Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune was gracious enough to take the time and answer five questions on the Chicago Bears as the Seahawks prepare to travel to the Windy City for the third straight year.
McClure answers five questions on the Bears below.
1. With Brandon Marshall, the Bears appear to finally have that true No. 1 receiver they were looking for. What is Marshall’s relationship like with Cutler on the field, and how has his presence helped the rest of the offense.
McClure: Cutler hasn’t tied Marshall shoelaces just yet, but their bond seems to be tighter than ever. I believe Cutler knows how to push Marshall more than anyone else, and vice versa. Marshall said earlier in the season that he appreciates the fiery side of Cutler and wouldn’t like him any other way.
In terms of production on the field, the numbers speak volumes. Last week, Marshall became the franchise’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002. Marshall has been targeted 124 times, 84 more times than the second most targeted receiver (Earl Bennett with 40). All that being said, the Bears still rank last in the league in passing offense and 30th out of 32 teams in total offense. Without Marshall, there is no offense.
2. We’re familiar with Jeremy Bates from his time here in Seattle, how has he helped with the development of Cutler as Chicago’s quarterbacks coach? And does Cutler get a bad wrap around the league?
McClure: I personally made a huge blunder when I said the Bears had no interest in bringing Jeremy Bates to Chicago. That was the initial word I heard from reliable sources, but the team’s thinking changed after Cutler lobbied for Bates, whom he worked with in Denver. Cutler needed someone well-schooled on the passing game, specifically with Mike Tice being a first-time, run-oriented offensive coordinator. Some might question what Bates has added considering the low passing numbers, but Cutler simply needed someone he could relate to and someone he respected as his quarterbacks coach. That wasn’t the case his first few years with the Bears with Pep Hamilton and Shane Day. Bates has been good for him.
Going back to something Marshall said, the receiver called Cutler “misunderstood.” Cutler does get a bad wrap because of his demeanor and body language. One former Bear even told me once, “Yeah, Jay can be tough to deal with off the field, but I’ll ride or die with that dude on the field.” His teammates respect his talent and understand he has unique ability. No, he might not be the most approachable player in the league. But as long as he wins games, the Bears are good with him. The game he missed at San Francisco emphasized how much the Bears need him.
3. Chicago’s defense is traditionally one of the best at creating turnovers. Why?
McClure: Brian Urlacher would tell you head coach Lovie Smith preaches taking the ball away every day in practice. It’s become “first nature” as Urlacher put it. Since 2004, the Bears lead the league with 299 takeaways. This season alone, they have seven defensive touchdowns – all on interception returns. The catalyst is Charles Tillman, who has two pick 6s, seven forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Tim Jennings still leads the league with eight interceptions. It becomes contagious.
4. Injuries along the offensive line continue to be a concern this year. How are the Bears piecing it together?
McClure: Slowly. When starting right guard Lance Louis tore the ACL in his left knee last week and starting left guard and former Seahawk Chris Spencer went out with a meniscus tear in his left knee, the Bears put former starting right tackle Gabe Carimi at right guard and reserve center/guard Edwin Williams at left guard. Veteran Chilo Rachal had a meltdown after being demoted for Spencer and left the team, leaving the Bears short at guard.
As the Bears prepare for the Seahawks, Carimi appears to be set to start at right guard – a position he hadn’t played all his life until last week. And with the lack of depth at guard, the Bears signed five-time Pro Bowler Andre Gurode this week. Now, Gurode is not expected to be up to speed right away, but at least he could add depth. There are still question marks about how left tackle J’Marcus Webb and new starting right tackle Jonathan Scott will hold up the rest of the season, although both performed admirably last week. The only lineman who can really be counted on right now is center Roberto Garza.
5. Does this team have all of the pieces to compete for a Super Bowl?
McClure: Probably not. The Bears need a receiver to step up and complement Marshall. They need consistency on the offensive line. They need a contribution from the tight end position. And they need Matt Forte to be the dominant running back he once was.
Defensively – even despite a few hiccups along the way – the Bears are solid and poised to compete with anyone. But an offense ranked near the bottom of the league – even with a dynamic receiver such as Marshall – won’t go far in the postseason.