2013 Chicago Bears Preview – Transition From A Defensive Minded Team

Marc Trestman has been hired to not only lead the Chicago Bears, but to maximize Jay Cutler's potential.

Marc Trestman has been hired to not only lead the Chicago Bears, but to maximize Jay Cutler’s potential.

As the Windy City says goodbye to Brian Urlacher,  it mirrors the thought process of the Chicago Bears organization as it moves from Head Coach Lovie Smith to Mark Trestman. The former was a “knuckles in the dirt” defensive guy favoring the “Tampa 2”, where the new philosophy with Marc Trestman is a wide open offensive one throwing the football down the field. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to improve on Jay Cutler’s 58.8 % completion rate, and develop an offense that improves the production across from  Brandon Marshall.

Any way you shape it, the Bears have a quarterback who can become a top tier performer in Jay Cutler. However that window is closing as he approaches 30. The maturation has to happen now and Bear’s brass knows it, hence the move to hire Trestman. On every one of his stops as an Offensive Co-ordinator in the NFL,  he had to make good with an established starter. In 1988 he took over for Lindy Infante in develping Bernie Kosar with the Cleveland Browns. He took over in San Francisco after the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX with Steve Young at the helm. His latest gig had him work with Rich Gannon and help the Raiders get to Super Bowl XXXVII.

Sure there were other stops and he has gained head coaching experience in the CFL where he was coach of the year in 2009 and won back to back Grey Cup championships. There had been a couple of issues between he and the media when he was an NFL assistant but now he’s the head man in charge. He has coached some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and Jay Cutler should learn plenty from him. If the Bears offense can improve with a still formidable defense, how far can they go in 2013??

Jay Cutler is constantly on the cusp of leaving his detractors behind. Then he has a set-back. Will the real Jay Cutler please stand up or have we already seen the best of Jay??

Jay Cutler is constantly on the cusp of leaving his detractors behind. Then he has a set-back. Will the real Jay Cutler please stand up or have we already seen the best of Jay??

Quarterback: Every single year, the NFL shows itself as a copycat league. Whatever attribute a team exhibits on it’s way to winning the Super Bowl, teams with similar attributes think to themselves: Why not us?? In this instance of course we’re talking about Joe Flacco maturing and carrying a once proud Baltimore Raven defense to a world championship. How could the Bears not see themselves and Jay Cutler in the mirror?? So in comes Trestman just as the Ravens brought in former Colt offensive quarterback guru Jim  Caldwell last year.

In 2012, Cutler improved on his completion percentage 58.8% as compared to 58% in 2011. He completed 255 of 434 passes for 3,033 yards, 19 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. However his season was a tale of  two halves. He had a terrible 4 interception performance in a week 2 loss in Green Bay. Yet in the other 7 games to start the season, all wins, Cutler completed 60% of his passes for 1,648 yards 11 TDs and only 4 interceptions. The Bears raced out to a 7-1 start.

Once the second half of the season began, he faced tougher defenses and film was out on where and how the Bears were trying to get Marshall open. He faced three of the NFL’s top 11 pass defenses in the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Packers as he threw 6 interceptions to just 7 touchdowns. What would those numbers have looked like had he faced the #4 pass defense of the 49ers in a 32-7 Monday Night loss??

One knock The Chancellor of Football has on Cutler is his character. He is a good front running quarterback when things are going well. He doesn’t seem to make adjustments or corrections if he or the Bears offense as a whole gets off to a rocky start. Rarely will Cutler lead a come from behind last second drive for victory as he did in week  7 against Carolina. The Bears realize this and brought in some help in the form of offensive linemen instead of receivers. Thankfully Jason Campbell won’t be back but word on the street is they are bringing in JaMarcus Russell as a “camp arm”. There isn’t any depth behind Cutler if he were to get injured. The Bears are average at quarterback until we see evidence otherwise.

A full camp should bring out the best in Forte.

A full camp should bring out the best in Forte.

Offensive Backfield: The best situation coming into the 2013 season is Matt Forte will be in attendance for all OTAs and camps. Where last year he was holding out well into the summer. He started out slowly but ran for 1,094 yards (4.4 yd/avg) and 5 touchdowns. However his numbers out of the backfield were down last year.

With a longer training camp, Trestman can put together pass route combinations to better utilize Forte out of the backfield. Last year the Bears were too predictable and threw to him on screens mostly.

In obvious power situations, Michael Bush (114 car./ 411 yds / 5TDs) was the battering ram. His role keeps Forte from the heavy pounding taken on the 3rd and 1 runs. Many times the Bears need an attitude drive to establish dominance on the ground, Bush provides that as a 250 lbs back. Trestman will use Bush in the passing game more as well. The Bears should improve to playoff quality at the running back position.

Finally the Bears have a top shelf receiver in his prime. Brandon Marshall is a beast of a receiver.

Finally the Bears have a top shelf receiver in his prime. Brandon Marshall is a beast of a receiver.

Receivers: Reuniting with Jay Cutler returned Brandon Marshall to the NFL elite as a receiver. His 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns sent him to the Pro Bowl and garnered All Pro status. He can run all the short and intermediate routes and can muscle past most corners after the catch. This is a true receiver. Not the experiment that has wrecked the career of Devin Hester. The Bears absolutely have to get more out of their other receivers or the offense will bog down against top defenses again.

To improve on the anemic 24 receptions from tight ends last season, they cut both Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis, then signed former New York Giant Martellus Bennett.  He should be able to stretch the middle of opposing defenses and catch 50 passes this year. The draft brings Marquess Wilson and the team signed free agent Demetrius Fields. Our darkhorse to emerge from the pack this year is Alshon Jeffery who showed promise last season. Trestman has a few pieces in place and should push this group to playoff caliber performance. Marshall alone makes them better than average.

Offensive Line: One of the equations necessary to allow Cutler to improve at quarterback is better protection. Finally the Bears answered the call with the drafting of Tackle Kyle Long out of Oregon  in the 1st round and Jordan Mills out of Louisiana Tech in the 5th. All of this after signing free agent T Jermon Bushrod formerly of the New Orleans Saints to a 5 year deal. Bushrod has been to the last two Pro Bowls at Left Tackle as Drew Brees has shattered numerous passing records. In his last two meetings against Clay Matthews III, he’s only given up one sack. Who do you think they had in mind when they signed him?? Shhh…

Keep in mind these guys are coming in to a line that was 25th in sacks allowed with 44 and 27th with hits on the quarterback with 87. So there will be open competition as a new coaching staff looks to put their stamp on the team. There should be 3 new starters and as many as four depending on how camp shapes up. Keep in mind the ink is just drying on 1st round pick Kyle Long’s contract so everyone will be in camp. Right now with the upgrade of Bushrod this group moves up to average with a chance to be playoff caliber.

Julius Peppers will have to get after opposing passers to cover up a youthful linebacker set.

Julius Peppers will have to get after opposing passers to cover up a youthful linebacker set.

Defensive Line: Although the linebacking corps is in flux, the front line is very solid and could become the new identity of the defense. The emergence of DT Henry Melton (43 tackles / 6 sacks) to go along with Julius Peppers (39 tackles / 11.5 sacks) helped the defense to an overall ranking of 5th. Each player made it to the Pro Bowl in 2012 as they paced the Bears who finished with 41 sacks on the season.

Peppers should be free’d up as the team takes more chances with a few more blitzes than they did under Lovie. One open spot is the one manned by Israel Idonije who finished with 7.5 sacks who at the time is unsigned. Yet last year the drafting of Shea McCllelan (2.5 sacks) from Boise St, this year’s 6th round selection in DE Cornelius Washington,and last year’s performance by Corey Wooten (7 sacks) says he won’t return. This line should be able to get after the quarterback while gobbling up linemen allowing the ‘backers to make plenty of tackles. This group is Super Bowl quality and getting younger.

Linebackers: For the first time in many years Lance Briggs will get what he always wanted, to be the man at linebacker. He used to fight for equal pay and attention of Brian Urlacher yet his play merited did merit it. Last year he didn’t make the Pro Bowl even though he turned in 112 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions returned for 2 touchdowns, and 2 fumbles forced. He will be 33 as the stretch run of the season begins in early November, yet he remains a force.

Youth will serve as the Bears drafted a pair of linebackers that should make the teams and crash down on special teams. Yet look for 2nd round pick Jonathon Bostic to compete with free agent signee DJ Williams to compete for Urlacher’s former spot in the middle. In all actuality 4th round selection Khaseem Greene out of Rutgers, is the heir apparent to take over for Briggs. If he has a good camp this team could start two rookies as Nick Roach isn’t entrenched as a starter. This group needed to get younger and has in a hurry. Right now the Bears are playoff caliber with the signing of DJ Williams to go along with Briggs. One of the rookies should start.

Tim Jennings emerged as a Pro Bowl bookend to Tillman in 2012.

Tim Jennings emerged as a Pro Bowl bookend to Tillman in 2012.

Secondary: No team in football has a better pair of cornerbacks than the tandem of Charles “Peanut” Tillman and Tim Jennings. These two were a turnover force of epic proportions apart from covering skills. Tillman made 85 tackles, forced an obscene 10 fumbles, and returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns. Yikes! An outstanding year no matter how you look at it.

Across from that production Tim Jennings blossomed into a Pro Bowl corner by intercepting 10 passes, made 55 tackles and defensing 21 passes. By the way Jennings missed two games in 2012 to boot. Tillman also defensed 16 passes to go along with his many plays. All this stellar coverage leaves the safeties to support the run. To help with multiple receiver sets, the Bears re-signed CB Kelvin Heyden who will lend depth to the cornerback position as well. This play at corner alone makes this group a Super Bowl quality group.

Overall: The majority of the Bears battles lie within the recesses of the mind. Jay Cutler hasn’t had a good game against Green Bay since his arrival. So they brought in an elite blocker to eliminate his nemesis in Clay Matthews III. He has to mature this year and get the monkey off his back with a win over the nemesis Packers.

They start with two big games at home and they do have a bye week before the Monday Night get together at Lambeau on November 4th. They only face 6 teams in 2013 that had winning records in  2012. If the Bears can get that win against the Packers and we believe they will, it will bode well for team confidence to finish the 2013 season. The Chancellor of Football has this team battling it out with the Minnesota Vikings, and not the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North. This team should finish 11-5 if they remain healthy. A definite spoiler in the playoffs.

Next up: 2013 Indianapolis Colts Preview

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NFL Week 8: NFC North – New Beginnings

Will Jay Cutler’s toughness be questioned after coming back from a frightening sack on Monday night??

In a gritty performance on Monday night, the Bears upped their record to 5-1 beating the Detroit Lions 13-6. The game wasn’t an artistic one for the Bears by any means but a win is a win is a win. Bear fans were thrown for a huge scare when Ndamukong Suh slammed Jay Cutler to the turf in the second quarter. As trainers attended Cutler, everyone flashed back to the 2010 NFC Championship Game. In that one he left with what looked like a questionable injury and his toughness has been in dispute ever since. The Monday night crew showed replay after replay and it looked like he may have suffered a serious injury to his shoulder or collarbone.

The silence at Soldier Field was deafening until he popped up and ran to the sideline. The uneasiness of losing Cutler could derail what looks like a possible super season for the Bears. Anxiety turned to appreciation when he jogged onto the field a few minutes later. A quarterback once questioned for his toughness, was now receiving a standing ovation for exhibiting such. There was something gained during those anxious moments between the Bears fan-base and Jay. It will be interesting to watch as we move forward on how he will be perceived. We believe a new found respect for Cutler and the Bears offense will emerge from this. They won more than a game a few days ago.

Lets take a look at the standings…

North Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Chicago Bears Bears 5 1 0 .833 162 78 3-0 2-1 1-1 3-1 W4 4-1
Minnesota Vikings Vikings 5 2 0 .714 167 131 4-0 1-2 1-0 3-1 W1 4-1
Green Bay Packers Packers 4 3 0 .571 184 155 2-1 2-2 1-0 3-2 W2 3-2
Detroit Lions Lions 2 4 0 .333 133 150 1-1 1-3 0-2 2-3 L1 1-4

Charles Tillman has been a Pro Bowl caliber corner for years. On Monday Night he turned into Optimus Prime, holding Megatron to just 3 receptions for 34 yards.

Now according to NFL accounting, the Bears field the 6th best defense in pro football. Yet what jumps out at you is they have only given up 78 points this season. In the last four games they have held three of their opponents to 10 points or less. An argument can be made against them since they haven’t beat a team with a winning record. However if you’ve looked at their schedule, seven of their last eight have winning records and we will know where this team is going facing that gauntlet. When our CEO did his Pro Bowl voting, he could only find spots for four of these defenders on his ballot. Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, Tim Jennings, and Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year candidate Lance Briggs. Melton has reaped the reward of teams paying so much attention to Julius Peppers on the corner. His 18 tackles and team leading 4.5 sacks is best for NFC interior defensive linemen. As the season progresses and teams make Melton more of a focal point, it will free Peppers to make more of an impact.

They are playing team defense that hasn’t been seen since the 2008 Steelers or 2002 Buccaneers. Do you realize in 6 games, they have 21 sacks, 14 interceptions, 5 defensive touchdowns, forced 9 fumbles, recovered 7 of those to the tune of 21 turnovers?? Those are ’85 Bears numbers if you project them out to a full season.

As it appears the Packers have righted their ship, they lose a rudder with Charles Woodson going down with a broken collarbone. He is out indefinitely and this is a big loss. He is the reason they are able to juggle him around at safety, nickel corner on slot receivers, and can use a variety of blitzes with his man to man cover skills. Without him the Packers may change how they are calling plays from a defensive standpoint. Right now they are 14th in total defense and 17th against the pass while giving up 22 points per game. They will have to score to win.

Speaking of which, the Packers have sprung to life on offense averaging 33 points per game in their last three. All of them against defenses that rank in the top half of the league. After a slow start Aaron Rodgers has thrown 16 touchdowns in the last 4 games. That is a torrid pace and here comes the 24th ranked defense of Jacksonville to help pad his Pro Bowl stats. Yet in back to back games the Packers have been unable to run for 100 yards and this will eventually come back and haunt the offense at some point. This deficiency may not come back to bite them this week, but the week after against the 4th ranked Cardinal defense it may. Still a season on the brink in Green Bay.

Adrian Peterson is the heart and soul of the Vikings offense once again.

Is there a more below the radar 5-2 team than the Minnesota Vikings?? Whenever we hear the so called experts talking about the best team in the NFL no one mentions them. Everyone anoints the Niners the team to beat but these Vikings hammered them in week 3, 23-14. Not only does this team have a 2-1 record against teams with winning records, they are an RG III 76 yard touchdown run and an Adam Vinatieri field goal from being undefeated. Percy Harvin has been one of the league’s best players and received a Pro Bowl vote from our CEO. He has 53 receptions for 577 yards and teams never know where he’s going to line up.

As the season goes on, Adrian Peterson looks like he’s getting stronger with each game. With 652 yards on 136 carries (4.8 yd avg) and 3 touchdowns, already worthy of a Pro Bowl vote, we’re waiting for that breakout game during the second half of this season. It’s coming. Think back to Jamal Lewis who once played for the Baltimore Ravens. He tore up his knee in 2001, and after a slow 2002, burst out with a 2,066 yard season which was the second highest in NFL history. We see the same thing coming in Peterson and with his speedy recovery we expect him to be a tornado come playoff time. It’s not far fetched when you remember this guy holds the NFL rushing record of 296 in one game.

Then you take a look at the defensive side of the ball and you’ll see it’s a complete systemic effort. Pressure from the front four starts with Jared Allen (pro bowl vote) with 6 sacks, along with Brian Robison’s 4, only then do you realize they have more sacks than the Bears at 22. Is there anyone Chad Greenway (pro bowl vote) hasn’t tackled?? He has 75 and we’re not at the half-way point of the season! He is on pace to be over 160 for the season and deserves to be recognized for his steady play. With 55 tackles, 1 sack and 2 interceptions Antoine Winfield is having a great year, but can he keep it up at 35 years of age. As a group they don’t force a lot of turnovers yet are ranked a respectable 11th.

So we at Taylor Blitz Times understand what we see: A serious contender for the NFC North title and serious NFC representative for the Super Bowl if they can get through weeks 12-17, when the division faces one another. First off, they have tie break advantages over San Francisco and Arizona if they are both division champions or wild card participants. They play Seattle in two weeks where they could possibly have them under their thumb also. By the way, the Vikings are 4-0 at home and only have one loss in the conference. It’s all these tie breakers that will propel the Vikings forward and should come back to haunt Green Bay. As The Chancellor of Football has said many times “At some point you have to believe what your eyes are seeing.” Wake up!! That holds true when you think of this team and a new way to look at them as a contender.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

By the way, many thanks to The Artie Clear Show where The Chancellor was on talking football with Artie yesterday. The show is a friend to the Taylor Blitz Times in more ways than one. Check out all the former pro players, from all sports that he has on. Tellin’ it like it is except when he’s debating The Chancellor, give the show a listen. Especially with the baseball postseason going. He’s on it… http://www.theartieclearshow.com/