Just when everyone was starting to hit the panic button in Chicago, the Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings convincingly on Sunday. In the Bears eight wins they have looked like they could make a run at the Super Bowl, and in their three losses (all against elite teams) they have looked utterly overmatched. As hard as it may be for Bears fans to believe given the collection of talent in Chicago, all signs point to the 2012 Chicago Bears being a good football team, not a great one.
The win Sunday was evidence of the immeasurable impact that Jay Cutler has on the Bears. Cutler looked sharp, fitting a lot of throws into extremely tight coverage. But although Cutler had a solid performance, he was still forced to make a lot of his throws while running away from defenders outside of the pocket due to somewhat spotty offensive line play.
It is clear that this year the Chicago Bears offense can only go as far as the offensive line will take them. The already struggling offensive line suffered a key loss Sunday when guard Lance Louis went down after a vicious hit by the Vikings Jared Allen. It will be extremely difficult for the offensive line moving forward if they are forced to play out of position or play inexperienced players in order to replace injured players since the line is one of the weakest in the league to begin with.
Lance Louis was not the only Chicago Bears player to leave Sunday’s game with an injury. Five of Louis’ teammates were also injured, including running back Matt Forte, wide receiver Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman’s injury is not expected to be serious, which is great news to the Bears because he has been their best defensive player all year. As for Forte and Hester, the severity of their injuries is unclear.
If either player, especially Forte because of his key role in the offense, were to miss extended time it would have a devastating effect on the team, similar to the one experienced in the absence of Jay Cutler. Without Forte, the Bears lack an explosive player who can help the offense move the ball against great defenses, which has been a problem for them already this year.
This struggle with elite opponents, specifically elite defenses, is the biggest reason for me saying that the 2012 Chicago Bears are not a great team.
In the NFL, you have to beat the best to be the best, and so far this season the Bears have not beaten the best. The Bears have been the ultimate “win the games you’re expected to win” team this year. Out of their eight wins, only the Colts and Vikings don’t have losing records.
What this means for the Bears is that they need to start putting together better performances against playoff caliber teams if they hope to win games in the playoffs, because once you get into the playoffs there’s no such thing as an easy win.
These concerns about the Bears are not guarantees that they cannot get to the playoffs and be successful, but rather observations based off of the Bears play through their first 11 games. There is no doubt that the Bears have the players to make a deep run into the playoffs, but the question is, can they play up to their potential down the stretch? This question will be answered in the coming weeks, starting with a tough match-up this Sunday at Soldier Field against the Seattle Seahawks.