This week’s “Five Questions” comes from Mike Burzawa, editor of beargoggleson.com.
1) How’s Cutler’s health? He took that nasty hit from Suh last week, which was surprisingly legal, but he’s a moose of a man in any case. Any lingering issues there?
Hopefully Cutler put the “he’s not tough enough” issue to bed once and for all with his performance Monday night. No doubt he was hurting badly after getting body slammed by Suh, but he sucked it up and was serviceable in the second half of the Bears’ 13-7 win over the Lions. I’m sure his ribs are still sore as heck but some pain killers ought to help him manage his discomfort and suit up vs the Panthers.
The concern around Chicago is whether or not he’ll have the usual zip on the ball. Cutler is a gunslinger to his core and believes he can throw into any window, no matter how small. If he’s got a couple of mph off his fastball, could passes that usually get into those tight spots suddenly become interceptions?
2) Miami is my favorite AFC team, so I’m familiar with Brandon Marshall. We all saw him drop that wide-open would-be TD pass a few weeks ago and he’s always had issues with focusing and dropped passes. How has he played in his last few games since that incident, and why haven’t we seen more out of Alshon Jeffery?
When Marshall came to Chicago, his issues with dropped passes were well known, but you take the good with the bad. The important thing is that he haul in more than he lets go and his confidence not get shaken. We know for sure that Cutler has all the confidence in the world in him, so he won’t give up on Marshall. Their relationship going back to their days in Denver gives them a bond that goes beyond the football field and I’m pretty sure it’s helped keep Marshall “in a good place” mentally. If he continues to perform at this level, he’ll shatter Bears receiving records and make GM Phil Emery look like a genius for trading two third round picks to bring a legit #1 wide receiver to Chicago for the first time in the team’s storied history.
Alshon Jeffery came on really strong out of the gate, but the rookie still has to earn his playing time behind veterans like Earl Bennett and Devin Hester. As he was starting to emerge in a bigger role, he broke his hand while catching a touchdown vs the Jaguars in Week 5, so he’ll continue to heal up and won’t face the Panthers this week.
3) Chicago once again has a stifling defense, but what area do you see that may be a weak spot that most people aren’t aware of?
The defense is playing at a Super Bowl level once again, but they still have their weaknesses. In classic Lovie Smith style, they’re a bend but don’t break defense that will force opponents to settle for underneath routes and stiffen in the red zone or force a turnover. If they don’t take the ball away, they can be had. While their run defense has been stout so far, I don’t think teams have really attacked them in earnest. If opponents try to get to the edge on the Bears, they’re in for a long day, but if they try to run right at Urlacher up the middle, they can find some holes as #54 still recovers from a knee injury.
4) The one area where I do know the Bears have issues is the offensive line but more especially in the interior. Cutler got punished last season and the Bears didn’t address that area in the draft at all. What’s the story there?
For whatever reason, the Bears really believe in former 7th round draft pick J’Marcus Webb at left tackle. He’s got all the physical tools but hasn’t performed well, so questions about his focus and mental makeup have followed him for a couple of seasons. On the other side, Gabe Carimi is basically in his rookie year as he missed all but the first 6 quarters of the 2011 season with a knee injury. Carimi is a thug in run blocking but struggled on pass protection.
GM Phil Emery inherited a good team with a few holes that needed to be filled. He bolstered key backup roles with quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Michael Bush in free agency, brought in Marshall via trade and drafted another receiver in second rounder Alshon Jeffery. In the first round of last April’s draft, Emery opted to draft DE Shea McClellin rather than guard David DeCastro or tackle Riley Reiff, which had a lot of Bears fans up in arms. The fact is, Reiff is a right tackle and they already had invested a high round pick in one the year before (Carimi) and the interior of the Bears’ line hasn’t really been the issue.
At the end of the day, Emery couldn’t address all of the issues in one offseason, but did a solid job getting many holes filled. Even if the line continues to improve, I fully expect the Bears to address the position in the upcoming draft.
5) The Bears are heavy favorites in this game, but the offense is ranked near the bottom overall. Matt Forte missed some time too, though. Is he the oil for this offense or is this Cutler’s team?
Make no mistake about it, this is Cutler’s team and they’ll go as far as he takes them but with that said, Forte is definitely the engine that drives it. Cutler gets all the headlines while Forte continues to quietly get the job done. In this week’s matchup with the Panthers, I fully expect to see a lot of Forte and Bush while Cutler recovers from his rib injury. Cutty will play, but the Bears would be wise to hit the Panthers with a steady done of their two-headed running and short passing attack.
You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you a quick prediction. The Bears and Panthers play each other so often, it almost seems like they’re in the same division. There’s a lot of familiarity between the two teams, so there shouldn’t be a lot of surprises. The Panthers were shaken up with the firing of their GM, so the players will be playing with some added intensity. Besides that, the Bears are coming off a short week with an emotional win over the division rival Lions. The Bears could be set up for a letdown game, but they rally to keep rolling. Bears 23, Panthers 19