Jay Cutler led the league in interceptions, Matt Forte never really got going on the ground, Greg Olsen didn’t live up to his expectations, and the offensive line was pretty pathetic due in large part to the over the hill LT Orlando Pace.
The defense saw linebackers Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa miss basically the whole season, the third down defense was awful, the secondary didn’t look like they belonged in the NFL at times, the defensive line was not very disruptive, and DT Tommie Harris was again playing with a bum knee.
These things must improve in order for the Bears to bounce back from a below .500 season. Here’s what the Bears need to improve from now until Sunday, Sept. 12 when the Bears face the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.
1. The Defense Must Play Better On Third Downs
Last season, the defense didn’t play up to exceptions probably because middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was lost during Week One for the season. The defense allowed opposing offenses to convert 41 percent of the time against them last season. The Bears ranked the sixth worst at stopping opposing offenses on third down last season. Only Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, and Atlanta were worse.
They allowed the Bengals to convert eight of 12 times, the Cardinals to convert eight of 14 times, and the Vikings to convert 12 of 18 times in Minnesota. Those three games were the lows of the season for the Bears defense.
In 2008, the Bears were the fifth best team at stopping opposing offenses on third down and that was probably because Brian Urlacher was on the field for the whole season. Fast forward to this season, the additions of DE Julius Peppers, Chris Harris, Major Wright, and the returns of Urlacher, Tinoisamoa, and a truly healthy Tommie Harris, will make the third down defense that much better.
Rod Marinelli has taken over the defense as the new coordinator, expect him to make it a point to stop opposing offenses on third down.
Forty-one percent is unacceptable.
If the Bears want to be known as a good defense than their defense better act like one. If the Bears can stay healthy and the defensive line can constantly apply pressure, then they’ll be a solid. To be a good defense you have stop opposing offenses on third down. Watch out for a big improvement this season.
2. The Offensive Line Has To “Protect” Jay Cutler
The Bears offensive line for a good portion of the season was LT Orlando Pace, LG Frank Omiyale, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, and RT Chris Williams. The line looked good on paper, but they couldn’t protect Michael Vick during his prime if they wanted to. The big problem was that Pace was “way” past his playing prime. Jared Allen made him look like a fool in the first game against Minnesota. If this was Mike Martz’s offense, Pace would have been gone after Week two. Pace was that bad.
Frank “The Tank” Omiyale, the Bears big free agent signing on the offensive line, started only one game in his career before coming to the Bears and it was at right tackle. Right tackle is his natural position, playing him at left guard last season was a big error by Bears coaches.
The other mistake they made was starting the young and inexperienced Chris Williams at right tackle when he belonged at his natural position of left tackle. Once the Bears moved Williams to the left side, the offensive line was much improved. Kevin Shaffer filled in at right tackle and Josh Beekman was used on and off at left guard.
Come this year, the line might have the same names but it will play much different. The Bears hired former Vikings head coach Mike Tice to coach the offensive line, and since they did I’ve only heard good things about the guy. Having an experienced offensive line will help tremendously.
Look for the Bears to start Williams at LT, Kreutz at center, Garza at RG, and Omiyale at RT. The left guard position is up for grabs; Beekman, Lance Louis, and Johan Asiata are all competing for the starting gig.
The big reason this years offensive line will be better is because they have Williams and Omiyale playing at their natural positions. Also, don’t forget about the addition of TE Brandon Manumaleuna. He is considered the best blocking tight end, so on passing downs he will basically be used as another offensive lineman.
The offensive line must be improved, if not, the Mike Martz system will not succeed and Lovie Smith and Co. will all be sitting jobless when the season ends.
3. Matt Forte Must Return To His Rookie Form
In Matt Forte’s rookie season in 2008, he rushed for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 63 receptions for 477 yards and four touchdowns.
Last season his numbers dipped, he rushed for only 929 yards on 258 attempts with just four touchdowns. His receiving stats are basically the same, but he failed to reel in a receiving touchdown. The biggest difference between 2008 and 2009 for Forte was that he was averaging only 58 ypg last season, and his rookie year he averaged 77 ypg. Also, he fumbled the ball six times last season, compared to his one fumble in 2008.
Forte was playing hurt basically the whole season, but fumbles are no excuse especially in the red zone where he was constantly losing the ball. With the injury it seemed like Forte lost his speed and power to get down the field. With Forte struggling, Jay Cutler had to throw the ball.
Expect Forte to be a smarter and healthier running back this season. With the addition of Chester Taylor in the backfield, they could be the best running back tandem the Bears have had since Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson shared the rock in 2006. With Taylor getting some carries, Forte will be able to get some time to rest.
Remember Martz isn’t a huge fan of running the ball, but the Bears like to get the ground game going first, so Forte will be a major factor in the offense even if Martz is opposed to running. Forte and Taylor both have great receiving talent, so when they don’t feel like running the offense could run a little HB screen.
The key for Forte is to stay healthy and not turnover the ball. It’s that simple. Look for Taylor to take over if Forte cannot return to his rookie season form.
4. The Secondary Must Play Like They Belong
Last season, Al Afalava and Kevin Payne were the opening day starters at safety. Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman were the starters at cornerback. Payne was traded this offseason and Afalava might not even make the team. Danieal Manning and Chris Harris look like the new starters at safety.
Yeah that’s right, Chris Harris, the same Chris Harris who had an interception in Super Bowl XLI. The same Chris Harris who was traded to Carolina in 2007, so the Bears could start Adam Archuleta. What a mistake that turned out to be.
The Bears have Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks who both started in games last season, and Major Wright who was the Bears third-round pick this year. Manning has been bounced all over the secondary, and nobody knows if he can even be anything more than a solid kick returner in the NFL. Harris will be fine, he is just as good as Charles Tillman at forcing fumbles. Harris forced 12 in three seasons with the Panthers.
The safeties should be okay; I think the cornerbacks should be viewed as a big concern for the Bears.
Bowman is moving over to the left cornerback position, where they cover the number one receiver from the other team, and Tillman is on the right side now. Nathan Vasher is no longer here. Corey Graham will likely be the starter at nickelback, and the depth on the bench isn’t very experienced. They signed former Colt Tim Jennings, but he is another undersized corner like last years fourth round pick D.J. Moore.
This years fifth-round pick, Joshua Moore, was selected for depth despite only being able to do two reps of the bar at the NFL Combine this year. Woodny Turenne was on the practice squad last season as an undrafted free agent. Who knows what he’ll be able to do?
If Bowman or Tillman go down the Bears could be in big trouble. Neither of them have been very durable over the last couple of seasons. The cornerback position is a bigger concern than the safety position in the secondary for the Bears. Tillman and Bowman can’t go on the injured reserve this season
5. The Offense Must Play As A Team.
Cutler can’t give up on plays as often as he did last season. There’s a reason he threw a league high 26 interceptions. His receivers maybe, his lack of running game, his lack of blocking, and the lack of coaching. I think it’s a mixture of all those things. A new coach will improve all of those things.
Jay Cutler will be a better Jay Cutler this season.
The receivers weren’t bad last season, but they weren’t great. They can be great in Mike Martz’s offense. Devin Aromashodu’s skills weren’t realized until the second half of the season, Devin Hester should be more of slot receiver, Johnny Knox is going to be even better this season, and Earl Bennett and Juaquin Iglesias will see some playing time.
I talked about the starting running backs in number three, but I didn’t talk about the backups. Kahlil Bell and Garrett Wolfe shouldn’t see the field very much, and Brandon Minor will likely be put on the practice squad.
The tight ends will play a big role in the passing game like the always have in the Bears scheme. All the rumors about Greg Olsen being traded were dumb; why would you trade your best tight end just because he doesn’t fit the scheme of a coach who might only be here for one season?
The offense needs to play in sync, and with Martz running the show I think they will. The greatest show on turf could come to Soldier Field after all. Obviously not actual turf, but basically the Bears offense hold the keys to success for the entire team.
It’s a make or break season for the Chicago Bears. These improvements have to be made in order for them to beat out the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings for a playoff spot or the division crown.
I believe the Bears have what it takes to win the division and more. At least I do. Do you?