Hello fellow Bears fans. After much debating, I have finally decided to get off my lazy butt and start a Chicago Bears blog. I have been a Bears fan all of my 34 years (despite a slightly misguided stint rooting for Lynn Dickey as an impressionable 8-year old). My true fandom probably occurred shortly after the "Lynn Dickey" phase when I learned of my grandfather's stint with the Bears on their 1943 World Championship team. He was a starter at Notre Dame and got the chance to play for the Bears when some of the team was fighting in WWII. I was named after him, which is why I chose "Born to Bear" as the title of this blog (my obsession with Springsteen probably has something to do with that as well).
I plan to write about the Bears before and after each game (possibly during them, too). Since I live in Wisconsin and decided to give up DirecTV a few years ago, I am sometimes forced to watch Bears games in sports bars. This is probably a good thing because being in public forces me to act with a modicum of decorum during the game rather than a raving lunatic, which doesn't help my marriage. I plan to write many, many irrational things throughout the course of the season, especially if 2010 heads down the path that I fear it will. My only real goals are to continue to post every week regardless of record and keep my irrational rants somewhat lucid. I am a very harsh critic of my team, but I will not call for Cutler to be traded if he has a bad game. And, I won't be calling for Todd Collins following a loss. I'm a fan, not a moron. I will chastise Cutler relentlessly if he continues to make bad decisions with the football, but even fan blogs should be discredited with ultra-ridiculous statements. Of course, I'm saying all of this BEFORE the season starts. We shall see how well I stick to these lofty goals.
If nothing else, this forum will allow me to vent my frustrations every Sunday throughout the season which should, in turn, help me sleep better at night. I've spent too many nights tossing and turning as my mind's eye replays Chris Carter's overtime touchdown, Cedric Benson's fumble in the Super Bowl, and Rex Grossman, um, being Rex Grossman. I'm pretty sure this blog won't actually help improve the team, but it should help me sleep better. Now, here's my preview of the 2010 Chicago Bears.
I watched most of the starting offense in the last three preseason games online thanks to this wonderful interweb thingy. Based on what I saw, their offense could be a complete and total disaster. The offensive line gave up a ton of sacks, receivers were not making plays, and Cutler threw two horrible interceptions that reminded me way too much of last year. A quarterback losing faith in his protection is probably worse than bad protection itself. Cutler admitted that he was feeling skittish because of the sacks and pressure he felt during the Raiders game, which lead to some poor play during the Cardinals game. That really scares me. I think it will take a number of games for this offensive line to come together, but Cutler has to play as if they already have. He can't be looking at or worrying about the pressure when trying to run a timing based offense. His arm can buy him a little extra time, but that's not what Martz wants. He wants the ball to come out quickly and accurately. Those aren't words I'd use to describe Jay's passing style. At this point in his career, he still seems like a young power pitcher who is still learning how to "pitch". And, despite all reports of his high intellect, it doesn't always show during the game. He is too willing to throw what I call "hope" balls rather than just throwing the ball away. If he cuts down on those, the sky is still the limit for him.
Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz, Lance Louis, Frank Omiyale. Why do I get the feeling these names will be mentioned too much during Bears games? This offensive line will be the biggest factor in determining the outcome of the Bears season. If they can protect Cutler and execute the multitude of pass blocking protections that Martz requires, I'll be a very happy Bears fan. Mike Tice has a solid track record of developing young offensive lineman, and I think this group will develop nicely...in time. I'm not sure it'll happen this year, though.
Mike Martz. Hmm. I wonder how many times I'll type that name over the next four months? Yes, he has run some really powerful offenses. And, he turned Jon Kitna into an upper-echelon QB for a few seasons. But, I'm not convinced his offenses have the most important goal in mind...winning! Don't get me wrong, it was time for Ron Turner to be fired. His offenses were predictable and dull. They required perfect execution to be successful. He never out coached his opponents. I could predict the play based on the formation and I'm just a schmuck who never got closer to playing in the NFL than Super Tecmo Bowl. I can imagine how much fun it was for defenses to game plan against Ron Turner and his nine offensive plays.
I do think Martz can game plan and scheme. He knows how to attack defenses. I like the aggressiveness of pushing the ball down the field. But, based on what I've seen over the years, he has a tendency to abandon the running game. He also allows his quarterbacks to be punished. And, he doesn't seem overly concerned about turnovers. Even us lowly fans know that turnovers are generally the most important factor in determining the outcome of an NFL game. I agree that you can't be plodding and dull (Ron Turner), but you also can't be batshit crazy (Mike Martz).
The wide receivers are an intriguing mystery. Knox and Hester can both fly, and Devin Aromashodu has size as well as some speed, but Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo are certainly asking for these young players to make a HUGE jump this season in order to save their jobs. I fear Knox is too small to stay healthy for an entire season. Hester just doesn't look like anything more than a #3 receiver in my eyes. He apparently makes huge catches in practice, but I don't see him consistently using his speed and quickness while running routes. D.A. looked incredible during the last few games in 2009, but that was a West Coast-style offense. Greg Olsen is a solid TE, but how much will Martz use him? Like I said, an intriguing group of players with potential, but lots of unknowns.
As down as I am on the passing game, I think the running game could be solid. The offensive line does appear to be quicker and more athletic this year than they were last year. I think the Bears will run more traps and draws this year, which should slow down the pass rush. Some of their screen passes this preseason were quite impressive, too, especially compared to previous seasons when a screen pass meant a guaranteed pickup of two yards. Matt Forte appears to have his burst back after the injuries last year, but he will need a little daylight to utilize it. I don't think he'll get space consistently, but it should be better than 2009 when the holes were tighter than a Phil Mickelson golf shirt. Chester Taylor is a solid all-around back. A lunch-pail guy. Blocks well, catches well, and runs decent. Should help spell Forte and be a good insurance policy.
If Martz can mix in some running plays and Cutler can trust his protection, they have enough TALENT to be a solid offense. But, I fear mistakes (sacks, INTs) will ultimately doom them. I think they'll have some huge games, but won't consistently make plays in key situations (red zone, 3rd downs).
Let me just say that I miss the 46 defense. For all of its deficiencies and its tendency to give up the big play, at least it wasn't boring. I HATE the cover 2 or Tampa 2 or whatever the hell Lovie calls it. This base defense is not effective unless you have great pressure from the front four and a really solid, disciplined secondary. This defense has been outdated for at least three years. Teams have adjusted to it. The Bears haven't been able to get pressure the last few years, and their weak secondary has been exposed by an unbelievably predictable scheme. When the Bears had superior athletes in 2005 and part of 2006, this defense was great. Their speed and lack of size was a huge advantage. Now, it's a liability. Lovie has started blitzing a ton to overcompensate for the lack of pass rush, and this just exposes an already suspect secondary. Yeesh. I see more of the same this year.
Adding Julius Peppers was necessary, even if they overpaid for him. They haven't been able to develop a dominant defensive end in years, so this move was inevitable if Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were serious about keeping their jobs. Like many Bears fans, though, I was stunned that they actually did it. The McCaskeys don't normally allow for big splashes like this. Let's hope he can be a consistent force and help Tommie Harris find some of the magic from the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Israel Idonije is a solid player with a great motor. He always seems to make plays when given the chance. Same with Anthony Adams. But, I'm not sold on Marcus Harrison and Mark Anderson. I keep reading about how talented they are, but it hasn't translated into much production lately. Sure, Anderson had a monster rookie year, but he has disappeared since then. Matt Toeania looks like he's ready to contribute after a great preseason. Corey Wootton and Henry Melton probably won't get on the field much this year. Overall, this group should be better than last year. But, I sure would've liked to have seen Alex Brown play opposite Julius Peppers.
The linebackers are definitely a strength, despite an aging Brian Urlacher. The good news with Urlacher is that missing a season may have allowed his body to heal from the nagging neck and back injuries. If he stays healthy, he could be comeback player of the year. Lance Briggs is likely to end up in the Pro Bowl again, and Pisa Tinoisamoa is a good strongside linebacker. Plus, with Nick Roach, Hunter Hillenmeyer, and Brian Iwuh on the bench, this unit should be able to handle any injuries that may happen.
Now, we get to the group that looks like they'll be as big of a question mark as the offensive line--the secondary. Charles Tillman is a gamer. He plays hurt, he's always causing fumbles, and he's great supporting the run. But, he is not a shutdown corner. All of the injuries over the years have robbed him of some athleticism. He's still a cagey veteran, and a solid player, but I'm not sure if the Bears can count on him to consistently break-up pass plays down the field. Zach Bowman has shown flashes, and he led the team in interceptions last year. He has good size, and he ran well coming out of college. Some people are predicting big things for him this year, but I think he's reached his ceiling. He'll make some plays, but he'll also get beat more often than a starting corner should. If the pass rush is suspect, he can be exposed. The safeties continue to be huge question marks. Danieal Manning is an insane athlete and a great kick returner, but it doesn't appear that he has the instincts to put those skills to good use at a position. He's back at strong safety to start the season after a stint at nickel back, free safety, cornerback, H-back, flanker, and Lovie's personal chef. Unfortunately, I'm only joking about a few of those. Chris Harris starts at free safety after a brief move to Carolina. Anybody care to bet that neither of these guys will be in these same positions by the end of the year? If there is one thing you can count on it's Lovie changing his safeties. I've read that he's made something like 40 changes since he's been with the Bears. Continuity is highly overrated at the back end of your defense...apparently. Major Wright we'll be starting within four games. He seems to be a natural. D.J. Moore is the new nickel back. He's small, but quick. He didn't play much last year, which worries me that he's suddenly a starter. This group will likely cause the throwing of many remote controls throughout the season, but secondary coach Jon Hoke has promised changes to their coverages after last year's disappointing play. I don't believe it. We'll see the same zones with huge holes and easy completions. The defensive line can help this group with a consistent pass rush, but if they have to cover for longer than three seconds, it'll get ugly.
The special teams looked awful in the preseason, but I trust Dave Toub more than any other coach on this staff. The Bears special teams will be good, even very good. They have great returners and solid kickers. Gould and Maynard are two of the best, even though I see Maynard slipping a little bit. Patrick Mannelly is also great, if he stays healthy. He was banged up during the preseason and missed some time. It was revealing how important he is in the kicking game. After Desmond Clark, the back long snapper, misfired on a few during the Raiders game, Mannelly should've renegotiated his contract! Hopefully Hester can find a few lanes and bring a punt to the house. If he gets one, watch out. It could be the confidence he needs to return to form. I believe Manning and/or Knox will be handling the kick return duties. Both can go the distance on any given play.
Most professional prognosticators have the Bears finishing in third or fourth place. I want to say they are wrong. I REALLY want to say they are wrong, but, alas, I cannot. It will take Cutler and the offense too long to get comfortable with the new scheme, and the defense won't be good enough to shut teams down. I think they'll win some exciting games this year, and I think they'll lose some really ugly games this year. They have some talent on both sides of the ball, but it won't translate into more than 7 wins. The Bears will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season (after being in the Super Bowl). Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo will lose their jobs, and Cutler will have to learn his fourth offense in four years next season when a new coach is brought in. I hope that they prove me wrong. Please prove me wrong, guys. PLEASE.
And, just for the fun of it, I have made my own predictions for the rest of the NFL. It would be too easy to pick the Packers and Ravens in the Super Bowl, like everyone else has done, so I have decided to be much bolder. See below. Here is who I like for each division and the playoffs. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any ridiculous betting that may take place based on these absurd predictions.
AFC Division Winners:
NFC Division Winners:
AFC Wild Cards:
NFC Wild Cards:
AFC Championship Game:
Ravens vs. Titans
NFC Championship Game:
Giants vs. 49ers
Super Bowl XLV
Titans vs. Giants
Super Bowl XLV Winner: