When New Orleans hosts Chicago on Sunday in its home opener, you’ve likely read as much about the Saints as you possibly can.
But what about the Bears?
That’s where A View From the Other Side comes in. Every Friday during the Saints' season WWL-TV.com will ask five questions to at least one beat writer covering the Saints’ opponent that week.
Today we’ve got not just one, but a double dose of goodness as two of the best and brightest on the Bears beat were kind and gracious enough to help out.
Brad Biggs is the beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, covering the Bears now for 11 years. He’s also in his third year as a contributor for the National Football Post. He has one of the most-active and most-informative twitter accounts out there: @BradBiggs.
Our second guest has helped us out before: Kevin Seifert, the NFC North beat writer for ESPN.com. Seifert joined ESPN.com in 2008 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for eight years. You can read his coverage on the NFC North blog while you can follow his tweets @ESPN_NFCNblog
*Note: The questions were emailed out on Wednesday before Brian Urlacher's status was known. Question 5 still stands, however.
WWLTV.COM: The Saints' offensive line had issues in the opener with diagnosing Green
Bay's defensive alignments, stunts and blitzes, leading to Drew Brees getting sacked three times and hit countless others. How will the Bears attack New Orleans' offensive front?
Brad Biggs: “The Bears had a great deal of success rushing the passer in their opener against the Falcons, sacking Matt Ryan five times. Defensive end Julius Peppers spearheads the front and the Bears, in their Tampa-2 scheme, try to generate their pass rush with the front four. Peppers primarily lines up at right end but he moves around and the Bears may look to attack right tackle Zach Strief with the more athletic Peppers.
“The breakout performance in Week 1 came from Henry Melton, a former running back at Texas who is in his third season. He's the starting under tackle, replacing the departed Tommie Harris, and he had two sacks and five hits on Atlanta's Ryan. The Bears rotate seven players on the line to keep their rushers fresh and will mix in blitzes, primarily using nickel cornerback D.J. Moore.”
Kevin Seifert: “The Bears like to rely on their front four and haven’t blitzed a ton since Rod Marinelli became the defensive coordinator. That’s been the biggest benefit of signing Julius Peppers. His pass rush allows them to devote maximum players to coverage. The Bears also got two sacks from new defensive tackle Henry Melton last week, so I bet they’ll feel comfortable with their standard four-man rush on a lot of their plays.”
WWLTV.com: Jay Cutler, quite publicly, caught flak for the way the NFC championship
game went down. He showed in the Week 1 win over Atlanta that he has moved past it himself. My question is did his teammates give him the benefit of the doubt or is he one bad game from losing the locker room?
Biggs: “Cutler has the support of the locker room, particularly from veterans who have been around and seen some of the real problems the franchise has had at the position in the past. Cutler wasn't criticized by teammates in the fallout from the NFC title game last year, but interestingly he was very publicly flogged by others throughout the league. That was more of a representation of his popularity, or lack of, than people actually questioning his toughness. He may not be the most popular player in his locker room, in fact he's not, but he doesn't have to be. Teammates simply look for him to perform.”
Seifert: “I guess the best way of putting it is that NFC Championship Game didn’t do anything to change teammates’ perception of Cutler one way or the other. That came at the end of his second year with the team. By that point, everyone had enough information about him to make a personal judgment. I’m sure it’s like many teams. Some players like him and some don’t. But I don’t think that game changed anything.”
WWLTV.com: Devin Hester is one of the, if not the, best return man in football. With the kickoff rule changing, how have you seen Hester's ability to change games, well, change? Have the Bears put more stock into his offensive output?
Biggs: “Sure, the rule will affect every returner, but Hester has always been a more talented punt returner than kickoff returner. He's returned a punt for a score against the Saints previously at Soldier Field. The Bears will be aggressive running kickoffs out of the end zone. Hester's biggest impact will continue to come on punt returns. On offense, Hester had a strong offseason working with Cutler and is more natural in the second season in Mike Martz's scheme.”
Seifert: “Hester’s still most dangerous on punt returns, and that hasn’t changed at all with this rule. In recent years, he had been transitioning off kickoffs, anyway. They did use him there last week against the Falcons, but it’s not clear whether that will be his full-time job. The Bears are still trying to find a balance between using him as a returner and maximizing his big-play ability on offense. I think they’re hoping to lower his snaps but increase his efficiency on offense this year.”
WWLTV.com: Jay Cutler called Matt Forte his "security blanket" on his conference call with New Orleans writers this week. In your mind, just how important is Forte to the success of the offense?
Biggs: “Forte has been the most consistent performer on offense for three seasons since he was a second-round pick out of New Orleans. He's an ideal fit for Martz's scheme because of his all-around ability, particularly his receiving skills. Forte is in the best shape of his career. He doesn't have the speed of some of the top backs, but he rarely gets caught in the open field. The Bears re-tooled their offense to become more run-oriented during the offseason, putting an emphasis on tight ends who block better. It all starts with Forte.”
Seifert: “He’s their second-most important player after Cutler. Great, great receiver. Natural ball skills and also excellent open-field runner. Makes him great on screens.”
WWLTV.com: The big if right now is Brian Urlacher because of the passing of his mother. If he doesn't play on Sunday, how much does that chance Chicago's defense and if he does play, how much do you suspect he'll be affected by his mother's death?
Biggs: “Urlacher is expected to play in Sunday's game. He started his 12th season with a big game, being named NFC defensive player of the week after he made an interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Saints. I can't begin to imagine what the loss of his mother is like, but he's a professional and on the field he brings an element to that defense that cannot be replaced.”
Seifert: “A lot of people are betting he will play and play well. If he doesn’t make it back, it’s obviously a huge loss for the Bears. They have no true backup at his position and would likely have to alter another position by moving Nick Roach or Lance Briggs over to the middle. Urlacher the heart and soul of the Bears defense.”