Sunday, August 8, 2010

Up To Speed - Chicago Bears

One thing you have to remember, is that the majority of Bears fans are also Cubs fans. That means that they just can't wait to fall all over themselves with goofy levels of optimism without really thinking thru if that optimism is justified. Case in point, when the Bears made the most significant move the franchise has made in at least a decade in April of 09, trading for QB Jay Cutler.

To hear the local media tell it, Jay Cutler would be the Bears' Brett Favre, finally putting an end to the 20 year long procession of mediocrities the Bears have trotted out at QB in an effort to end a Championship drought that now stands at a pretty substantial 25 years. After all, Cutler was a Pro Bowl Quarterback, and by God the ball actually made noises when he threw it! ZZZIPPPPPPPPPP!.

One year later, there's a lot of doubt as to whether Cutler is the Bears' Favre, or if he's just a taller version of Rex Grossman who can't stop himself from throwing INTs at an alarming rate. 26 picks is not what anybody had in mind. Neither was the defense being worse than mediocre, ranking in the bottom half of the league in Y/A against both the run and the pass. That may have had something to do with playing the whole season without Brian Urlacher, who broke his wrist in the season opener, but it's hard to imagine the defense would have been anything more than average even with him.

To top it all off, the running game was also ineffective, with Matt Forte falling short of a 1000 yard season despite getting 258 carries. The end result of all this was a 7-9 season that in reality was worse than that record indicates because of the disappointment factor involved.

After 3 consecutive years out of the playoffs, the organization is officially in Panic Mode. And nothing says Panic Mode like hiring Mike Martz as your offensive coordinator. Yes, his schemes do get results in terms of points and yardage. But there are also ancillary costs such as the quarterback getting hit alot, and for a team whose backup QB is untested Caleb Hanie, that might not be such a good thing. The same cast of mostly incompetent wide receivers will be back running this new scheme as Cutler's targets, but the Bears did add a nice piece in former Vikings RB Chester Taylor. He is a very effective pass catcher and at the very least can split the workload with Forte, possibly making him more effective.

The task of protecting Cutler in this high risk scheme will fall to an offensive line with virtually the same personnel as last year, but with former Vikings head coach Mike Tice coaching them. Tice is a well respected line coach, so we'll see if he can make lemonade out of the lemons he's got on that line.

On defense, the Bears opened up the checkbook and landed the offseason's number 1 free agent prize, pass rusher Julius Peppers. That's actually a very nice pickup for the Bears IF Peppers plays at the level he has the last 2 years that earned him this big contract. If he does, it should really help the Bears be able to generate pressure with a 4 man rush, allowing Lovie Smith to play more of his beloved Cover 2, which allows him to drop more men into coverage and generate more turnover yumminess. They'll need Peppers to be productive, because as far as pass rushers go he's all the Bears have after they let Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, who combined for 12 1/2 sacks last season, walk. The secondary is a bit unsettled, with one corner spot up for grabs opposite Charles Tillman, and it's very possible the starting safeties could be a second year player, Al Afalava, and a rookie, Major Wright.

The Bears tried to half ass an organizational overhaul this offseason by firing virtually all of their assistant coaches but keeping Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo. That strategy really doesn't deserve to work, and it probably won't. Green Bay and Minnesota remain better teams than the Bears, and the Lions had a really good draft this year that will make them dangerous. Add to that the Bears having a brutal schedule outside of the division (at Dallas, at Giants, at Carolina, at Miami, home against New England and the Jets among the most notable probable losses), and I don't see the Bears having a successful year, or saving Lovie's job. I say 6-10 with Cutler, and if Cutler gets hurt as a result of playing in the Martz offense, we're talking a 2 or 3 win disaster.

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