Things Looking Up For Bears in NFCN...............
Four downs: Looking up for the Bears in the NFC North
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 9:29 a.m. CST, November 13, 2011
1. Arrow pointing up
The Bears approached a crossroad after their last meeting with the Lions, a loss Oct. 10 that dropped them to 2-3. But as Lovie Smith has done before, he found a way to rally his club and now the Bears are playing well in an NFC that looks wide open behind the unbeaten Packers. Smith has had plenty of success against the Packers, but that's looking way too far ahead. Of course, the Packers entered last season's playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed and won the Super Bowl. Winning here would forge a tie with the Lions and put the Bears in the thick of the hunt for top wild-card position — the fifth seed.
2. 'D' is the answer
What has keyed the Bears' turnaround has been a popular question, and the answer lies on defense. Yes, the offense is making strides, but the Bears were losing early in the season because they were being uncharacteristically gashed on defense. Big plays were the culprit in the loss at Detroit as the Lions had three plays that totaled 204 yards. There's no magic fix to that. The coaching staff has swapped out safeties, but the entire defense has improved, particularly the front seven. The Bears are built on defense and if they don't win in that phase, they'll struggle.
3. Cutler's comfort
Jay Cutler has been playing better and two developments have keyed that — the continued success of the line and the return of his favorite target Earl Bennett. The wide receiver was best described by Roy Williams as a "comfort blanket" for Cutler and it's obvious as he has targeted Bennett on third down and in the red zone. Keep in mind Bennett is only 24 and is still growing as a player. There has been a lot of focus on the play of the makeshift right side of the line with Lance Louis and Chris Spencer, but left tackle J'Marcus Webb and left guard Chris Williams have been steady. If this unit continues to improve, the Bears will have a young, promising line.
4. Just a coincidence?
There will be examination of the fact that Gabe Carimi became the third offensive lineman drafted by Jerry Angelo in the first round to have surgery during his rookie season. But Marc Colombo's dislocated knee was a freak incident, and it's probably not fair to compare Carimi's situation to that of Chris Williams in 2008. There were minor concerns about Carimi's knee by teams entering the draft. Williams had a back issue that flat-out scared some clubs off. Carimi was selected 29th overall, and not everyone expected him to make it that deep in the round. Williams was the 14th pick. Fortunately, Williams has been healthy since and is settling in nicely at left guard.
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