By Adam T., Windy City Gridiron
The Bears have been making it a habit to be just good enough the previous year, yet do just enough in the preseason that they keep Bears Nation positive. However, they still remain an absolute enigma to the rest of the league. OK, let's be honest. They are an enigma to us Bears fans. We are just tired of trying to figure out what is going on. The Bears are loaded with an equal combination of talent and potential.
The Bears find themselves in a division that's suddenly complete. Green Bay and Minnesota (with or without Favre) are Super Bowl contenders and the Lions, while not yet ready to be prime time players, have started amassing a fair amount of talented young players. It will be interesting to see what they can do this year.
Significant Offseason Additions/Subtractions
For the second straight year the Bears have made the biggest move of the offseason. Last year it was the trade for Jay Cutler. This year it was the signing of the prized free agent, Julius Peppers. Peppers brings speed and big play ability to the Bears defensive line. His presence alone forces teams to have to slide help to his side, leaving an easier path for everybody else. The Bears also added former Vikings RB Chester Taylor which should give the Bears one of the better 1-2 combinations in the league.
The other big move was the hiring of Mike Martz. Martz could be the key to the Bears entire season and more over to coach Lovie Smith's and GM Jerry Angelo's jobs. He runs an extremely boom or bust offense. An offense that the Bears have the parts for, but they still need to put it together.
As with every other team, the team lies on the shoulders of the quarterback. Everybody knows Jay Cutler had the tools to be an elite quarterback. The question is does he have the proper attitude and decision making abilities to be one. Martz's offense and Cutler's skill-set mesh very well together. Cutler is a gunslinger and Martz loves to go long. While not as accurate as Kurt Warner, he does give Martz something he hasn't had before: a very athletic QB who can avoid the rush that plagued quarterbacks in Martz's system.
The Bears have one of the youngest, but scariest receiving corps in the game. Few teams have the speed the Bears have in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, the size to go up and get the ball like Devin Aromashadu. Add to that Earl Bennett who had a strong year in what was essentially his rookie season and top tight end Greg Olsen, and the Bears have the shells loaded in this gun.
Despite the air attack the Bears may have, coach Smith and offensive coordinator Martz both say the Bears are still a running team. The run game took a dive last year after a successful rookie outing by Matt Forte. Most of that falls on the shoulders of the offensive line.The Bears are going to use all the offseason to find the best combination to put on the line. If they can gel, the Bears run game will be significantly better. They have also brought in Mike Tice to help whip these guys into shape.
The Bears defense will instantly be better the second Brian Urlacher steps on the field for the first time since game two of last season. Urlacher, Pro Bowler Lance Briggs and the return of Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach will give a formidable linebacking crew.
The biggest change to the Bears defense comes in the form of Julius Peppers. Peppers has been a dominant defensive end in the league for the past nine years. While staying healthy has always been an issue for Peppers, having him for even 12-14 games a year creates problems for opposing team's offensive lines. If you believe recent reports (these are the same reports that we've been hearing for a few years now) Tommie Harris is finally healthy and ready to regain his dominant form. If he can, the Bears defensive line will be a monster.
Once again the Bears aren't really sure what they are going to do with their secondary. They are set at corner with Charles Tillman and Zackary Bowman. Currently the safety spot is being held down by Danieal Manning and Chris Harris, but they have other options in Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and rookie Major Wright, among others.
The Bears have had a top three special teams in the league for years now. Coach Dave Toub has been getting head coach opportunities based on his team's performance.
The Bears boast one of the deepest return units in the game. Led by Devin Hester, but also featuring Danieal Manning, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox.
While still underrated, kickers don't come as consistent and ice-cool as Robbie Gould. Gould has kept the Bears in games and won games for them more than any other Bear in the last six years.
Brad Maynard while on the back half of his career still is a very good at directional kicking and consistently helps the Bears give other teams bad field position.
This is head coach Lovie Smith's make or break year. He has to produce to keep his job. Anything short of the playoffs could signify his demise. If this does happen the Bears have stockpiled assistant coaches who have head coaching experience along with current hot option Dave Toub. Mike Martz, Rod Marinelli and Mike Tice all have headed up their own teams. Each of them is or has been considered a guru of their respective position.
Conclusion/Prediction for 2010
The Bears have all the potential to be a playoff team, but they have to get through two tough teams already in their division. It would be difficult to say they are anything more than a wild card team at this point. Their future is bright, but currently it is an uphill battle. A lot of things will have to go right for the Bears to have a successful season.
For the Bears to make the playoffs, the offensive line has to come together and start winning the battle at the line. If they can open up holes for Forte and Taylor and keep Cutler from getting beat up, they can have great success offensively.
Defensively, the Bears should be good. If Tommie Harris does return to form, they could be great. The Bears secondary is built to hold until the pressure gets to the quarterback. If the pressure doesn't get there, it isn't meant to hold.
We can win 11 games. More likely nine games is a better bet.