Matt Vensel of Baltimore Sun reached out to me this week with some Bears questions in anticipation of the Bears v. Ravens contest at Soldier Field Sunday. Here are his questions and my answers.
MV: The Bears are nine games into the Marc Trestman era and are a game out of first place in the NFC North despite key injuries. How have the Bears changed under Trestman and how does the hire look today?
It was a transformative hire for the organization and Trestman has modernized the Bears offense in his first year. But the building of new offensive talent and hiring of Trestman was step one in a multiyear process in Chicago. Now GM Phil Emery is tasked with doing the same on the defensive side of the ball while these players become more comfortable in the offense. Look at the great offenses in the league and you’ll notice, with the exception of Peyton Manning, the QBs have come of age in the system they are currently running. Bears need to give Cutler that opportunity and I expect they will.
MV: Trestman’s handling of injured quarterback Jay Cutler, who will not play Sunday, is being scrutinized in Chicago. Do you think he erred by sticking with Cutler last weekend?
I certainly did in the immediate aftermath of the game but the tape really didn’t show Cutler struggling down-for-down until the final five minutes. (He struggled more getting off the field post-drives than stepping up in the pocket and delivering passes.) Trestman admitted he would have pulled Cutler a drive earlier if he had a do over and I think that’s fair. Nobody would question Trestman at all if McCown hadn’t played so well.
MV: What happened to the Bears defense this year? They had been one of the NFL’s best in recent years. Is it old age, the coaching change or something else?
First and foremost it is injuries. The defense started the year by losing their two best defensive tackles. They’ve followed that by losing their two best run-stopping linebackers. Of the eleven intended defensive starters when the season began, the Bears will most likely be without six this Sunday. Couple that with rookie linebackers learning the game on the fly, a pair of safeties who’ve regressed terribly and an aging-before-our-eyes Julius Peppers and you have the makings a poor unit.
On the coaching, I’m inclined not to blame Mel Tucker. He was brought into Chicago and essentially told to maintain status quo. They kept the players, scheme, calls. Tucker can’t be blamed if that strategy – a gamble to be sure – didn’t pay off.
MV: It will be a matchup of weakness versus weakness Sunday when the Ravens try to run the ball against the Bears. The Ravens are last in the NFL in yards per carry and former Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has not looked like himself. Meanwhile, the Bears are 31st in rushing defense. Why have the Bears struggled to stop the run?
Same reasons I previously mentioned. They are terribly banged up at both defensive tackle and linebacker. But Major Wright and Chris Conte have also been dreadful against the run, allowing too many seven yards gains to go for thirty-seven. And while Corey Wootton has been developing wonderful at the three-technique he is somewhat easy to push off the ball in the run game.
MV: Is there anything specifically about the Ravens coming to Soldier Field that makes you nervous, and what needs to happen for the Bears to win this weekend?
For me the game comes down to Josh McCown and the turnovers. I think the Ravens will have some success running it and Flacco will make some plays in the passing game to Dallas Clark in the seam and Torrey Smith on whichever corner the Bears use. But if McCown can continue to execute this offense (he’s been flawless to this point) and refrain from turnovers, I think the Bears should be able to win this one at home.