The Chicago Bears are a tale of two sides. One side, the offense, despite losing both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte last season, are a young group with talent at the skill positions and a questionable offensive line. They will have many more seasons to progress to the point where they can keep up with NFC North powerhouses Green Bay and Detroit.
Jay Cutler is a better quarterback than people give him credit for. In 2012 the Bears traded for old Denver teammate Brandon Marshall. The trade, like the one for Cutler, has finally given the Bears some legitimacy at the position, giving Cutler a reliable and familiar target to throw to. Matt Forte, after all his contract tribulations he is signed, and will be raring to go.
The defense on the other hand is aging. With talent at every level, the Bears still have an elite defense, one that is running out of time. The stables such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman aren’t getting any younger. Sure there is youth to compliment experience, but it is not playing at the same level as the team’s veterans.
An 8-8 season can be attributed to a lot of reasons. The loss of Cutler and Forte though late in the season, doomed Chicago to another mediocre record. In 2012 things should be different. The addition of Marshall should spell good things for a usually stagnant Bears offense and with Forte focused the running game should excel. The defense will play as solid as ever, but in a division as competitive as the NFC North, Chicago can’t afford to lose cheap games.
2011 Record: 8-8
Head Coach: Lovie Smith
Off. Cord: Mike Tice
Def. Cord: Rod Marinelli
2011 proved Chicago’s depth behind Cutler is not good enough. Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown won only one game after Cutler went down, their season ender against Minnesota. To remedy this problem, Bears brought in Jason Campbell who found himself expendable once Carson Palmer found a new home in Oakland. Campbell should provide adequate cover if Cutler misses time.
As for Cutler, his 2011 stats however warped by injury remain a worry. Perhaps the addition of friend Brandon Marshall who he linked up with a lot in their time in Denver will help spark the fire of a resurgent offense. Cutler has good arm strength and will hope to find Marshall quite a few times in 2012.
In the Backfield
The Bears will lean heavily on the newly signed Matt Forte in 2012. Coming back from injury won’t be easy, but if he can get back to 100%, Forte has a great chance to post career high numbers. An injury limited Forte to 997 yards and 3 TDs on the ground, and 490 yards and a touchdown through the air. Forte is a great talent, one that is now focused on one thing; winning.
Forte will be joined in the backfield by Kahlil Bell who was forced into action when Forte went down last season. While not finding the endzone, Bell did average 4.3 yards a carry and will do well whenever he finds himself subbed in.
Former Raiders running back Michael Bush was a big signing for Chicago in the summer, signed at the time Forte was looking for his contract renewal. Bush offers quality back up to Forte; in 2011 he rushed for 977 yards and 7 TDs.
The Bears finally have their true number one wide receiver. Chicago traded two 3rd round draft picks for the once again teammate of Jay Cutler. The Chemistry might have faded since Denver, but they will be balling in 2012. Marshall gained 1214 yards on 81 catches and scored 6 times last year in Miami.
Chicago’s top receiver in 2011 Johnny Knox is currently injured, which leaves Earl Bennett (381 yards and a TD), Devin Hester (369 yards and a TD) and Dane Sanzenbacher (276 yards and 3 TDs) as the experienced players to fight for the slots opposite Marshall.
Chicago’s second round pick Alshon Jeffery fell kindly to them and will push for playing time as a rookie. Also in the mix is former Falcon Eric Weems who signed in the summer.
The Big Uglies
The move to acquire Marshall was brilliant. It gives Cutler a new, reliable toy to play with. The move the Bears missed however was to acquire/draft quality players for the offense line. A line that allowed 49 sacks in 2011.
In a division with two excellent teams, one of which will be fighting hard for a wildcard, Chicago cannot afford to allow this much pressure. Cutler is the type of quarterback that can be rattled, and has proven to be a little unreliable under duress.
The line included J’Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Roberta Garza and 2011 rookie Gabe Carimi (before he got injured). The Bears will have to hope Carimi can learn from his mistakes and improve for the upcoming season. If 2012 goes the way of 2011, big changes will have to come.
The Bears’ defensive front put up a tough fight in 2011. The monstrous Julius Peppers recorded 11 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He demands double teams, using his strength and speed to great effect. He makes his teammates better.
Chicago saw great play from Henry Melton (7 sacks), Israel Idonije (5 sacks) while rookie Stephen Paea had a slightly disappointing year with only 2 sacks. Chicago has also brought in some new blood to improve team play, including former Buccaneer Amobi Okoye.
2012 first round Shea McClellin from Boise State had great reviews from college, yet in the pros he has been getting worrying reports of being dominated by J’Marcus Webb, who some say could be the biggest liability in football. McClellin was chosen to inject youth into the defence, the Bears cannot afford for him to be a bust.
The top two Bears tacklers of 2011 were unsurprisingly Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. This pair has been dominant in their stay in Chicago and 2011 was no different. They both tallied over 100 tackles, and while they didn’t bury the quarterback in the ground last year, they had 4 INTs between them.
Nick Roach joined the dynamic duo in the starting corps in 2011, a season in which he made 48 tackles. He will be hard pushed to start in 2012 with the newly arriving Geno Hayes recording 64 tackles and 1 INT in his last season in Tampa Bay.
The secondary saw a slew of players recording multiple interception seasons. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings nabbed 3 and 2 INTs respectively, while Tillman was a solitary tackle away from 100 tackles. Tillman also had 2 pick sixes to round a very solid campaign.
Young and promising safety Major Wright nabbed himself 3 INTs while recording 58 tackles. He also scored a touchdown, with fellow safety Craig Steltz making 53 tackles and forcing 2 fumbles.
Fourth year player cornerback D.J. Moore acquitted himself extremely well in 2011, taking 4 INTs and returning one to the house. Moore should start in 2012 and is a fine example of the youth this defense needs. It also needs more depth, a problem that the Bears tried to solve by bringing in Kelvin Hayden and rookies Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy.
The Bears possess one of the best kickers in the league in the form of Robbie Gould. An 87.5% field goal accuracy in 2011 means if the offense breaks down, the scoreboard will keep ticking over for Chicago. Adam Podlesh will continue his punting duties.
One of if not the best returner ever to run a kick-off or punt back, Devin Hester may see himself take on returns more often, now that his blazing speed will no longer merit a starting wideout job. Hester scored 3 TDs in 2011 and when on form is a danger at all times. Expect Hester to continue his record breaking ways in 2012.
There is no doubt the Bears are an improved unit from 2012. Their offense, with the additions of Marshall, Jeffery, Bush and the resigning of Forte will give Jay Cutler the best group of players he has played with in his time in Chicago.
Once again however, the defense will be asked to do a lot of heavy lifting in 2012, tasked with keeping the Bears in games if the offense falters. If it does, it may no doubt be due to the less than desirable offensive line that has failed to improve from a miserable 2011 season.
The Bears are a good team, who unfortunately share a division with Detroit and Green Bay. They will have to hope Cutler has a ball with his new offense to have a chance of making the playoffs.
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