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Bears look dangerous with Cutler staying upright; mail


Fairly amazing weekend in the NFL: Road teams went 10-4. Giants by four at one of the toughest places to win in the league (Foxboro), Ravens by three at a similarly tough Waterloo (Pittsburgh), Niners by eight in their fourth East Coast trip in seven weeks (Washington), Pack by seven against a troubled but troublesome team (San Diego), Broncos by 14 in a Black Hole (Oakland), Dolphins by 28 in what formerly was a very tough venue (Kansas City) ... and, Monday night, the Bears by six over a team that continues to mystify the western world (Philadelphia).

Two points to make today:

Don't sleep on the Bears. Even Lovie Smith mentioned the lack of respect the Bears were getting nationally and in Vegas. "The Chicago Bears shouldn't be eight-point underdogs when we come and play a team,'' he said after the Bears went to Philadelphia and beat the Eagles Monday night. It's surprising a coach would refer to a point spread, but because he did, you know how he banged home the get-no-respect point to his team before the game. Nowhere did it resonate more than on the offensive line. Mike Martz did a good job in taking Jay Cutler from one spot to another, having him be a moving target. The Eagles had zero sacks and were credited with zero hits on Cutler; you can see the emphasis (intelligently so) from Martz and line coach Mike Tice on making sure the defense has to work to find Cutler.

In the last three games, Cutler's been sacked three times. That's a tremendous job by a quarterback with his mobility, with a staff to know they can just leave Cutler in the pocket, and with a line that's bowed it back and said, We're not as bad as everyone says. The win put the 5-3 Bears a game behind the Lions, with an important Detroit-Chicago meeting Sunday at Soldier Field. With Chicago facing most of the Western world in the following five weeks (San Diego, at Oakland, Kansas City, at Denver, Seattle), Monday night's victory was hugely significant for its playoff hopes. Look at those five games. They mean that even a loss against the Lions won't knock the Bears out of realistic contention.

Mayock is one major worker bee. The other day, I caught the NFL Network Thursday night color man in Oakland doing some pregame work on the Raiders. (Mayock and Brad Nessler will call the Oakland-San Diego season-opening Thursday nighter on NFL Net.) This is his prep work for the first network game of the year: Friday with the Raiders on site, Saturday completing watching every coaches' tape of all Raiders and Chargers games this year, Sunday at Raiders-Broncos, Monday and Tuesday at the Chargers, Wednesday with some Raider interviews, and game day Thursday. So I'll be stunned -- because Mayock is such a grinder -- if we won't learn something we didn't know about each team during the telecast Thursday.

Two nuggets I got from Mayock, in addition to the Andrew Luck one I wrote about in Monday's column: He likes USC quarterback Matt Barkley a lot. "He doesn't have a Carson Palmer skill set,'' Mayock said. "But he throws on time, he doesn't take sacks and he doesn't throw interceptions. I think he'll be a very interesting pro, a good one.''

He said he's confused by some things he's seen on tape with Philip Rivers and was anxious to talk to him to see how he's feeling and why he's made some of the decisions he's made. "There seems to be something missing,'' Mayock said. I'll tell you what it is. It's two things: Enough time to throw -- and Darren Sproles.

Now onto your mail:

I DO THINK THERE IS REASON TO WORRY. "Peter, I always love reading your column, especially the odd and often missed stats of the week. Despite being 8-0, how concerned should the Packers be about their pass defense that has been pretty weak most of the season, and looked especially awful against the Chargers, who have not been that great of a passing team this season? Is it even more concerning considering that a good pass defense was so vital to their Super Bowl run last year with the Tramon Williams pick in the end zone to beat Philly, the Tramon Williams pick-six to essentially ice the game in the first half against Atlanta, the B.J. Raji pick-six against the Bears, the two picks by Sam Shields (the last one ending the game) against the Bears, and of course the two picks in the Super Bowl, including the Nick Collins pick-six.''-- Andrew Puckett, Centreville, Va.

I'd be worried. These Packers remind me of the Patriots of 2007. You knew every week they could put up 40, but if Tom Brady was off his game or got a defensive look he couldn't handle, they could lose. And they did. I'm sure Dom Capers is a little concerned, and it's something I'll try to look into this week.

OFFICIATING WOES. "Great read again for MMQB! But as you said, 'The idiotic inconsistency of flags for hitting receivers very hard, legally' is something I've noticed. Now it seems there are inconsistencies inside a given NFL crew. How does Ryan Clark get flagged for his hit on Ed Dickerson, but Ray Lewis gets a pass on his hit on Hines Ward (the latter being worse in my opinion)? Is there anything the NFL can do to get their referees to get on the same page with the NFL on what they are looking for with illegal hits?"-- Tyler, Milwaukee

I'm starting to feel very bullish on something Mike Florio and I talked about Sunday night at NBC: These hits should be subject to instant-replay review, without changing the rules about frequency of reviews. The game's so fast, and officials cannot hope to judge intelligently whether the collisions they're seeing are penalties or not. Sometimes they throw the flag and they're wrong, and sometimes they don't throw the flag, and they're wrong. Fifteen yards can be a pretty important reason for a challenge, especially late in a game.

I'M NOT BLAMING MINNESOTA, SIMPLY STATING HOW BAD IT LOOKS NOW. "I don't think you can blame Minnesota for passing on Aaron Rodgers. At the time of the 2005 draft, Daunte Culpepper was one of the top QB's in the game, coming off a 2004 season that was one of the best statistical seasons of all time. There should be no regret for something that would not have made any sense at the time.''-- Max, Atlanta

Good point. But I'm not blaming Minnesota. I'm pointing out how bad it looks in retrospect. It was only months after that draft that the Culpepper downfall began, and he was off the team 10 months after Rodgers got picked.

ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE COLT A CHANCE. "I've always enjoyed reading your articles and respect your opinions/knowledge. Regarding your comments about Colt McCoy in MMQB yesterday, I respectfully disagree with what you might be insinuating regarding the Browns' future QB situation. McCoy is young and makes mistakes, no doubt, but he suffers from lack of a consistent running game, a porous offensive line and no real receiving threat. Do you honestly believe McCoy can be evaluated fairly given the situation around him? We consistently hear about having to be patient and how it takes time to build a championship team...starting over at QB again and again seems to contradict that line of thinking.''-- Doug, Lexington, Ohio

Fair or unfair, there's a good chance the strength of the 2012 draft will be at quarterback. McCoy appears to have a chance to be a good player long-term. But if he doesn't play better, regardless of his surroundings, not picking a quarterback high in a quarterback-rich draft is something that could haunt the franchise for years. I'm not even saying they should take one if McCoy struggles. I'm saying I think they certainly will consider it strongly.

THIS WEEK. "At what point do the Bengals evolve from a nice little story into a legit Super Bowl contender? It's never been so fun to be a Bengals fan. Even in 2005 and 2009, there was a hint of fraud to them, and they were an unlikable team at that. This team just looks the part with its defense and smart QB play, and it seems to be a great locker room. Your thoughts on this improbable half season so far? Can they give Baltimore and Pittsburgh a run for it?''-- Jon Wagner, South Vienna, Ohio

If they beat Pittsburgh at home on Sunday to go 7-2, we'll take them a whole lot more seriously.

DON'T FORGET BRADY. "Aaron Rodgers has been outstanding this year. Absolutely terrific. But I'm tired of hearing how he's playing better right now than any QB in NFL history. Please go back and look at the numbers for Tom Brady in his first 8 games of 2007. They're better.

Yards: Rodgers: 2,619; Brady, 2,431

Touchdowns: Brady, 30; Rodgers, 24

Interceptions: Brady, 2; Rodgers, 3;

Completion percentage: Brady, 75.2; Rodgers, 72.5

OB rating: Brady, 131.1; Rodgers, 129.7

Yards per completion: Brady, 11.51; Rodgers, 9.88

I suspect Rodgers will fall off some, like Brady did in 2007, cause of winter/bad weather; teams catching up with offensive schemes a bit; injuries, etc. Wasn't Brady playing better through 8 games than Rodgers is?''-- Jim, Mobile, Ala.

You have the made the argument eloquently. Very smart email. Thanks. I guess I would say a couple of things, having no idea what the second half holds. The Patriots scored 34 or more in the first eight games that year and then faded, scoring 34 or fewer in nine of their final 11 games, including playoffs. So the Patriots, for whatever reason, weren't as explosive in the second half of the season and playoffs as they were in the first. Will that happen to the Packers? Very well could, especially because they could have five straight December-January games, with weather a possible factor in any or all: at the Giants, Oakland at home, at K.C., and Chicago and Detroit to finish at Lambeau. Good email, Jim.

WISH I'D TAKEN NOTE OF THIS. "Great column as usual but I think you failed to acknowledge one of the most amazing things I think I've ever seen in football. As San Diego was trying to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter they went to a silent count. Not a big deal, except they were playing at home. Can you think of any other NFL fans that can take over a stadium like Packer fans?''-- Chad, Milwaukee

Steeler fans travel just as well, but you make a great point. Thanks.