In order to learn a little more about the Bears ahead of tonight's matchup, we traded some questions this week with Windy City Gridiron. You can check out my answers to their questions over there.
BGN: Jay Cutler is being sacked more times per game than all but two QBs in the league. Do you think he can survive that and are there signs of things getting better in protection?
WCG: Jay can probably withstand it, given the absolute beating he took last year, but there's reason to be optimistic. After removing the woeful Frank "Gate 68" Omiyale from the starting lineup, things seem to have gelled a little bit better. Additionally, the play calling has allowed for more help to the younger linemen. This has resulted in Jay's jersey getting much less dirty over the past few weeks. Add in the return of rookie savior Gabe Carimi in the near future, and there's reason for us to have some optimism in this line. They still won't be what we would call "Good", but if they can get near "average", it should be enough to help keep Jay relatively upright.
Additionally, a few of those are on Jay, including one "sack" which was actually a great heads-up play, sliding during a scramble to keep the clock running during a late-game time management situation. Resident sackologist Lester Wiltfong, Jr does his Sackwatch posts, and he's been keeping track of it. He breaks it down to who did what, why, and whether it's bad.
Obviously Matt Forte is having a great year and understandably he's looking for a new deal. He's certainly earned it, but are you guys looking at what has happened to Chris Johnson and getting at least a little scared? It seems like giving big money to RBs is always scary.
#PayMattForte has been an ongoing...how to put this...discussion at WCG all season long. It largely comes down to how much the team wants to reward past production, or how much they want to pay for future performance.
Looking at CJ.5k, and other situations definitely serves as a reminder why you don't want to give big money to these guys. Once they get the cash, and I can't necessarily blame them, they want to make sure they can live through their contract. I don't think Matt Forte is that type of guy--but you just don't know. He was offered a pretty decent contract--and turned it down because he valued himself higher. That's all well and good, but when the team can franchise tag you, you have to consider things in a slightly different light.
At this point, I fully expect him to get tagged next year, be guaranteed not quite $8,000,000, and then have to perform again. It sucks for him, but that's how the business part of it goes. Players are fond of saying "it's a business", until the business isn't working their favor. Then, it seems, things are suddenly quite personal.
One area where the Bears offensive really seems to struggle is on third downs, where they have the fourth lowest conversion percentage in the league. What do you attribute those struggles to?
I'm mostly willing to attribute it to bad playcalling. Not quite as bad as when Ron Turner used to run the good ol' FB Dive on 3rd and 8, but pretty close. If the Bears don't get a pretty manageable position on first and 2nd, they tend to end up in a 3rd and 8+ situation. Then Mike Martz gets to call one of the super zany Martzfense plays, and it's sometimes something like a fake end around, or the bubble screen to Hester that rarely works.
Additionally, when your offensive line is as bad as these have, you drop on 3rd and long and the QB is being hit by the end of his backstep.
Getting Forte on the ground and going early has been helping out with it as of late, but early on, Martz just had Cutler chuck the ball all over the place, which isn't going to help out either. Now that the Bears have started calling the game a little better, I expect those problems to dissipate a little bit.
Chicago really doesn't seem to be getting to the QB a lot this year, with just 15 sacks on the season. Are they failing to create pressure in general, or just not getting sacks?
It's a little bit of both. At times, they're getting pressure, but not getting the sacks. At other times, they're not getting either. Peppers was banged up a little bit, which forced him to play a little less explosively, and a little more "intelligently", in that, he had to focus more on technique and less on the fact that' he's a big scary freak of a man. A little bit of it, too, seems to have maybe come from conditioning or lack thereof. At times, they seemed to tire a little bit on the field, partially because they didn't have a full offseason to stretch out and get used to things, and partially because the offense kept putting them back on the damn field.
I think it will straighten itself out--the Bears goal is to get the pressure and create turnovers---the sacks are kind of the caramel sauce on the sundae, after you've already got the chocolate syrup. As long as they can disrupt the pocket and force throws a little sooner, that's what I'm looking for most out of the front four. If the Bears have to start sending linebackers or nickelbacks on a regular basis, you're looking at a Bears team that is doomed.
A lot of us were high on Johnny Knox by the end of last year, but he seems to have taken a bit of step back this season. What is your take on Knox at this point?
Knox is an interesting character. Many of us assumed he'd have the #1 slot, then Roy Williams came in and was gifted that job. It did seem to force Knox to work on his game a bit, and I think it's for the best for his development. He's never going to be a Larry Fitzgerald-type receiver, but he's got the speed and skills to be a pretty good wideout. He needs to work on tightening up his routes still, and work on his hands, but he's probably got a pretty good career in front of him. He'd be a great complement guy to someone like a Johnson (Calvin or Andre) or Fitzgerald, but I'm not sure you can trust him as a go-to guy. Since Jay is getting Earl Bennett back tonight, and he's starting to develop some chemistry with Williams finally, it could be a long year for Knox, but I'd expect a big stride from him in 2012, if nothing else.
Thanks to the Windy City Gridiron crew for educating us on all things Bears. Be sure to check out over there to see what they have to say about tonight's game.