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If the Bears can slow Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith on Sunday night at Soldier Field, they will stop the vaunted Cowboys offense.
You mean it's not that Dallas offense?
Hard to tell. The hype surrounding the NFL's highest-scoring unit coming to town hasn't gone unnoticed among Bears defensive players who could find an edge on a marble.
They mostly speak in respectful, rehearsed, respectful tones about quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Terrell Owens and the twin-barreled backfield. But anybody who thinks the Cowboys coronation as the NFL's hot new thing doesn't rankle a few Bears forgets how the defending NFC champs think.
The Bears are so adept at finding slights for motivation that they could list pride every week on the injury report.
Are the Cowboys as dangerous as scoring 41 points a game suggests, Alex Brown was asked.
"If I read the papers, I'm going to say yeah,'' Brown said Thursday. "They look good on film but they can be beat, anybody can be beat. . . .I'm not blown away by much at all.''
In a page out of the Dennis Green glossary, someone mentioned to Brown how obviously some NFL observers are ready "to crown'' the Cowboys.
"A lot of people are,'' Brown said. "They're a good team, don't take nothing away from them. They have good special teams, good defense, good offense, good quarterback, good running backs, but. . .''
But the point Brown was trying to convey is that the Bears defense knows something about stopping good offenses. This wasn't talking trash as much as speaking truth and building confidence.
It was nothing more incendiary that Cowboys special teams player Keith Davis telling the Dallas Morning News on Thursday that he wanted no part of kicking away from Devin Hester. "We better kick it to him,'' Davis said. "If he's supposed to be the best, let's see how good we are.''
More foolish words never have been spoken in an NFL locker room but every week players around the league say similar things intended more to build up morale more than tear down an opponent.
Like when Brown closed his state-of-the-Cowboys offense address by questioning whether Romo indeed deserved the superstar label.
"Is Peyton Manning a superstar? If Peyton Manning is a superstar, I don't think [Romo] is on that level,'' Brown said. "He can run, he can get out of the pocket. Not trying to take anything away from him but if you say Peyton Manning's a star and Romo's a star, I don't think they're in the same class. But no doubt he's good.''
Can Romo be rattled by the Bears?
"Everybody can,'' Brown said. "Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, they're the best in the league and they can be rattled. Anybody can be rattled.''
How? More on that Sunday. For now, here are some other questions to ponder between NBC promos for Sunday night's prime-time event.
With the obvious struggles of Rex Grossman with consistency, would the Bears go after Donovan McNabb if his situation continues to deteriorate in Philly? Do you see a scenario like this possibly playing out? --Chris Fosnacht, Arlington, Va.
Too many assumptions have to be made before such a scenario deserves serious consideration. Grossman would have to continue to struggle and lose his job. McNabb would have to sever ties with the Eagles at the end of this season. The Bears would have to be willing to either engineer a trade with the Eagles or pony up financially if McNabb is cut. All those possibilities aren't necessarily outlandish but two games into a Super Bowl-or-bust season for the Bears seems a tad premature to be worrying about who starts at quarterback in 2008. McNabb no doubt would represent an upgrade but there are more than half of the teams in the league for which that could be said. He's an elite winner with many good years of football left.
This week's media speculation is driven by McNabb's controversial comments on black quarterbacks and the race to be the first guy to suggest the obvious McNabb-to-his-hometown story. But in reality Tommie Harris beat everybody to the punch in playfully mentioning last spring the Bears would win the Super Bowl with McNabb. He was right, of course, and one day McNabb indeed may get the chance to do just that. But it's too early to start debating whether Mrs. McNabb will film her soup commercials at Soldier Field or Navy Pier.
Were you surprised by McNabb's comments that black quarterbacks were criticized more than white ones in light of Grossman in Chicago? -- Billy Burrey, White Plains, N.Y.
It spoke well for McNabb that he came back a day later and qualified his comments to reflect that no quarterback has been criticized more than Grossman. The most surprising reaction from this seat came from Lovie Smith, who's usually reluctant to express personal feelings but publicly supported McNabb's comments out of respect for the quarterback. Will it be the last time Smith goes to bat for McNabb?
I am concerned about the lack of pass protection that the Bears have showed during the first two games. I am little surprised that Ron Turner has not adapted to how defenses attack the Bears. Why don't the Bears call two or three different plays in the huddle and adjust once they see the defense? --Mike S., St. Charles, Ill.
Join the club. The level of confusion apparent in protecting Grossman makes no sense given the collective experience of the offensive line. That leaves a couple possible explanations: Either the line's skills have eroded quicker than anybody realized (unlikely) or the linemen are trying to absorb the blame to soften criticism on Grossman (likely). Identification of blitzes and recognition of how to properly block them starts with the quarterback, as Grossman acknowledged Wednesday. Once he improves that aspect of the pre-snap reads, what happens during the play will begin to improve. And though it probably doesn't look that way yet this season, the Bears do have plenty of audibles at their disposal in order to change plays depending on what the defense gives them.
It seems teams are aiming to rattle Grossman and not allow him to get into any type of rhythm through frequent blitzes. What can the Bears do counter this and punish teams for sending extra players pass the line of scrimmage and quickly get the ball off to the open man on the field? -- Mark Rachkevych, Kyiv, Ukraine
Surely you can see how the Bears can accomplish this, even from Ukraine: Turn a 10-yard quick slant on a blitz adjustment into a 75-yard touchdown pass. Successfully run a screen pass. Block the extra pass-rusher with maximum protection and find Greg Olsen down the middle. It will take at least one big play to slow down a blitz. So far, there have been none.
After the first two games, I have to go back to a question you previously addressed -- Do you still think Grossman has the recognition skills and quickness to successfully deal with the league's better defenses? I don't know that his having put up seven 100+ ratings against lesser defenses last year cuts it as an answer. --Steve, Frisina, Franklin, Tenn.
It really doesn't matter any longer where people stand on the Good Rex/Bad Rex debate. Grossman has reached the point in his season and career that the only statements that mean anything will come on Sundays. The points his defenders have made will be moot until he shows progress. It's time to stop talking and start doing. Whether Grossman's big games have come against bad defenses is irrelevant because the ability he displayed justified the faith many people placed in him. It's still the NFL. But the problem in raising expectations as Grossman did in those games is meeting them. Grossman just hasn't. He still can turn it around but the process has to begin Sunday night against the Cowboys or the support he begins to lose could be in his own locker room.
It's been said that cornerbacks are the great athletes that can't catch the football or else they'd be on offense. Given that Devin Hester is an unbelievably great athlete, why are the Bears, as well as the other teams who considered drafting him, convinced that he is a wideout and not a cornerback? What basic cornerback skills does he lack? --Tom, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Hester is the most explosive athlete to burst onto the Bears scene in decades. But the question isn't why he was switched to wide receiver but why he ever started off at cornerback. The word was Hester always wanted to emulate his mentor, Deion Sanders, but he lacked the natural instincts and physicality to excel at the position in the NFL. He didn't have the greatest understanding of where the ball was or where he belonged in the scheme. Look at the tape of last year's Rams game as an example. That's not a knock on Hester just a realistic description of his skill set. It includes dodging tackles instead of making them.
If I see another compliment about fullback Jason McKie, I might get sick. All I ever see is our RB down on the ground and him standing around or him getting caught from behind on a screen pass. He is not the only reason for a bad offense so far, but his play certainly sends no shivers down opposing defenses spines. What do you think? --Joe Cantu, Charlottesville, Va.
The Bears have more problems than the play of their fullback, whose shortcomings seem exaggerated by you. The screen passes you reference are really swing passes where McKie represents Grossman's safety valve and he often does get caught because he weighs 245 pounds and fullbacks rarely can outrun anybody but offensive linemen. But if you think McKie is part of the problem, you will be glad his snaps likely will be reduced with Greg Olsen returning and the Bears using more two tight-end formations.
What is the reasoning behind running a play for Hester the second he steps on the field? He can obviously score on any given play so why not run a fake reverse to him to gauge the response from the opposing defense? That way we could set up the big play later on in the game. --Adam, San Francisco
Not sure how much purpose fake reverses serve but it's a valid point of using Hester more as a decoy. His speed forces secondary players to worry at all times where he is on the field. Yet the Bears haven't exactly put on an NFL clinic in the first two games on How To Use a Weapon.