The prevailing thought is that the Bears' 4-game winning streak is coming as a result of Mike Martz giving Jay Cutler more protection, but his stats don't seem that much better than earlier in the season (besides getting sacked less) and in fact is seems Cutler is just throwing more short passes. Have you noticed the offense improving? If so, how do you think they've improved?
Our General Manager Jerry Angelo is a defensive guy, specifically, a DL guy, and Lovie Smith is a DB/LB guy. With that being said, our offensive line has always been looked at as a less-important position in the Angelo-Smith regime, and the just plug someone in and play mentality has cost the Bears a lot of offensive heartaches as a result.
Mike Tice was brought in to help rectify that situation, and he immediately wanted to get bigger guys in the trenches, which was done. And, I'm going to say this with as much of a whisper as possible (shhh)... The OL has played better in the last few weeks than they have in the last few years. And when I say that, I mean that they have been remarkably average, which is octaves above being the worst unit in the league. The Bears have an OL full of over-sized, young guys (with the exception of veterans Roberto Garza and Chris Spencer) who are just now learning that they can be nasty, and it's been fun watching them improve week after week this season.
The bad news is that our two most recent 1st round draft picks, Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams, were both placed on season-ending IR, so that is not fun. At the end of the day, though, the Bears have Matt Forte, who has elevated himself into most folks' top-5 RB lists, and Jay Cutler, who can make defenses pay when he has time to set his feet and survey the field. If the OL can continue to just be average, the offense will continue to improve.
The Bears defense has been heavily praised this season, but before getting lots of turnovers against Matthew Stafford and his broken hand they didn't seem to do much. Also, outside of those turnovers, the stats say that the Bears can be run on and thrown on. How good is this defense?
The Bears defense has, for the last several seasons, had three to four games each year where they forget how to tackle RBs, rush the passer, and cover WRs. No one knows why it happens, but it always does. And then, magically, they get it back together. This season, it happened in Weeks 2-5. But, in Week 6, they came back to life. Brian Urlacher and the LBs have been all over the field, the DL rotation has been getting to the QB, and the DBs have been surprisingly effective, considering the starting safeties are a sophomore (Major Wright) and a rookie (Chris Conte). CB Charles Tillman, who has been a huge liability in coverage over the last 3 seasons, has suddenly remembered how to cover WRs, and nickel corner DJ Moore (who sprained his ankle Wednesday and is not expected to play) has been a pleasant surprise for the second year in a row.
My advice for anyone looking to get a sense of the Bears defense: Look at game replays over the last four weeks, not at the stats. They are playing like head-hunters, and registering more gang-tackles per game than anyone else in the NFL (Don't ask me for a citation for that... I sort of made it up, but I think it's probably true. Or at least it's probably close to being true.).
The Bears have some very well-known players on their roster, but who are some guys that make significant impacts that fly under the radar?
I mentioned rookie safety Chris Conte earlier... Bears fans just about jumped off the ledge when Angelo drafted him in the 3rd round earlier this year (Angelo can never do anything right, you see; if something works out, it's not because of him, it's despite him), but he is certainly justifying the decision to waive veteran Chris Harris, who was a leader on defense, but didn't have the sexiness he once had.
Also worth mentioning is WR Dane Sanzenbacher, an exceptional route-runner, who became a Cutler-favorite during training camp and preseason (disclaimer: Sanzenbacher dropped a couple passes in the two weeks just before Earl Bennett returned to the lineup from a chest injury, so he may be in the doghouse right now), and LB Nick Roach, who is just as athletic and fast as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but doesn't register the stats that they do.
What is the Bears fan opinion of Lovie Smith?
Explaining this might be as perplexing as explaining the migration habits of the Monarch Butterfly (seriously, google that shiat). Lovie Smith is highly, highly respected by his players, and loved by figurehead/owner Virginia McCaskey (granddaughter of founding father George Halas). But he is not always so endearing to the fans, considering his even-keeled demeanor on the sideline (Bears fans will defend Cutler's demeanor, but not Lovie's), and his time-management issues of the past. No one really knows how much influence Smith has in personnel matters, but the musical chairs situation with our safeties (something close to 50 different starting combinations in his regime) has been enough to occasionally ask: WTF?
He's a guy who will always be seen as the other half of Jerry Angelo, and someone who will be lauded for being awesome at times (he was solely responsible for developing Danieal Manning into a starting safety in the NFL through his one-on-one mentoring), and criticized for being awful during others (See: being unprepared at Atlanta, after the Bye week, in 2009).
Personally, I like Smith, and think he could thrive under a talented General Manager, but solely as an NFL head coach, he's average. Coincidentally, so is Angelo.
What are the biggest areas of concern for the Bears this year, and how could the Chargers take advantage?
OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, Mike Martz, OL, OL, OL. And in that order. With Williams and Carimi being placed on IR (although Carimi has been out for a few weeks), it will be interesting to see how Mike Martz calls the plays. Oh, and speaking of Martz... I love the guy. Seriously, when he is on a roll, he's unstoppable. If the OL is making it happen, Martz's play-calling can keep even the best of defensive coordinators on their toes. Unfortunately, sometimes Martz is his own worst enemy, and he falls all over himself. It almost seems like Martz comes to a game with a certain game plan, and he sticks with it no matter what. It can make him look like a genius at times (see: Atlanta), and a complete basketcase during others (see: New Orleans).
How the Chargers could take advantage: 1) Blitz Jay Cutler on all passing downs, without exception. 2) Show some man-to-man coverage on our WRs, which would entice Martz to call some 7-step drops for potentially big-play paydays.