Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
After Chicago’s 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
Quarterback Jay Cutler helped turn two unknown receivers into stars in Denver, and now he’s working on a new project in Chicago. Brandon Marshall was a fourth-round draft pick, and the Broncos drafted Eddie Royal to be a kick returner. By the end of their rookie years, each was a Pro-Bowl caliber receiver. I’m not predicting the same thing for Bears rookie Johnny Knox, but it’s hard to avoid the comparisons. Cutler clearly feels comfortable throwing him the ball, targeting him nine times Sunday against the Steelers. Knox figured as the Bears’ No. 4 receiver this season, but his connection with Cutler should guarantee him regular playing time.
After all the late-week hubbub about a shakeup at safety, veteran Kevin Payne still got plenty of playing time. That’s because the Bears decided to keep Danieal Manning as their nickelback despite making him a starting safety. That means every time the Steelers went to three receivers, Manning moved inside and Payne entered the game to play safety. It’s a little unconventional to swap safeties so frequently during the course of the game, but ultimately I guess it’s a reflection of whom the Bears consider their best five defensive backs. Tells you a lot about what the Bears think not only of Nate Vasher, but also Corey Graham. Both have been starting cornerbacks in the past.
We had a Tommie Harris sighting in the fourth quarter. Chicago’s mysterious defensive tackle burst through the line and dropped Steelers tailback Mewelde Moore for a 2-yard loss on a first-down play. The Steelers ultimately were unable to convert a first down, and place-kicker Jeff Reed followed by missing a 43-yard field goal. Harris once made those plays routinely, tipping the field-position battle to the Bears’ favor with a play behind the line. We’ve chronicled his knee problems this summer, but I think the Bears would be happy with one or two of those kinds of plays per game.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
What’s happened to the Bears’ running game? In two games, Matt Forte has totaled 84 yards. And it’s not like the Bears haven’t given him a chance. Forte has 38 carries already, tying him for seventh in the NFL. If anything, you would think Forte would have more success early this season as teams adjust to Cutler’s arrival. But that hasn’t been the case. The Bears can certainly rely on Cutler to carry their offense, but it’s not the style of coach Lovie Smith and I would expect him, if anything, to pound Forte even more until he breaks through.