OPPOSING VIEW: Bears QB Jay Cutler playing very well entering NFC North matchup with Lions

Posted Sep 27, 2013

Chicago Tribune Bears beat writer Brad Biggs takes a look at Sunday's Lions, Bears game

This week's opposing view comes from Chicago Tribune Bears beat writer Brad Biggs. He is entering his ninth season covering the Bears for the Tribune and is the NFC North division representative for the Pro Football Writers of America. He can be followed on Twitter at @BradBiggs.

1. Is quarterback Jay Cutler as comfortable in Marc Trestman's offense as it looks from the outside?

It certainly looks that way. General manager Phil Emery’s goal in hiring a new coach was finding someone that would connect well with Cutler, who is in his fifth season since coming over from the Broncos in the big trade.

For a variety of reasons, Cutler never played up to the ability he showcased in Denver in his first four seasons. Under Trestman, things are clicking. He’s getting the ball out quickly and spreading it around after the passing game was mostly one-dimensional last season with Brandon Marshall.

A lot of that is due to the improvements made by the offensive line. After hiring Trestman, Emery’s top goal was to protect Cutler better. He signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free agency and used the 20th pick in the draft on Kyle Long, who had only five starts above the junior college level. Long has looked the part at right guard and the Bears have not only minimized the sacks but the hits on Cutler as well.

With increased confidence in the pocket, he’s more comfortable. It will be interesting to see how the Bears handle a talented defensive line like the Lions' on the road. The Bengals have poured huge resources into their defensive line and the Bears fared very well against them in the season opener. That was at Soldier Field. Having to play on the road presents a different challenge.

2. How do the Bears replace a Pro Bowl defender like Henry Melton?

They don’t replace him with a Pro Bowl player.

Losing the defensive tackle to a torn ACL last Sunday at Heinz Field was a big blow. Nate Collins will step into the starting lineup alongside Stephen Paea but the Bears like to rotate their linemen a lot. Collins will play a good deal but expect Zach Minter, an undrafted free agent from Montana State, to get time.

The Bears have also worked defensive end Corey Wootton some inside this week. Wootton has played tackle before but that is in the team’s nickel package when it likes to get three defensive ends and a tackle on the field to rush the passer. It’s not an ideal situation especially when you consider the defense has struggled rushing the passer with four down linemen, one of the reasons the Bears have surrendered 18 pass plays of 20 yards or more through three games after giving up only 47 all of last season.

3. The Bears have been one of the more successful teams in the NFL over the years at limiting Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Why do you think that is?

It starts with cornerback Charles Tillman, who typically fares well against bigger wide receivers. He is physical and can challenge Johnson at the line of scrimmage and downfield.

The Bears’ Cover-2 scheme is predicated on preventing the big play and the Bears have generally kept Johnson from hitting them deep. They’ve also had success rushing quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Combine those facets and a defense will generally play well against all wide receivers. But Tillman is battling knee and groin injuries and if he plays he will not be 100 percent. That will likely signal a lot of zone coverage vs. Johnson with safety help over the top.

4. What's been the key so far to the Bears 3-0 start?

The revamped offensive line – center Roberto Garza is the only starter back from last season – is a good place to start. The Bears look different offensively and they are capable of scoring more than they were before.

Tight end Martellus Bennett has added a missing dimension to the scheme as well. They’re still getting turnovers – and scoring off them – like they have in recent seasons and as you said Cutler is more comfortable. But like the Lions, the Bears count a pair of victories against winless teams – Minnesota and Pittsburgh in their case.

As Bill Parcells says, you are what your record says you are. So, the Bears are 3-0 right now but a lot of people in Chicago are curious to find out just how good this team is.

5. How much more difficult are the Lions to defend with a healthy Reggie Bush and how do you think the Bears will try and attack the Lions offense?

Like Bennett for the Bears, Bush adds a missing element to the Detroit offense, a mismatch for opponents other than Megatron. While Bush set a career-high with 227 carries last season for the Dolphins, I suspect he is more valuable as a receiver to the Lions, a guy that can be a matchup problem for defenses underneath.

The Bears typically swarm to the ball well and I don’t envision them losing focus on Johnson in an effort to stop Bush. I think the Bears are hopeful that the artificial surface at Ford Field will help their struggling pass rush. It’s a fast track and Julius Peppers and Co. have not been getting to the quarterback with a lot of regularity, not without blitzing.

I think the Bears are hoping that changes in this game and that allows them to play Cover-2 on the back end and guard against Johnson.