way I see anyone in the NFC beating Green Bay is if they have an off game. Hopefully, the Bears are on the other sideline when the Packers do decide to implode.
5. Following last month's Monday night game against the Bears, the Lions dropped two straight contests (to the 49ers and Falcons). Although they rebounded nicely before their bye with a blowout win against the Broncos, they showed real signs of weakness during that two-game losing streak. Do you think the Bears will be able to attack some of those weaknesses (virtually no running game, a very iffy run defense, etc.) and pick up the win on Sunday afternoon?
Just from my perspective, if the Bears and Lions both show up with their A-game, I really do think the Bears are still a notch above the Lions. And I am saying that with as much objectivity as possible. The Lions have made leaps and bounds in the last couple seasons and are a team to absolutely respect, but if the product that the Bears put on the field Monday in Philly is any indication of what they are capable of doing, I do think they even this series with Detroit this week.