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/

 

Brandon Marshall To The Bears

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Remember the time when the Bears, as an organization, were thought of as arcane and too conservative in the front office?? Not anymore. Today the Bears landed WR Brandon Marshall to reunite with QB Jay Cutler. The last time these two were together, Cutler was an up and coming gun slinger and Marshall was his go to guy with over 100 catches.

This is the third aggresive offseason acquisiton along with Jay Cutler& then Julius Peppers in recent years. It is also rumored that the Bears are after former Texan and overall #1 draft pick DE/LB Mario Williams. Talk about flashbacks to Dan Hampton and Richard Dent. Yikes!!

Yet this is about Marshall heading to the Bears. With this move, the Bears finally have a #1 receiver for Cutler who is a confidante to the often beleaguered quarterback. This should end the failed experiment of trying to make Devin Hester a polished receiver.

This team needed to make some bold moves to keep pace with the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Couple Brandon Marshall with RB Matt Forte & Cutler, the Bears may have their big three. If they makr a fourth bold move and land Mario Williams they may have more than that.

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2011 Chicago Bears Preview

The Windy City had a special football season going in 2010.  The pyroetechnics (fireworks) and excitement filled the air as the first ever NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers v. Chicago Bears aroused passions, renewed a century long rivalry as the Super Bowl beckoned.  The sky was blue, the air crisp and hitting could be heard all around Soldier Field and then a mysterious injury to Jay Cutler brought an end to Super Bowl dreams for the Bears and cast a pall over a town, its team, Jay Cutler’s integrity, and the Bears immediate future.  This team wasted a perfect window for themselves! What happened??

Many of us who observed that game were unhappy with the way Cutler removed himself from the NFC Championship. We never saw him hurt in the game.  For me it wasn’t that he looked aloof and didn’t seem interested in a game where he should have had to have been carried off the field against the hated Packers.  He would not help 3rd string qB Hainie as he scrambled through polaroids trying to get a bead on what he was going into.  A few questions come to mind… How could a quarterback on the brink of rewriting his own image, after the Seahawk playoff game, do so much to reinforce his selfish veneer? Was the response by his teammates and Lovie Smith genuine??  The rest of the players of the NFL sounded off on twitter, as well as fans during our interactive football madness, with a ferocity questioning Cutler’s lack of heart that seem to permeate all media outlets before the game even ended.  Where does Cutler go from here?  Has he lost his teammates?  These are questions that are right on the Chicago Bear’s mantle that have to be addressed before this team can move forward.

Quarterback: Sigh, this is one where we won’t know the extent of the fallout damage from the NFC Championship until the season unfolds.  Cutler showed signs of improvement with the system Mike Martz installed and they came into the second half of 2010 on a roll with the emphasis more on running.  Early on Martz was afflicted with trying to empty the backfield and the sacks, interceptions, and mistakes were prevalent.  Most notably the 9 sack first half of the Giants game on Monday night.  Cutler removed himself from that game in a questionable fashion… hmm?

Entering his 6th season, Cutler should be in his prime, especially with this being his third year in Chicago.  This second under Martz could prove to be a coming out party for him or the nail in the coffin.  The truth of the matter is we have to see if Cutler has lost his team and we’ll get back to that.  In all actuality, his play improved to 23 TDs and 16 interceptions from 27 TDs and 26 interceptions between his second and first seasons in The City of Broad Shoulders. Cutler was asked to throw the ball 123 less times in 2010 in an attempt to minimize turnovers.  He was still sacked a league high 52 times and was accused of holding the ball too long.  There are times when he lacks a feel for the pass rush that comes back to haunt him at inopportune times.   Martz is working on Cutler delivering the football on 5 step drops on time.  He needs to show more consistency in throwing the ball away quicker.  At quarterback the Bears are average and we need to see how Jay deals with throwing the ball away to avoid sacks and turnovers. This year is career make or break for Jay and right now you’d have to call him a break even quarterback at best.  Could see a draft pick going to the quarterback right here in a second or third rounder like Boise St’s Kellen Moore. A year ahead of myself…but you get the picture

Offensive Backfield: An identity needs to be forged here also.  Right now the Bears are working between two 3rd down backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.   They need a more physical franchise back here to help this offense field an identity.  Too often the Bears had to kick the ball back to their opponent because they couldnt power the ball down teams throats on 3rd and 2.   The Bears missed a few years back when they let Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois get away, this time they need to grab Illini RB Mikel Leshoure.  He’s a 6 ft 230lbs bruiser who is a perfect Bear back.  Forte and Chester Taylor are 3rd down backs at best.  Sure Matt Forte ran for 1,069 yards on 237 carries for a nice 4.5 yards per carry, yet all too often the Bears couldn’t establish a traditional running game.  They would rely on running out of passing formations and draws to catch the defense off guard.  A bigger back can make a hole and be able to fall forward and pick up another 4 1st downs a game allowing the Bears to run out the clock.

There are 6 physical running backs coming out in this draft that the Bears would be better served replacing Forte as the every down starter.  This way they can close out ball games,  have Cutler become a second option and play to the strength of the team; defense and special teams.  Stand pat…below average going into this season.  Could see the Bears using two draft picks on runners if need be.  Taylor needs to be released…just an enigmatic signing that needs to be rectified.

Receivers: Many pundits are calling for a splash to be made at receiver to help out Jay Cutler, I think they could use a quality guy here but strategically running back would pay immediate dividends where a receiver would not .  Johnny Knox is serviceable and could be this year’s Miles Austin if the Bears can find the running game to make teams play more 8 in the box.  The reduced screen passes to Forte and bubble screens that supplement the running game would be thrown here.  He has speed and good hands, evidenced by his 51 rec. for 960 yards and 5TDs.  His whopping 18.8 yds per reception plus additional 1 on 1 opportunities would turn him easily into a 70 catch 1,300 yard receiver like that. Think about it. Only receiver to give you impact like that as a rookie was Randy Moss in ’98, so picking that up in the draft is not likely.

Furthermore use Earl Bennett and Jay Olsen’s big bodies a little more and DO NOT rely on passing formations (3 / 4 receivers) so much.  The Bears telegraphed too often when they were going to throw and that clogs too many passing lanes for them.  Olsen (from the U) could have a breakout year with linebackers paying attention to the run. We saw evidence of this in the divisional playoff win against Seattle when we watched Olsen get deep and scorch safety Lawyer Milloy on a 58yd TD on the second play of the game.   Seattle expected run and from a traditional set got on top of their linebackers.  The Bears  could have two , 1000 yard receivers in Olsen and Knox, with Bennett a chain moving intermediate supplement at the other receiver.  Bennett caught 41 rec. for 561 yards and could catch a few more with this offensive premise.  Devin Hester and Aramashodu would be wild cards to be used for special plays or three receiver sets.  The dependable Desmond Clark should be used more in 2 TE sets and this team would really best utilize Cutler with intermediate throws on defenses in traditional sets.

Offensive Line: This team could use an upgrade in several spots.  This team allowed for the most hits on their quarterback and sacks with 56.  Not good!  We have already mentioned the inability to move the ball on the ground in critical opportunities.  The Bears were 23rd in the league in rushing average with 3.9 yds per rush and 21st in the league with 10TDs rushing as an offense.  Instead of really coming down hard on individual players lets just say this is an area that needs upgrading.   A few draft picks here and in a few powerful backs could band aid an offensive approach that would allow offensive line coach Mike Tice to take some young linemen and get on the 7 man sled and run the football.  This is how they can cover deficiencies on their line, Cutler at quarterback, and rush the ball more effectively.  Young lineman can run block easier than pass block.  Stand pat…below average…

Defensive Line: Julius Peppers tilted the field in 2010.  His sacks and subsequent pressure caused numerous holding penalties against Green Bay that were key in a Monday Night win.  He reworked his contract to allow some cap relief and hopefully they will get him some help now that they have released the underachieving Tommie Harris.  Peppers sack total wasnt as high as he would have hoped with 8, but the attention afforded him allowed Israel Idonijie to match him with 8 sacks and an overall defensive ranking of 9. This team was 5th in 3rd down % allowed at 35% which kept the field short for Devin Hester in the return game…yet I digress.  Peppers should get 12-15  sacks this year.

The Bears had a shuttle of defensive tackles in the game to take place of the underachieving Harris. Matt Toeaina #75, just signed an extension started 10 games had 28 tackles and had 2.5 sacks last season.  Immovable on the point which allows Bear linebackers to flow to the ball.  Look for a breakout year with teams unable to gameplan for this 6ft 2 305 lbs plodder.  Anthony Adams #95 (take that off…its Richard Dent’s) was the other tackle who also had a good year with 37 tackles while tying up blockers.  Peppers and Idonijie are in their prime and the tackles are young and immovable.  A Super Bowl defensive front

Linebackers: Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are probably the best 1-2 punch at Middle and Outside Linebacker in the NFL.  Urlacher really benefitted from missing the entire season before and he looked fresh all through the 2010 season.  “If only he had legs to get that 3rd quarter interception of Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship to the endzone” is echoing through the minds of Bears fans everywhere. Yet that play showcased his skills entirely. His drop, read and react skills, quickness to catch the ball in traffic and make a play when his team desperately needed one. Urlacher was 1st on the team in tackles with 126, 3rd on the team with 4 sacks and was one of the leaders of a punishing defense.

Briggs came in second with 88 tackles, had 2 sacks and 2 interceptions in a fine all around performance.  He along with Urlacher were able to roam free with offensive line attention placed on the D-Line.  Briggs is as good against the run as he is against the pass.  A sure tackler who is also in the prime of his career.  Briggs is entering his 10th season and Urlacher his 13th so its imperative the Bears make a move on the defensive side of the ball in next years draft.  The Bears should be even better with the return of Hunter Hillenmeyer #92 from injury.  A solid linebacker who is best on the outside can play inside in a pinch as evidenced by his 2009 performance.  A solid group that is getting up there in years but going into this season is still a Super Bowl set of ‘backers.

Secondary: First and foremost Charles “Peanut” Tillman was robbed of an NFC Pro Bowl spot in  2010.  Get this; he was 3rd on the team in tackles with 83 behind Briggs and Urlacher, 1st on the team with forced fumbles with 4, and 1st on the team with 5 interceptions. All of this on a top 10 defense that made the NFC Championship Game and no pro bowl? Seriously? A great zone cornerback with cover skills and will tackle in the running game. Tillman should have a long career and is in his prime right now.  Players like this are able to move to safety when they lose a step so don’t be surprised in a few years when he’s back there.  Tim Jennings #26 was playing some good football the last time we saw him in the NFC Championship Game.  The Bears coaching staff should have allowed the Bears corners a chance to be more aggressive on the line of scrimmage. Jennings is quick but can get muscled by stronger receivers.

At safety Harris and Daniel Manning are solid safeties.  They do lack swivel hips to turn and run and require a good reroute of the receivers at the line.  However against the run they each have some heft and will put the finishing touches on a ball carrier.

Overall: This team could be in for a long season if they don’t move quickly and get their hands on a few running backs and offensive linemen to give them the best chance in 2011.  Spending too much for a top flight receiver to get Jay Cutler to throw more would be disastrous and showcase a line that is in serious need of a rebuild.  Furthermore it could damage the psyche of the team and how they feel about Jay Cutler.  They let a golden window for a Super Bowl run close on them yet with a few astute moves can keep it open one more year slightly.

This team had an esprit du corp that was second to none going into that championship tilt with Green Bay.  With the defense allowing Devin Hester ample kick return opportunities they should fend off Detroit and stay ahead of the rebuilding Vikings this year.  Will they catch Green Bay?? Only if they can get to an NFC Championship at Lambeau Field…now that would be full circle and will take an olympian effort to get there.

NFC Championship Recap

Packers Outlast Bears 23-10

What began on a sun kissed day in Soldier Field as a celebration of the most important game in the history of the Bears v. Packers rivalry ended with the rival Packers celebrating amidst a silent Soldier Field.  The sound and the fury that enveloped the stadium at the beginning of the game was in stark contrast.  Detractors of Jay Cutler were rewarded with a personal meltdown at the most inopportune time, removing himself from the game halfway through a 21-14 loss.   Now the Packers move on to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in two weeks.

Aaron Rodgers had come into the game as the hottest quarterback in this year’s playoffs.  He started off this game as cool as John Wayne going 4 for 4 on the first drive for 76 yards concluding in his 1 yard touchdown run.  Through much of the first half the Bears defense was struggling to slow the Packers offense who ran with more authority than was expected.  Charging out to a 14-0 lead in the early 2nd quarter.  They kept their defense rested and Chicago’s offense was a portrait of inefficiency.  The first 6 Bear possessions resulted in 5 punts and an interception while gaining a paltry 103 yards.

Anemic would be the best description of Chicago’s offensive performance and worse Cutler seem to regress into the skittish quarterback with the sloppy footwork that he was last year.  Missing wide open receivers on several occasions, he looked to lose his confidence as the first half wore on eventually removing himself from the game after the first half.  Gone was the cool performer that seemed to turn the corner last week’s playoff win against Seattle.  In fact the Bears as a team looked to start this championship game flat emotionally.  It took until the middle of the second quarter for the defense to begin to hit Aaron Rodgers and play like the monster that roared through the season.  However with a 14-0 halftime lead the Packers were on cruise control having their defense shutting down Matt Forte in the running game and intercepting Cutler’s last ditch deep throw before halftime.

The Bears defense began to assert itself from the second quarter on.   They sacked Rodgers on a several occasions and intercepted him twice.   The latter of which by Brian Urlacher kept the Packers from putting the game away near the Chicago goal line.  Yet it was too little, too late.

For the storyline of this game was the Green Bay defense.  They had stripped the Bears of their offensive rhythm and won the game with constant pressure.  The Packers held Cutler and his replacement Todd Collins, to 6 of 18 passing before giving up yardage to an unknown 3rd string quarterback in Caleb Hanie.  However they took advantage of Hanie’s inexperience by fooling him into the game deciding touchdown when B. J. Raji from his defensive lineman position, dropped into coverage, intercepted the pass, and waltzed into the endzone for a 21-7 lead.   Chicago frantically moved downfield for a touchdown to narrow the gap to the final 21-14 score.  A second Sam Shields interception ended Hanie’s Walter Mitty fantasy of saving the Bears season.

Thats harsh but lets face it this kid was thrown to the wolves and came up with the fighting spirit that the Bears offense lacked for much of the game.  He played better than could be expected.  It was as if some of the Bears were having an out of body experience, like someone told them it was an exhibition game.  With Hanie in there a fighting spirit was ignited and amidst his frantic last second attempt while they were marching, he was undercut by a bizarre timeout from the sideline and a reverse to Earl Bennett which forced a fourth down throw intercepted by Shields.

As for Jay Cutler, perception is reality, and his questionable removal of himself from this game left a bad taste in the mouth of many fans.  Its understood that team captain Brian Urlacher stood up and towed the company line not questioning Jay Cutler’s toughness but lets take a closer look at it.  There was a time where you looked for Jay to rally the troops and be the leader he has been accused of not being before.  There was a period in the second quarter where Cutler had thrown an incompletion and was looking forlorn at the ground in his own endzone and not rallying the troops.  He has to understand that as a team leader you can never let your teammates see you down and he kept that loser body english up. This sabotaged his team’s confidence and furthermore as Hanie attempted to ready himself for his second possession, an aloof Jay Cutler sat near him on the bench not going over polaroids to help his understudy.  All of this coming just three years removed from watching an impassioned Phillip Rivers with a torn ligament wrapped in a knee brace, limp onto the field, and leave it all on the field in an AFC Championship against the New England Patriots.  A badge of honor that stands as River’s calling card.  Cutler’s perception will be that of the aloof quarterback on the sideline as his team soldiered on and thats not a good one.  He needed to fight to get back into the game period.

As we lionize the 6th seeded Green Bay Packers and their road warrior status, the stakes of this game makes this one of  the sweetest wins in team history.  They get to go to Soldier Field, beat their arch rival Bears and take home the George Halas NFC Trophy.  Now roll to Dallas with a chance to win the Lombardi Trophy for Super Bowl XLV.  Rodgers didn’t have his best performance  but he didn’t need it.  The Packers running game stayed on course with 120 yards rushing with Starks accounting for 74 yards.  Greg Jennings repeatedly beat Bear cornerback Tim Jennings for 8 receptions and 130 yards. It was a total team victory with surprise performance by rookie Sam Shields, from Miami, who had a monster game with a sack, forced fumble and two interceptions.

Aaron Rodgers has a chance to totally erase the Brett Favre retirement debacle with another win.  He can equal ole’ number 4’s Super Bowl championship total with one more win.  He long validated the move to anoint him the Packer starting quarterback, he now stands the chance to move to the vanguard of the league’s young guns.  Make no mistake about it.  The Bradys and Mannings of the world are slowing down and becoming elder statesmen of the league with Brady going into year 12 and Manning year 14.  This is a quarterback in his prime and he’s primed to win a title.  Can he do it??

Thanks for Reading…. suggest to your friends.

NFC Championship Preview

Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers for the right to go to the Super Bowl.  If images of Vince Lombardi and George Halas aren’t coming to mind we may need to introduce you to table tennis as a favorite sport.  This is the essence of pro football with the backdrop of history, weather, most hated rival playing for the conference crown; how can this get any better?  It can’t, plain and simple.  One of the beautiful points to this championship for affecionados like me is to remind younger fans of the super rich heritage of the NFL.  No the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, nor San Francisco 49ers have the most championships in NFL history, that distinction belongs to these two teams.  The fact that fans have gone their entire lifetimes without seeing these two play with stakes this high makes this game special.  I know, I know…Jef get to the game at hand..

When we take a look at Aaron Rodgers what do you see?  Easily football’s finest young quarterback who is ascending to a place that was once reserved for only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in most circles. Last weeks 31 of 36 for 366 yards and 3TDs in a 48-21 win over Atlanta was his calling card to greatness. He didn’t stand in the pocket and give a Joe Montana performance, he was flushed from the pocket on numerous occasions and completed passes while being chased from the pocket that realistically the defense should have been able to make a few stops.  There were throws that defied logic and its time to talk about Rodgers on the move as one of the best in the business.  His feet are always ready to deliver the football which is key to his game.  So in two playoff games Rodgers has led the Packers to 48 and 45 (last year’s loss to the Cardinals) point totals. Yikes, what will he look like in a year or two?

Over this season has there been a team that has evolved on offense more than the Chicago Bears?  Coming into the season I thought the marriage of Cutler and Mike Martz’s system would be able to get the most of Jay’s long ball arm.  They just had to rope the penchant for Martz to pass too often trying to show off his genius that nearly got Kurt Warner killed when he coached the Rams.  Evidenced by the dismal 9 sacks in the first half performance against the Giants and Cutler didn’t make it back for the second half.  Yet Lovie Smith and Martz have roped in the offense and over the second half of the season ran the ball more than they passed it.  Last week’s playoff game against Seattle, the running attack was supplemented with a variety of screens to further slow the pass rush.  Mike Martz can be a brilliant play caller.

Aaron Rodgers surveying the Bears defense

Jay Cutler has been the beneficiary of this more balanced play calling and has matured amidst detractors who refuse to notice. He’s never played a playoff game how will he perform? Hmm…play action down the middle for a 58 yard touchdown to Greg Olsen on his first pass attempt.  The last time the NFL saw that happen in a playoff game take a guess who was calling the plays?  Mike Martz when Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce for a 77 yarder td on the Rams first play in the ’99 divisonal tilt against Minnesota.  That withstanding, Cutler played under control threw for 2TDs in the game and ran for 2 more becoming the first QB since Otto Graham in 1955.  However a closer look and we saw a confident more determined quarterback, one who put his head down and smashed into the endzone on one run, and forcefully ran for a 4th and 1 near the goalline to set up the Bears 2nd TD.  This was not the same Cutler we saw on that fateful Monday Night against the Giants ducking for cover and unsure of himself.  He’s grown in stature as a pro quarterback over the second half of this season.    Advantage Packers in quarterbacking in this game…

The team that establishes the run best will take control of this football game.  The Packers have found a new workhorse in these playoffs with rookie James Starks.  However this is somewhat overblown.  He rushed 25 times for 66 yards for a paltry  2.6 yds avg.  against Atlanta in which the Packers put up 48 points. This is the issue when dealing with a rookie.  Do I believe in his performance against Philadelphia in the wildcard or this latest outting?  Enter Matt Forte for Chicago, he only rushed 25 times for 80 yards, a slightly better 3.2 yds avg. v. Seattle, yet he supplemented this with 3 receptions for 54 yards more.  Seeing that we have two highly ranked defenses in this game one of these offenses has to give.  Advantage Bears slightly…Martz needs to slip Forte on screens at the right time to slow down a certain Mr. Matthews to aid his passing attack.

Alright its cold out and we have football’s #5 and #9 ranked defenses in the Packers and Bears respectively.  Both stout against the run. Each with defensive stalwarts rushing the passer, the aforementioned Clay Matthews and a one Mr. Julius Peppers. The Packers have the better secondary in Charles Woodson and Tremond Williams, who just played his way onto the Pro Bowl roster with his performance last week.  Third cornerback, rookie Sam Shields from Miami, is coming on.  The Packers must get in front and make the Bears pass into their secondary.  The Bears have the better front seven and perhaps the best in football.  Julius Peppers tilts the field and this matchup in the Bears favor.  In their prior meeting at Soldier Field, the Packers had four penalties attributed to trying to slow down the athletic Peppers.  His presence takes attention away from a lethal Urlacher and Lance Briggs.  Add to that an awakening Tommie Harris and Idonijie #71 will be single blocked on the side away from Peppers.  Look for Idonijie and Peppers to corral Rodgers where Atlanta could not.  Advantage Chicago based on crowd noise and front seven strength across the board.

Which leads to special teams.  Sigh, do I really have to tell you about history’s finest ever kick returner Devin Hester from Miami? Of course its easy to say that he did return a punt for a touchdown in the Soldier Field meeting between these two teams, but its deeper, systemic if you will.  Thanks to Peppers and company, the Bears are the fifth best team in not allowing their opponent to convert on 3rd down at 35%. When opponents are stopped inside their own 40 yard line, teams can’t ask their punter to punt out of bounds in fear of a shanked kick, giving the Bears even better field position.  They are forced to kick it to Hester in that instance and here in late January amidst swirling winds he will get several shots in this game.  Advantage Bears.

For the Packers to win Aaron Rodgers and that superb receiving corps have to have a game like they did in Atlanta and Arizona last year to win.  The problem is those were heremetic, antiseptic dome games, not windy Soldier Field in late January.  The Bears want to put bruises on the body and the psyche of Rodgers.  The Bears should play to the strength of their defense and special teams while taking calculated shots with Cutler’s arm when they get near 50 yard line.

Prediction 2010 NFC Champion Chicago Bears  23-16