Starting off 2-0 was surprising to Bears and football fans everywhere. Both victories being 4th quarter comebacks were even more of a surprise. With an offense that seems in sync for the first time since the early 2000s, and a solid defense that can effortlessly put up points of their own, the Chicago Bears seem to have what it takes on both sides of the ball to be a playoff team. Granted its way too early to be jumping to conclusions like this, but this Bears organization, under the leadership of 1st year head coach Marc Trestman, deserve a closer look.
Offensively, the team looks similar to how it looked last year-but totally different at the same time. While quarterback Jay Cutler has a lot of the same targets including Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, and Alshon Jeffery, Tight End Martellus Bennett was added into the mix too, giving Cutler another big name target. If that wasn’t enough for Jay, Bears GM Phil Emery overhauled the entire Bears’ offensive line besides for Roberto Garza, starting two rookies in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, as well as signing Matt Slausen. While most teams would consider starting two rookies on the o line to be suicide, Trestman realized that the oft sacked Cutler needed a scenery change. And let’s face it…last year, 4 out of those 5 linemen played at a rookie level anyways, so there was only one direction to go.
On paper, the Bears’ offense looked pretty good last year. However, on paper and on turf are two very different things. Former head coach and offensive coordinator Lovie Smith and Mike Tice were for the most part given the same tools last year, yet were incapable of turning the jumble of car parts into an actual working car. Brandon Marshall aside, everyone on the Bears’ offense was misused. Even though the Bears have been adamant on calling themselves a “running team” for the past, oh, decade or so, they seem to NEVER DO IT. With a back like Matt Forte, that’s almost a crime. The pass-happy bears even declined to PASS to Matt last year, despite the fact that Forte is easily the league’s best receiver coming out of the backfield. Then again, with a horrible offensive line and Jay Cutler taking 7 step drops out of the “I”, the ball didn’t seem to be leaving Jay’s hands at all. Unless of course it was being jarred loose after a sack.
All of that has changed in the first two weeks of the Trestman offense. Forte tallied up over 160 total yards last week off of 30 touches against Minnesota while Jay, who it seems will always make one stupid mistake a game even when given optimal conditions, threw three td’s to counter his two pics. He looks calmer, more composed, and comfortable in the pocket, something that no Bear fan has seen from him in his career with Chicago. Maybe it’s the new coach, or the new line, or the fact that he now has viable dynamic players to throw to besides for Brandon Marshall, but for the first time in his career, Jay looks like the franchise quarterback the Bears are paying him to be.
On the defensive side of the ball, the obvious challenge was finding someone to replace future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. While finding a player that dynamic is obviously not going to be easy, a combination of newcomers (John Bostic, DJ Williams, and James Anderson) will do the trick for now. Chicago’s secondary is formidable as ever, with 2012 league leader in INT’s Tim Jennings playing alongside Charles Tillman who has 36 career pics and more impressively, 39 career forced fumbles. Another huge upside on the Defensive/Special Teams front is the return of Devin Hester to pure kick/punt returner. He will no longer play a role on offense, which was evidently distracting him from his return duties and lessening his overall impact on the game.
The Monsters of the Midway have made all-around improvements on both sides of the ball, but will it be enough to get them to the Super Bowl in 2014? Well, we’re got 14 more games to find out. Or as Lovie Smith would say, “our 14 game season starts this Sunday”.