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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Matt Forte Signs A 4 Year Deal Worth $32 Million

On the deadline to lock up your franchise player, Matt Forte signs a four year deal and should solidify the Bears offense this season. With Jay Cutler being reunited with WR Brandon Marshall, this could be the best offense the Windy City has seen in years. Forte is a space runner and flourishes on screens and draws. He should project out to 2,200 yards from scrimmage if this offense can hit the field healthy this season.

At 26, a four year deal was good for both Forte and the Bears organization. Teams are reluctant to pay running backs as they near 30 years of age and the Bears should have a succession in place by then. Forte has been a solid player who looks like he has many years left. He’s a slippery runner who rarely takes the solid hit. Compare this with the reluctance the Baltimore Ravens are taking with Ray Rice. Each runner was franchised but there is a growing suspicion that Rice may be on the verge of wearing down from a heavy sustained workload. He also takes a lot more solid hits than Forte and it may show up shortly. Rice still hasn’t signed his tenure and wants a longer deal like Forte.

Brandon Marshall and Forte need each other for this to work. If teams are keeping their safeties back and outside linebacker to Marshall’s side watching for outs, hooks and slants, Forte will have more space to operate than ever before. The NFC North is weak when it comes to outside linebacker play as well. Whether rushing or receiving this is going to open up for the Bears beautifully.

As for the Bears as a franchise, remember the sentiment that Michael McCaskey was handicapping his team with offseason inactivity?? You can lay that claim to rest. The trading for QB Jay Cutler, signing big time free agent Julius Peppers a few seasons back, then bringing in Marshall from Miami for cheap. The Bears front office deserves some credit for not overspending and finding players for specific points. They’ve kept the nucleus of the team together (Lance Briggs withstanding) while becoming a player in free agency. In reality the current roster has about a 4 year window to reach the Super Bowl. The aforementioned players and those of Devin Hester, Urlacher, “Peanut” Tillman are all in their prime. Do they have enough to cool down the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers??

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Week 7 NFC North: Sobering Developments

Every NFL season has it’s ups and downs. One month you’re a world beater and headed to the Super Bowl, once those other pesky ten games get out of the way. A month later you’re a team in search of a few answers on how to right the ship. Or in the case of the Chicago Bears, the mantra is to prove last year’s run to the NFC Championship wasn’t a fluke and they were / are worthy of primetime coverage. Last Sunday the Bears crossed the pond and held off an up and coming Tampa Bay team 24-18, for their 3rd win in 4 weeks.

Look no further than RB Matt Forte for their resurgence. Do you realize that in four weeks he’s run for 553 and 2 TDs and catapulted himself into one of the NFL’s rushing leaders with 672 yards?? He ranks third in rushing and with the Bears schedule becoming easier after this week’s bye, he could run the Bears right back into the playoff chase.http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/chi/2011.htm  Has there been a running back this year who has played better than Forte?? we don’t think so. He also leads the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (419) and if he keeps going may be up for NFL MVP consideration as well.

What is shocking is the Bears defense being ranked 24th in all of pro football. This week saw the Bears wave goodbye to S Chris Harris who started against the Bucs over at Wembley. Against the run they are a respectable 13th yet their pass defense has been awful of late ranking 27th. What is puzzling is the fact that the Bears are rushing the passer well. Led by Julius Peppers (4 sacks) there are at least four Bears with 3 sacks or more in just seven games. Lance Briggs was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and has 55 tackles. Urlacher is right behind him with 39 tackles and 3 interceptions. With all this pressure and solid linebacker play, what is going on in the secondary?? The play at nickleback and safety needs to be shored up. They have a bye week and then they face Philadelphia and the Michael Vick Experience. With so much attention on the World Champion Packers and the resurgent Lions, most experts don’t see this Bear team who quietly sits within striking distance of the division leaders.

 

NFC NORTH W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Green Bay 7 0 0 1.000 3-0-0 4-0-0 2-0-0 6-0-0 230 141 +89 Won 7
Detroit 5 2 0 .714 2-2-0 3-0-0 2-0-0 4-2-0 194 137 +57 Lost 2
Chicago 4 3 0 .571 3-1-0 1-2-0 1-2-0 4-3-0 170 150 +20 Won 2
Minnesota 1 6 0 .143 1-3-0 0-3-0 0-3-0 1-4-0 148 178 -30 Lost 2

A little wind has been swept from the sails of the Detroit Lions amidst back to back losses to San Francisco and Atlanta until you realize 6 of the 7 teams they have played are .500 and above. The Falcons have won their division 2 of the last 3 years and fighting to keep pace with the Saints and Bucs (whom the Lions beat already). Their other loss came was against the NFC West leading San Francisco 49ers. Each can be attributed to facing Pro Bowl caliber running backs in Frank Gore (141 yds /1TD) two weeks ago and Michael Turner (122 yds) who ran effectively against them. In fact the Lions are 28th against the run and has only held 1 team under 100 yards rushing this season. http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&role=OPP&offensiveStatisticCategory=null&defensiveStatisticCategory=RUSHING&season=2011&seasonType=REG&tabSeq=2&qualified=true&Submit=Go

While the Lions have been a scoring machine the first 5 games they have been somewhat slowed in the last two. The missing punch out of the backfield in Mikel Leshoure, on injured reserve, is slowing this team down. Jahvid Best is filling the void as best he can but is a limited runner on 3rd and short. However the maturation of soon to be Pro Bowl quarterback Matthew Stafford (1,912 yards /16TDs & 4 int.) is right on schedule.https://taylorblitztimes.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/2011-detroit-lions-preview/ Calvin “Megatron” Johnson’s touchdowns have slowed a bit (8 in 4 games v. 2 in last 3 games) yet he topped 100 yards receiving in each defeat. They just have to get past Denver and recharge their batteries in the following bye week.  To us, these games seemed to be growing pains for a young team yet they should be concerned about their run defense. Especially in a rematch with the Bears with Matt Forte’s recent rushing performance.

Sailing along are the World Champion Packers whose offense is one of the best in all of football. Aaron Rodgers is moving well in the pocket and distributing the football without taking sacks or hits like he did last season. Concerns about his concussion situation seems a thing of the past. The Packers are passing at will on opponents who can’t generate enough heat to get to Rodgers. How affective are the champs with the ball? Well their offense is ranked #3 overall with Rodgers unbelievable statistics. Rodgers has completed 71.5% of his passes for 2,372 yards, 20TDs to only 3 interceptions. Yikes!! It’s as though he’s playing Madden Football on rookie. Do you realize he’s on pace to throw for 5,421 yards with 45 TDs. That would destroy Dan Marino’s single season yardage mark if maintained and just off pace to break Brady’s all time touchdown record. Lethal.

Lets ask a question: What happened to this defense?? Green Bay has been giving up candy on defense this year to the tune of 391 yards  per game. Where last year the team was galvanized and held together by the leagues’s #2 ranked defense, this year’s edition is ranked 27th. Without a significant injury to the starting 11, you’d have to say it’s a terrible performance. In 7 games they have only held one team to 10 or less. They even gave up 27 points to an inept rival Viking team last week.

Eventually offensive juggernauts fall to a superior defense in postseason play. The Packers are walking a tightrope. They want to finish like last year’s team with a Super Bowl victory yet are playing defense like their 2009 edition that was knocked out in the wildcard round. It would be best for this team to get to some Oklahoma drills this off week. Their title defense will come down to their defense in the end and they definitely have to play better.

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Week 4 NFC North: Titans Ready to Collide

Detroit's defense harrased and hounded Tony Romo throughout the second half.

If someone were to have asked you at the beginning of the NFL season: Who would be the last two undefeated teams?? There is no way anyone would have guessed they would be the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Well the champion Packers yes but the Lions are roaring into the NFL’s collective conscience in a way not seen since the ’99 Rams. After over a decade of losing the Lions are on a tear. That’s right, 8 straight games when you include the last 4 to end the season and the first 4 of this campaign. However last Sunday’s win in Dallas might have been the most telling win out of all of them for the way they pulled it off.

We have talked at length about the psychological building blocks that make up a championship team. Understand this is a franchise a little over a year removed from losing the most consecutive road games in NFL history with 24. Now in back to back weeks the Lions roared from 20 points down to beat the Vikings 23-20 in Minnesota. Then with all NFL eyes upon them down in JerryWorld, they stormed from behind to win 34-30 after being down 27-3. What makes it one of those psychological building blocks we talk about?? The fact that they never believed they were out of the ball game and played with great heart. Detroit had to find a way to win with their defense and special teams forcing errors. Most great comebacks happen because a quarterback and his offense got hot. That wasn’t the case down in Dallas last Sunday.

Matthew Stafford struggled for much of the game yet came to life when he was needed to complete the comeback started by the defense. He threw for two fourth quarter touchdowns to Calvin “Megaton” Johnson, who now has 11TD throws on the year. Johnson has continued his torrid streak becoming the first in NFL history to start the season with 2 TDs in each of the first four games. Hell he’s on a pace to grab 32TDs. All of this while the Lions became the first team in NFL history to overcome 20 point deficits to win games. All of this on the road after setting the record for most consecutive road losses?? Yes, a complete confidence is growing within this Lions team that may become hard to extinguish, however the World Champion Packers are looming just over the horizon. Before we get there lets look at the standings.

NFC NORTH W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Detroit 4 0 0 1.000 1-0-0 3-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 135 76 +59 Won 4
Green Bay 4 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 2-0-0 1-0-0 3-0-0 148 97 +51 Won 4
Chicago 2 2 0 .500 2-1-0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2-2-0 94 98 -4 Won 1
Minnesota 0 4 0 .000 0-2-0 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-2-0 77 96 -19 Lost 4

The WR/CB matchup of Green Bay's Charles Woodson and Detroit's "Megatron" Johnson should be worth the price of admission

Which brings us to the streaking World Champions, who are also 4-0. Aaron Rodgers has just made defenses look foolish with his torrid start to the season. His quarterback rating of 124.6 includes 12 TDs to just 2 interceptions and he has 1,325 yards passing. http://www.nfl.com/player/aaronrodgers/2506363/profile Yikes! After last year’s postseason run it’s a miracle he’s not getting more ink. Everyone has been talking about Cam Newton, Brady’s record setting start, Romo’s chronicles in Dallas, and even Matthew Stafford’s 11TD start in Detroit. Yet there may not be a team more reliant on their signal caller than the Super Bowl XLV MVP. Right now they are balanced with Rodgers at the helm. James Starks has 210 yards rushing which is supplemented by Ryan Grant’s 157. If Rodgers were hurt teams would come forward to stop the run more which is a no brainer. What has been overlooked is the fact that the Packers defense is ranked a dismal 28th overall and 31st against the pass. http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&role=OPP&offensiveStatisticCategory=null&defensiveStatisticCategory=TEAM_PASSING&season=2011&seasonType=REG&t    This would not be a good time to take on Detroit and it’s a good thing they don’t have to for seven more weeks. What is a problem is the fact that there are no big injuries to point a finger to and after a quarter of the season is gone, it’s safe to say they may not be a top 10 defense this year. Teams are forced to play catch-up so much chasing the new highest scoring team in the league. The Packers dropped an epic 49-23 beatdown on the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

Matt Forte has quietly been one of the NFL's leading rushers.

However to the southwest is a Chicago Bear team seething at the attention afforded their division brethren. Sure they fell to the Packers 27-17 two weeks ago, but that was a tough game and the Bears relish a rematch with their rivals. Although they played in last year’s NFC Championship Game, this team has been largely forgotten about. They just beat the Carolina Panthers and slowed Cam Newton, somewhat, enroute to a 34-29 win that places them 3rd with a 2-2 record. This Monday Night matchup with the Detroit Lions is where the Bears can show that they are still in the fight. A lost fact is the Bears have scored over 30 points twice so far this season, and take a guess which two of their four games they won?? Matt Forte has rushed solidly for 324 yards and 1TD and Johny Knox and Devin Hester have been decent with 12 and 7 receptions respectively. However it’s former Lion WR Roy E. Williams who should be motivated to make an impression in this Monday Night showdown. If he can’t get going in this one against his former team when will he??

One looming problem for the Chicago Bears is they’re defense is ranked 31s overall after a tangle with Cam “The Human Highlight Film” Newton. He did throw for 376 yards on the Bears defense and they need to shore that up. By the way…did we tell you that Bears defensive co-ordinator is former Detroit Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli??  Division rival…wanting to showcase that they are still an NFC heavy, and the emotion of Williams and Marinelli coming back to Motown!! Dammit Hank Williams for your comments about Obama being Hitler, but if ever we wanted to hear your “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??” It would be this Monday Night when the Bears travel to Ford Field.

The next time will be Thanksgiving when the Packers travel to Ford Field. Remember, late last year the Lions beat them in their 4 game winning streak. Shhhhh…food for thought.

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