The St Louis Rams and Chicago Bears don't really enjoy the same kind of rivalry that our baseball counterparts do. If anything, there is a studied indifference between these teams and fan bases - we have our rivalries with the 49ers and Seahawks to worry about, and they have their rivalries against the Packers, Lions, and other gridiron old-schoolers.
But fan bases for both teams also pit their current team against the greatness of teams past - the Rams will be compared endlessly to the Greatest Show on Turf, and fall short. Likewise, no Bears team before or since has compared to the 1985 Shufflin' Crew.
This makes for an interesting dynamic when exchanging Q&A, where neither the Rams fan nor the Bears fan is afraid to be critical of his own team. At least, that is the sentiment I get when exchanging thoughts with Brett Solieski of MidwayIllustrated.com.
Here are his answers to my questions, giving us an inside look at the Bears' strengths and weaknesses.
RamsHerd: Last year the Bears appeared ready to break out before injuries waylaid their season. This year they've been a sexy pick to move past the Lions and perhaps even the Packers in the North. What is your take on these predictions, and on this team's upside? Midway Illustrated: The Bears have a good team that should make the playoffs, but I think last week's game against the Packers exposed the same fundamental flaws on offense that will keep this team from making a deep playoff run. RH: Obviously, Jay Cutler is the lightning rod of this team. Is he the guy you want leading your team's playoff charge, as a fan? MI: Honestly, no I do not want Jay Cutler leading this team in the playoffs against teams with good to great defenses. Can Jay Cutler lead this team to the Super Bowl? Yes the potential is there for greatness, but I've reached the point with Cutler that I don't believe greatness will ever happen for him. He continues to make the same fundamental mistakes year after year and takes way too many chances with the football. He's an arrogant gun-slinger who I don't believe can play consistent mistake free football for three to four games in order to win an NFL title. With Cutler you win big and you lose big and against the best teams in the NFL, far too often Cutler loses big.
RH: Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis have been perennial defense-defining forces at middle linebacker. Somehow each one keeps on going, age be damned. How much does Urlacher have in the tank? Is he still as fearsome a presence? MI: No, Urlacher is not a fearsome presence any longer and could quite possibly be in his last season in a Bears uniform. He suffered a knee injury during the 2011 season finale that he sought different treatments for, and felt ready for camp. He aggravated that knee during camp, had arthroscopic knee surgery a little over four weeks ago and right now is playing at half speed.
He literally jogs to the football on tape, there is no speed to his game at the moment. He can't run full speed, never mind the age factor as that has nothing to do with it. What's evident right now heading into the game against the Rams is Brian Urlacher is playing hurt and as a result cannot play football at full speed. The Rams could very well exploit him in this game if they've seen what I have seen on tape.
One can only hope that the 11 day rest from the Thursday night game has made a difference, but my guess is it won't and Urlacher will not be full speed all season. RH: Brandon Marshall is one of the greatest risk/reward players in football, and will be the most dangerous playmaker on the field Sunday. How does that acquisition look, two weeks in? MI: Well, in week one Marshall had 9 receptions off of 15 targets for 117 yards and a touchdown. Week two saw the Packers play a lot Cover-2 man under which completely took Marshall out of the game.
Mike Tice didn't make any adjustments to attack this defense and as a result the Bears paid the price on offense. The Bears are trying to throw the football down the field and have no real creativity to their passing game from what I've been able to see through two games. Mike Tice is either going to find a way to open up the playbook, or the Bears are going to struggle all season long to move the football on offense.
Marshall can be used all over the field, he's not a one-dimensional receiver and the Bears need to use some offensive creativity to get the best possible production out of him. Marshall is a top-five receiver in this league and it remains to be seen if the Bears can give him the opportunities he deserves to play like one. RH: The Rams appear to be making strides offensively, but are nowhere near the dynamos in Detroit and Green Bay in terms of firepower. How will the Bears gameplan this matchup? MI: From what I've seen on tape from the Rams, they're unafraid to run the football but are not a strong power running team. They're going to try and spread you out, make you defend all areas of the field and attack the weaknesses. You have to play really disciplined assignment football to slow down this wide open, almost college spread offense, that the Rams run.
The Bears aren't likely going to try and get real fancy in order to stop the Rams. They'll want to get pressure with their front four, which through two games they have been really successful at doing, and then keep everything in front. The Bears are extremely aggressive with their front four on passing downs running a lot of stunts, slants attacking gaps and using their speed to disrupt the run game and get pressure. The Bears right now look like they have four legit pass rushers in Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton. They play really disciplined assignment football and rally to the football well.
I like this match up because they force you to make consistent plays on offense and don't have to blitz to get pressure off the edge, thereby leaving an opening on the field for the Rams to attack.
My thanks to Brett for his perspective. You'll be able to see my responses to his questions on MidWayIllustrated.com. I will also be appearing on his pregame podcast on Thursday evening. You can (and should) follow him on Twitter at @MidwayIllustrat.
Photo via Smokin Jay Cutler.