In this week's edition of Five Questions, PFW publisher and editor and Bears expert Hub Arkush says Julius Peppers hasn't been a factor since Week One and that Jay Cutler won't get a fair chance to prove himself until Jerry Angelo gives him a better supporting cast.
1. Are you impressed with how Jay Cutler is playing given the supporting cast he's surrounded by?
Arkush: I was very impressed by Cutler last Monday night vs. the Lions, but prior to that he'd been extremely average. He is 17th among NFL quarterbacks with an 82.7 passer rating and 22nd in completion percentage at 58.6 percent. You can't hang that all on the supporting cast. I am very impressed with how he's kept his cool, avoided throwing any teammates or coaches under the bus and he's obviously tough as nails. It's clear he has elite-type skills, but very unclear as to whether he'll ever turn those skills into him being an elite quarterback. There's still an awful lot left for him to prove, and it's more than fair to say he won't be given that chance until the Bears get him some protection and some weapons.
2. Is there anything Mike Martz can do to help the offense get better or is he doing the best he can with the pieces assembled by Jerry Angelo?
Arkush: I think Martz is doing the best he can in trying to run his own scheme with what Angelo's given him. The question is, can he improve the offense by once again doing what he did at the midpoint of the 2010 season — abandoning his scheme and going to more of a run-first, short-passing offense? The difference this year is the defense and special teams don't appear to be able to win games for you anymore, and without that threat the more conservative offense probably doesn't make the Bears much better.
3. Is J'Marcus Webb regressing or just not getting any better at left tackle?
Arkush: I wouldn't say he's regressing, but he certainly isn't improving and it's unclear, at best, at this point whether it's wise to plan on him as your left tackle of the future. Webb was moved there from right tackle because he appeared to have the traits you look for in a solid left tackle, not because he really proved all that much on the field last year. When you see one player with the number of false starts that he had vs. the Lions (three), it tells you his confidence is shot because he believes he has to get the fastest start to compete. Fortunately, confidence on the O-line isn't nearly as fragile as it is at the ball-handling positions and he should be able to get it back with just a couple of solid performances. The problem is that doesn't seem likely this Sunday against Jared Allen, the best pass rusher he's had to face so far this season.
4. How much of a culprit is age — being too old — in the Bears' woes on defense?
Arkush: I don't really think it is at all, yet. The Bears aren't getting beat because the older players — Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman — appear to have lost a step or are playing slow. They're getting clobbered because their safeties don't know how to play their positions and they're getting no help at all at defensive tackle. What's scary is that it is your best players who are all on the wrong side of 30 and as poorly as the "D" is playing right now, it appears it will only get worse as those guys get older.
5. Did you think there was a drop-off in Julius Peppers' performance compared to last season even before he injured his knee Monday night?
Arkush: There is no question about it — Peppers hasn't been a factor since the opener against Atlanta. He did get the field-goal block vs. the Panthers, but other than that he hasn't been much of a factor at all in the pass rush and at times he appears to be going at half speed. Is it age, the lack of an offseason to get ready with the team, or are the rumors about him out of Carolina prior to his free agency — that he doesn't always show up — true? Watching him last year you would never have believed there was a question about his effort and/or desire. But watching him this year you have to wonder. He does now have an awful lot of money in the bank.
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