I talked with SB Nation's Chicago Bears blog, Windy City Gridiron, this week to get a better feel for the Bears and what we can expect when they line up against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Here's our Q&A, where we're talking about unknown players, whether the Bears defense is elite and breaking in Caleb Hanie.
Name one Bears offensive player who we don't know now but will by the end of the game.
So you want an underrated, unheralded guy I suppose. Right now, Roy Williams actually fits that criteria pretty well. He's third on the team with 24 receptions behind Matt Forte's 52 and Johnny Knox's 28, and has slotted in pretty nicely as a complementary piece/first down target, especially over the last few games.
Name one Bears defensive player who we don't know now but will by the end of the game.
I'll say Tim Jennings. Most people think the Bears' back-set begins and ends with Charles Tillman, but Jennings has put together an excellent season as the CB2 as the year's gone on, especially as the Bears have played a little more man/press type coverage than in recent years. Also of note, nickelbacks in general. DJ Moore was having a season before Matt Stafford treated him like a game of flippy cup (and then he tweaked his ankle and hasn't been back since) but Corey Graham's come on nicely in his stead - he's got an interception in each of the three games he's filled in since Moore was ejected.
How are fans feeling about the state of the Bears moving forward this season with Caleb Hanie?
Most people seem to agree that going with Hanie is the right move in this interim, but the problem is who's after him in the depth chart. Josh McCown's been an absolute nothing throughout his career but he knows the system (Hello Todd Collins 2.0!), and we have no idea what Nathan Enderle is yet beyond a rookie who so far hasn't dropped the clipboard. That rambling aside, there's a reason Hanie was an UDFA; the guy's got a little ability, but his decision making's been a little suspect. The first half against Oakland seemed way too hectic for him (probably from being a backup for four years and not playing or getting reps), but he seemed to calm down in the second, and I think even had a QB rating above 100 for the fourth quarter. We just need him to look more like that instead of the guy throwing three picks in the first half.
Is the Bears defense still elite? Is the strength at stopping the run or the pass?
It's an older version of "elite" but still a very solid, very respectable defense, despite the ranking. They started off pretty slow against some of the higher-powered offenses in the NFL (New Orleans, Green Bay, Carolina when Newtonmania was in full effect, Detroit when Megatron was on his 2 TD per game pace). Since then though, they've brought a little more respectability to their defense when they dropped Chris Harris and let Chris Conte and Major Wright play - not that Harris and Brandon Meriweather are bad players, they can still play, but the hallmark of what makes the Tampa 2 defense work is not letting the big play go, and the Bears allowed far too many big plays. Since Detroit Round 1, there's been a huge reduction in those types of plays. The other piece, the defensive line, finally got off the back of their milk carton and have started to make a few more plays alongside Julius Peppers, but there's still a little work to do.
As far as actual defensive strengths, they're a lot better against the run than they were through those first five games - only one team's broken 100 yards rushing in the last six (Philadelphia). As far as the passing defense, they've faced the most attempts in the NFL, they're 30th in yardage, and they're 11th in TDs allowed and 2nd in interceptions. When the defense is working, they're forcing short to medium methodical completions down the middle of the field, so they'll allow yardage but fewer points. They've been a little more lax on the points part of that as compared to years past, but it's still a fairly good unit.
Any nostalgic memories with Todd Haley, Thomas Jones and Kyle Orton coming back?
Not as much as one might think. Jones was really good for us back in '05 and the '06 Super Bowl run, but I'm not sure how many fans could tell you Todd Haley was a Bears' coach once upon a time. As far as Orton, I was a little worried that said nostalgia would undermine Hanie if the Bears would have won the claim - at the first sign of struggling, that there'd be an outcry for the prodigal son returning home who "just won" to save the season. (And I think somewhere another Grossman/Orton debate burst into flame.)