Ask David Haugh

Tribune staff reporter

For any Illinois state troopers looking to fill a quota on speeding tickets Thursday afternoon, the southbound lanes of I-294 from Lake Forest to O'Hare were the place to hide. The Bears raced out of Halas Hall after their final practice before a three-day weekend like someone waved a green flag in the parking lot.

Indeed, the Bears are headed places.

But the flurry at which players sped out of the parking lot cast a stark contrast with the way safety Mike Brown hobbled out of the Bears locker room on crutches with his right foot in a cast. As expected, the team placed Brown on injured reserve for the second time in three seasons, giving him every reason to skulk away into oblivion and feel sorry for himself.

Instead, Brown showed up at Halas Hall 24 hours after surgeons placed screws in his right foot to repair a torn ligament to give his fellow defensive backs a pep talk about perseverance. Then Brown sat in front of the cameras and confronted the disappointment in a way that demonstrated the character the Bears know they will miss.

Losing Brown creates a new, unexpected question this season the Bears may not know the answer to for weeks.

Answering yours won't take nearly as long.

With Mike Brown injured, will the team seriously look at free-agent safeties, such as Lance Schulters, to bolster the secondary? The bye week gives them time to work an experienced player into the scheme. --Vic Fiebig, Springfield, Va.

The Bears kept six safeties on the roster, in part, anticipating the worst-case scenario with Brown. They also drafted safety Danieal Manning in the second round last April largely because of the uncertainty surrounding Brown's durability and pursued Adam Archuleta in free-agency before the draft for the same reasons. But the Redskins priced Archuleta out of the marketplace by guaranteeing him $10 million.

From the coaching staff to the front office, the Bears firmly believe the best replacement for Brown exists on the roster, and Todd Johnson gets the first shot to prove it. Chris Harris, when fully recovered from his quadriceps injury, could play in nickel situations. Had the Bears known about Brown's injury last week or even Monday before cornerback Troy Vincent signed with the Washington Redskins, they would have made a run at signing the 15-year veteran to provide stability on nickel downs. Bringing in another veteran makes little sense because the ones unemployed six games into the season are no better than the ones that have played in the Bears' system for a couple years.

On the your unofficial list of players the Bears can least afford to lose, where does Mike Brown rank? --John Krupa, Fayetteville, Ark.

Brian Urlacher is first, Tommie Harris is second, Olin Kreutz is third and Brown is fourth on my unofficial list of most indispensable Bears.

Isn't it obvious the Bears were outcoached on Monday night, kind of like they were outcoached by John Fox in last year's playoff embarrassment? Why doesn't this staff ever admit this to the fans? --David, Philadelphia

In fact, if you were listening to WBBM-AM during Monday night's game, an animated Lovie Smith told sideline reporter Zach Zaidman on the way off the field at the end of the first half that the Cardinals "outcoached and outplayed'' the Bears in the first half. It was stunningly honest for Smith, and could not have been more accurate.

The way Arizona used quick drops, rollouts and short passes to go up 20-0 against the NFL's best defense should have earned offensive coordinator Keith Rowen a bonus not a pink slip. Defensively, the Cardinals switched between a 3-4 and 4-3 alignments and confused Rex Grossman by playing five men on the defensive line.

The Bears adjusted in the second half, something they stubbornly did not do against Carolina in the playoffs. On offense, Ron Turner needs to call a more balanced game, agreed, but defensively the game plan was sound. The Cardinals just executed thanks to rookie quarterback Matt Leinart's poise and accuracy and deserve credit.

Yikes. Rex Grossman looked terrible just like he looked against the Vikings. This kid is really bad and makes poor decisions when rushed. As Steve Young said, Grossman never corrected himself. That worries me. Also the Bears never established the run. Grossman looked like he was some kind of a gunslinger who just shot himself in the foot. I'm not sure I have ever seen such a poor performance by a QB in 50 years of watching pro sports. --Rodger Harris, Waconia, Minn.

That's more a statement than a question, and we agree only on the part about Grossman playing a terrible game. He did. But to let four quarters of bad football erase 20 quarters of championship football Grossman had played coming into the game makes no sense at all. He has built up enough capital early this season to earn the benefit of the doubt. The Bears can't tolerate three games in a row like that from their quarterback, but those who have watched Grossman develop believe the Arizona game represented an aberration more than a trend. And that seems like the proper diagnosis from this chair.

Against the Cardinals, it seemed that the Bears cornerbacks were giving a lot of cushion to the receivers. I thought they could have stopped a lot of that by jamming them at the line. And is there any truth to the rumor that Ditka will be Lou Piniella's bench coach on the Cubs? --Chip Welch, Fort Wayne, Ind.

First, about Ditka: He will be too busy finding a cure for cancer, feeding the hungry, and providing expert football analysis to sit on the Cubs bench. Wasn't Da Coach behind YouTube too? As for the cornerbacks, the Bears' version of Cover 2 unlike other applications doesn't use the press alignment as often as a 5- to 7-yard cushion on the outside shoulder. Bears cornerbacks then funnel everything inside to the safeties and the cushion buys the linebackers an extra second to get into coverage before the receiver pops open in the intermediate zone. It also could help the safety from having to get off the hash so quickly. Don't confuse the cushion the cornerbacks give receivers with a soft approach. Defensive backs still can be physical from that alignment.

It's been six games. Indy was 13-0 last year and ended up losing their first playoff game. Atlanta started out 6-2 and ended up missing the playoffs. I can appreciate that the Bears have run a sub-par organization for the last 20-plus years, but going 6-0 against (literally) the easiest schedule in the league is no reason to celebrate in October. So for the love of God, is it possible to not hear any more '85 Bears comparisons and no longer boast about some analyst having the Bears as his No. 1 team in the NFL this week? --Nate, Peoria

Look, comparisons to '85 before Mike Brown's injury were legitimate and appropriate because that team set the standard that the '06 team looked capable of meeting. It's sports. We compare players and teams from different eras all the time. In politics, they are still comparing young, telegenic presidential hopefuls to John F. Kennedy. In Hollywood, every conversation about an up-and-coming actor includes comparisons to an on-screen predecessor. It's natural. It's harmless. While invoking 1985 may have annoyed fans tired of hearing about the '85 team or sports writers arguing otherwise just for the sake of argument, the statistics not only invited comparisons to the best Bears team ever but required them for any reporter doing his job responsibly. That said, expect to hear fewer comparisons for awhile but not because of any of the reasons you suggested. Without Mike Brown, the Bears became more vulnerable – and beatable.

In the previous Ron Turner offense (circa 1995) I remember a Tribune article stating that offensive production decreased at the end of the season as teams began stopping the big plays. We've now seen that happen on national television. What do you think of this offense compared to the era of Erik Kramer, Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham? Should we be concerned about a flaw in Turner's philosophy? Obviously we have a better defense now, but we can't get 21 points from them and the special teams every week. --Mike de la Paz, St. Louis

One subpar game doesn't warrant losing confidence in Turner's offense, Rex Grossman or the ability to score points. The Cardinals didn't stop big plays as much as the Bears failed to execute them. So it seems premature to conclude the league has caught up to what the offense did through five games. As for the offensive comparisons to '95 -- are we allowed to compare this team to one that played in a year ending with the No. 5? -- that offense was similar to this one but looks better. Kramer threw for 3,838 yards, 29 TDs and only 10 interceptions-- numbers likely to exceed Grossman's. Graham, the equivalent to Muhsin Muhammad, caught 82 passes for 1,301 yards. Conway, in the Bernard Berrian deep threat role, also passed the 1,000-yard barrier with 62 catches for 1,037 yards and 12 TDs. The running back on that '95 team? Rashaan Salaam, who averaged just 3.6 yards per carry but gained 1,074 yards. Will this Bears team have a 1,000-yard rusher?

Were the Bears exposed on Monday night? And if so, what was exposed? Or did they just play a bad game against a talented but underachieving team? --Tim King, Wauconda, Ill.

Arizona exposed only one method of beating this Bears' defense with a moving pocket, short, quick throws, and pounding the run enough to keep the linebackers honest even though it was ineffective and mind-numbing to watch. For three quarters, the Bears simply played a bad game and didn't match the Cardinals' intensity level. Then they put together what could be the defining quarter of the season and found a way to win the way championship teams do. But, yes, it helped that it was Arizona trying to protect a lead in its own stadium. A house of Cards indeed.

There is something I do not understand about managing the quarterback position in the NFL and perhaps you could help explain it to me. Why won't a coach replace the starting quarterback in a game in which he is struggling greatly but also make it clear that the substitution was situational and the starter will remain the starter. Why couldn't Lovie have said at some point during the second half, "OK, Rex, you are still my starter going forward but you just don't have it today so I'm going to have to go with Brian Griese the rest of the way." Is the only reason because the media and the fans would erupt and create some hugely dramatic quarterback controversy? In baseball, if Carlos Zambrano goes out there and gets bombed early, he gets pulled. --Scott Prince

Baseball offers a totally different dynamic. In baseball, the pitcher largely controls his own fate and is less dependent on the eight other players on the field than a quarterback is on his teammates. Rapport and chemistry matter less to a pitcher than they do to a quarterback for that reason. If an infield or outfield doesn't believe in a pitcher, he still might strike out the side and throw a four-hit shutout. But if receivers and an offensive line lose faith in their quarterback, he will sense it in the huddle and his confidence will be shot. Sure, the external pressures might prevent a coach from being too rash in changing quarterbacks, but he also places much stock in how a decision would go over in the locker room. The balance is so delicate that coaches usually restrict situational substitutions in football to running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs. Why don't offensive linemen rotate more? For the same reason Smith stuck with Grossman: Developing rhythm and continuity matter more in football than other sports.

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