There is plenty to fix for the Bears and issues are arising at a critical time with losses in three of their last four games and the Packers and Lions next on the schedule.
Already in third place in the NFC North, the Bears could be deep in pursuit mode if they can't find a way to get at least one victory between Monday's game at Lambeau Field and the Nov. 10 home meeting against the Lions.
But it was a little surprising to see USA Today slap a grade of D on the Bears for their work through the first seven games, proof Bill Parcells' adage that "you are what your record says you are" wasn't used in the evaluation process. The Bears are one of 13 teams with a winning record but only the Jaguars, Buccaneers, Vikings, Giants and Steelers fared worse, earning F's.
One thing the Bears have done well is protect the quarterback. That is why the move to backup quarterback Josh McCown for the foreseeable future -- general manager Phil Emery said Thursday morning on WSCR-AM 670 that the team is still on the same timetable to evaluate Jay Cutler after four weeks -- doesn't necessarily signal a collapse is forthcoming.
Emery's top offseason goal was to revamp the offensive line, and those changes, along with Marc Trestman's offense and emphasis on getting the ball out quickly, have worked. But the line needs to continue to improve as it has been far from perfect. Still, the Bears have allowed only 11 sacks, tying them with the Broncos and Chargers for the second-fewest in the NFL behind the Lions (10). The Bears surrendered 11 sacks in the first three games a year ago and currently they're on pace to give up 25, which would be their lowest total since hitting that number in 2006.
Former Packers safety Charles Woodson said last year that "Jay will throw us the ball," and part of that was because Green Bay had confidence it would fluster the quarterback with its pass rush. Cutler is 1-7 in eight starts against the Packers since 2009 and has thrown eight touchdowns with 17 interceptions. The Packers picked off McCown twice in his Dec. 25, 2011, start at Lambeau when he was pressured but not sacked.
"What's it going to be like with the new offense?" Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "It looks like they made a step with the offensive line. They are protecting better. We are going to expect a little different game. We won't expect to get to (the quarterback) quite like we did in the past."
The Packers are still without outside linebacker Clay Matthews, their top pass rusher, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers is adept at designing ways to get to the quarterback.
In his last start, the Vikings sacked McCown seven times. But the Bears prevailed 17-13 in the 2011 season finale, the only time the club has won allowing that many sacks since 1987.
Protection should be better this time around, and if you're going to roll with a backup quarterback, you can't have him running for his life.
"We know where we sit protecting the quarterback in the league," Trestman said. "Statistically, we know we're very, very good. We have been good giving the quarterback a chance to complete a throwing motion, but we think we can do better."
Running back Matt Forte missed McCown's start in Green Bay, so center Roberto Garza and wide receiver Earl Bennett are the only remaining offensive players who played that day. The upgrades at wide receiver and tight end give hope that the offense can keep churning after McCown helped lead the Bears to 24 points in the second half of a 45-41 loss at Washington on Oct. 20.
But setting up McCown for success in place of Cutler, whether it's for one game or four, starts with the offensive line and, according to Williams, the Packers have picked up on the difference with Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson on the left side and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side.
"To take this group up there, it takes a lot of pressure off of me," McCown said. "There is an opportunity to play efficient football and know that we are going to have a good plan and hopefully avoid what has happened in the past."
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