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Old 08-08-2013, 02:26 AM    (permalink
Eazy Picks
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Default Bears Season Preview

work in progress but trying to move through them


The Jay Cutler era in Chicago has consisted of one disappointment after another. For the past three years, the Bears have shown great promise that becomes overshadowed by an inevitable letdown. In 2010, the Bears advanced all the way to the NFC championship game before Cutler got hurt and sat on the sidelines watching his team lose. In 2011, the team started out 7-3 before Cutler got hurt again and the team stumbled to an 8-8 finish. Last year, there was no injury to Cutler, but the letdown came anyways. After a blistering 7-1 start, the wheels came off and the team ended up narrowly missing the playoffs, prompting the Bears to clean house. With a new General Manager and Head Coach, and Cutler in a contract year, this is clearly a pivotal year for a franchise trying to figure out if they need to overhaul the roster.

Offense

Marc Trestman comes to Chicago with reputation of being a quarterback guru, and he is being charged with the task of getting more out of Jay Cutler. When Cutler came to Chicago, he was looked at as somewhat of a savior to a franchise that had suffered through years of Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, and Brian Griese at QB. Cutler undeniably brought life to the Bearsí passing game with his big arm and playmaking ability, but his meltdowns have lost them games, and his leadership skills have been brought into question. Of course, it is not unfair to heap all the blame of the teamís offensive failures on the quarterback position. The offensive line has been abominable throughout Cutlerís tenure in Chicago, and he hasnít had a strong group of receivers. The Bears have been fairly aggressive in upgrading their offensive line and skill positions, putting the onus on Trestman to design an offense that makes good use of the weapons at his disposal, and on Cutler to lead the group to success on the field. Trestman has not coached in the NFL since 2004, so there could be an adjustment period as he familiarizes himself with leagueís current personnel, coaches, and strategic phenomena. Cutler has always been an exciting quarterback, but has a career win-loss record of 52-43 and needs to prove he can be a winner and lead his team to more than mediocrity.

Revamped O-Line
JíMarcus Webb was a disaster at left tackle last year, and has been replaced by Jermon Bushrod, who has been a very effective blindside protector for years in New Orleans. Webb will start, but will be moved to the less-important right side. The Bears also brought in a new pair of starting guards by signing Matt Slauson and using a first-round pick on Kyle Long. With these additions, the teams hopes to keep Cutler clean and get a better push in the run game.

Big Receivers
When the Bears traded the Dolphins for Brandon Marshall, reuniting him with his quarterback from Denver, I instantly expected big things from the duo. Marshall is one of the true go-to receivers in this league, and he and Cutler have an uncanny connection. The two connected on 118 passes for 1508 yards and 11 TDs, but the Bearsí offense became a bit one dimensional. Marshall was targeted 194 times, while the only other player on the team to be targeted more than 50 times was running back Matt Forte, who was thrown at 60 times. In 2012, 40% of passes attempted by Bearsí quarterbacks were directed towards Marshall. Obviously, this is not a model for an efficient offense, and the Bears need other players to step up. Two big-bodied receivers the Bears are really counting on this year are WR Alshon Jeffery and TE Martellus Bennett. Jeffery showed flashes in his rookie year, but was very inconsistent and finished with only 367 yards. Bennett turned his career around with a strong season for the Giants last year, but needs to follow up on it in Chicago. Outside of Earl Bennett, a steady backup receiver, the Bears donít have much depth at WR or TE, meaning they will need Bennett and Jeffery to step up or end up with the same one-dimensional offense as last year.

Key Player: HB Matt Forte
The Bears thought they had found their workhorse when Forte rushed 316 times for 1238 yards and caught 63 passes for 477 yards and found the end zone 12 times as a rookie. Since then, he has averaged just 236 carries over four seasons, and has only scored 23 touchdowns in that same period. Forteís play has still been solid, but he has had some issues staying healthy and hasnít been the game-changer they expected him to be. Backup Michael Bush was underwhelming last year and doesnít bring the power run game his size would indicate, which puts pressure on Forte to be the driving force of this run game. In an offense that lacks vertical receivers and big-play threats, the Bears need to be very deliberate and efficient on offense. Players with Forteís size and skill set donít come around often, and the key to this offense may be the better utilization of their star tailback. Once again, the pressure will be on Trestman to devise a system that will put his best players in position to succeed.


Defense

It will be strange watching the Bears line up on defense without Brian Urlacher in the middle, but such is the nature of the NFL. Players get old, see their skills decline, and are phased out, even if they are franchise legends. The question now is how much the rest of the Bearsí aging veteran have left in the tank. Urlacher had to hang it up at 34 years old, and Lance Briggs (32), Julius Peppers (33) and Charles Tillman (32) are not far behind him. Under the direction of Lovie Smith, the Bears defense has been dominant for the past decade with this cast of characters, but the end of that era is quickly approaching. Lovie Smithís aggressive schemes helped the Bears consistently force turnovers, and they may regret showing him the door instead of bringing in a new offensive coordinator. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is not expected to make any major scheme changes or change the defensive terminology, but it will be hard to replicate the results the team had with Smith and Urlacher.

Replacing Urlacher: MLB Jon Bostic
Obviously, expecting a rookie to fill the shoes of a future hall-of-famer is ridiculous, but thatís what happens when a team uses a high pick on a player to fill a void left by a franchise great. Bostic is actually a quite different player than Urlacher, as he clearly lacks Urlacherís coverage skills and ability to make plays in the open field. However, he is a tough run defender with great instincts and a high motor and could end up being a high-impact rookie. He will have to fight veteran DJ Williams for the job, but Williams seems to be on the downside of his career and it should only be a matter of time before Bostic ends up in the starting lineup. However, if Bostic is going to be an impact player in his rookie year, he will need the rest of the front seven to help him out. He will be flanked by two veterans with solid track records in Lance Briggs and James Anderson. Briggs is a Chicago legend who is still playing at a high level, while Anderson is coming off a down year in Carolina. Both are best playing in space, so it will be imperative that the defensive line keeps blockers occupied.

Front Four
For years, the Bears have relied almost exclusively on their front four to create pressure, a trend that is not expected to change. Julius Peppers remains one of the leagueís best defensive ends, showing great prowess as a pass-rusher and run defender, and Henry Melton has emerged as one of the leagueís best interior pass-rushers. Nose tackle Stephen Paea set a combine record on the bench press in 2011, but has yet to develop into the force in the trenches the Bears hoped he would be. One player the Bears are sure to miss is DE Israel Idonije, who had 7.5 sacks last year and played the run exceptionally well. Filling his shoes will be Corey Wooton, who flashed upside last year by recording seven sacks, and Shea McClellin, a first round pick who struggled mightily in his rookie year. Depth is scarce after that, so the Bears will likely be riding this group hard.

Secondary Pressure
As much as the Bears will be relying on their defensive front to pressure quarterbacks, they will be relying just as much on their defensive backs to pressure receivers. Charles Tillman sets the tone, providing veteran leadership, as well as excellent press coverage and run support. The 10-year veteran should probably put a patent on his punch-move, which he used a to force an league-high ten fumbles last year. Tillman is now the all-time leader in career fumbles forced among cornerbacks, is tied with Osi Umenyiora for the single season-record for fumbles forced, and owns the record for fumbles forced in a game after punching out four balls in a dominant performance against the Titans. One player who has really benefited from Tillmanís mentorship is Tim Jennings, a cornerback who has elevated his play to a new level since joining the Bears. His nine interceptions led the league last year, and there may not be a more a disruptive pair of cornerbacks in this league. Losing nickel corner DJ Moore was a blow, but Kelvin Hayden and Zack Bowman do provide adequate depth. Strong safety Major Wright is an aggressive and instinctive playmaker in the mold of Bob Sanders who really blossomed last year, while free safety Chris Conte has developed into a very solid player in his own right.

Special Teams

K: Robbie Gould
P: Adam Podlesh
RS: Devin Hester

Devin Hesterís experiment at wide receiver is apparently over, meaning the best return specialist in NFL history will be focusing on what he does best. At thirty years old, Hester no longer possesses the blazing speed he used to set the league on fire early in his career, but he is still dangerous with the ball in his hands and his field vision and return skills cannot be understated. The Bears figure to not only be strong on returns, but have some of the best kick coverage units in the league. Led by special teams standout Blake Costanzo, the Bears finished first in average punt return yardage allowed, and fourth in average kick return yardage allowed. Robbie Gould is a reliable kicker who has been with the Bears through thick and thin.

Schedule Analysis
The NFC North promises to be a competitive division, and the Bears have had a particularly tough time against the Packers, who have beat them six consecutive times. The Bears will travel to Green Bay after their week 8 bye, and will host the Packers in week 17 in a game that could end up deciding both teamsí fate. The Bears will have a chance to get off to another good start, with a winnable slate of games to start the year. However, they need to avoid another poor finish, which could be tough with four of their final six games on the road.
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