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A conversation with Ricky O'Donnell of SB Nation Chicago about the first three weeks of the Bears season and what to expect on Monday night.
Ricky O'Donnell is the managing editor of SB Nation Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @SBN_Ricky
Ryle: So far, there are some real similarities in how things are going for the teams. First, Dallas' defense largely carried the team in the win over Tampa Bay. It the impression that Chicago's D is also doing the heavy lifting accurate?
O'Donnell: Yeah, absolutely. Same old story for the Bears: the defense has been the pillar of the team, the running game is showing signs of life, and after a promising performance in Week 1, the passing game is really sputtering. What's funny is that, for the first time ever, it wasn't supposed to be this way. After the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall and traded up in the second round to draft Alshon Jeffrey, most expected this team would be offense-first.
It made sense: Cutler finally had weapons, they reached a contract extension with Matt Forte after a very public dispute, the receivers were completely overhauled, ect. With Brian Urlacher fighting knee problems all offseason and most of the key cogs on defense now on the wrong side of 30, most anticipated the defense would take a step back and the offense would take a step forward.
That hasn't been the case, at least in the last two games. The defense has really been great all season long. The pass rush, in particular, looks inspired. It's a veteran group, but they certainly haven't looked old.
Along those same lines, the running game seems to be sputtering for both teams. The Cowboys problem seems to be ineffective O line play, but I see reports that the Bears are working out Ryan Grant (who wound up signing with the Washington Redskins). Is the issue for them talent at the position, with Matt Forte dinged up?
The Bears running game has actually been pretty good. Matt Forte was lost to an ankle sprain in Week 2's disaster at Lambeau, and he probably won't play vs. your Cowboys. The Bears can withstand it, though. Michael Bush was added this offseason after Marion Barber had a couple costly gaffes at the end of last season that cost the Bears a playoff spot.
Bush has been very impressive thus far, and I see no reason why the Bears shouldn't run more than they already do. The same offensive line that consistently puts Cutler on his deathbed is actually pretty good at run blocking. The Bears also re-signed Kahlil Bell after cutting him in training camp because he refused to take a pay cut. He's a nice player and a capable third back.
Brian Urlacher is one of the great linebackers of all time, but is he running out of gas?
Here's what I'll say for Urlacher's effort this season: I don't think I've noticed him badly screw up once. Is he all of the over the place like he used to be during his heyday? Not really. I believe he did lead the team in tackles last week, though. It's been a pretty solid start for him. The whole defense is playing at such a high level right now, he's almost getting overshadowed. And remember: Just because he's been able to hold up for first three games doesn't mean he'll be able to make it through a full 16-game slate + the playoffs. It's been all good so far, but his knee situation seemed so grave just a few weeks ago. I hope Urlacher is in the clear now, but it seems pretty unlikely.
Jay Cutler is becoming a lightening rod for criticism (another thing the Cowboys are familiar with since Tony Romo took over). Is he really the problem the media portrays him as, or is that just perception?
There is the million dollar question. In the interest of not making this response a short novel, I'll try to keep it short:
It's a little of both. What you have to understand is that the Bears have such a long history of terrible quarterbacks. When they used to play Brett Favre late in his career, the networks used to show this terrible graphic that's been permanently burned into my brain against my will. It was a list of Bears starting quarterbacks since Favre began his ridiculous consecutive starts streak.
Jonathan Quinn. Craig Krenzel. Shane Matthews. Henry Burris. Chad Hutchinson. Kordell Stewart.
The list goes on and on. So horrible. So when the Bears traded for Cutler, a 25-year old with a Pro Bowl on the resume, people got delirious with their expectations. Cutler didn't really live up to them in the first three seasons for a variety of reasons, but mostly because he was teamed with perhaps the worst set of wide receivers in the league while being protected (read: "protected") by an equally limp offensive line. This year, the Bears traded for his bro Brandon Marshall, but the offensive line is still bad. Cutler was turned into a local and national whipping boy after the Week 2 loss to the Packers for throwing four interceptions, but the offensive line really gave him no help. That's not to me sound like a Cutler apologist, either: he needs to be better. After a great Week 1, he's been pretty bad.
Simply based in his raw skill, though, I'll never turn my back on Cutler. He means too much to this fanbase. I get the sense football fans around the country loathe him, but Bears fans are all-in. At least the majority of it. You have to ride or die with Cutler. What else is there to do?
What would you say is the biggest concern the Cowboys should have facing the Bears?
Protecting the ball. The Bears under Lovie Smith have stressed one thing: takeaways. So far, so good. If they continue to bring heat with the front four, the Bears are counting on Romo to get wreckless. Through three games, cornerback Tim Jennings has been team MVP. He has four interceptions already, and helped Major Wright get his pick-six a week ago.