Chicago Bears Hype at an All-Time High, Reasons Why This Team Will Falter
Robbing the Dolphins at gunpoint for Brandon Marshall, for the cost of two third-round picks this year and next, set off a wave of hype unseen in Chicago. With the Bulls and Blackhawks both stumbling in the playoffs, the White Sox initially faltering out of the gate and the Cubs never leaving the gate, fans are ready for football.
Looking at the additions and changes made to the 2012 Chicago Bears, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of what could be. There are weapons on offense and another pass-rusher on defense to take the load off of Julius Peppers. There's more talent in the secondary than there has been in 10 years, according to Charles Tillman.
However I think it's time to step back and honestly assess things that could keep the Bears from the playoffs, outside of the obvious offensive line ranting and aging defense scenario.
Jeremy Bates an Asset or a Liability?
Problem No. 1 is Jeremy Bates and just how involved in the offense he is going to be, and whether or not he can keep an erratic Cutler in line.
Say what you will about Mike Martz, but it was his way or the highway when it came to Cutler running his offense and also making smart decisions with the football. Under Martz, Cutler's decision making improved—not drastically, but enough.
Cutler is not the most accurate of quarterbacks in the NFL, nor is he the most disciplined in critical situations. He's cleaned up his decision-making, but when Cutler hasn't been reeled in, he's thrown for 44 interceptions in two seasons under Bates and Ron Turner.
Bates doesn't strike me as a guy who is going to take charge of Cutler and make him a better quarterback, which is what needs to happen. Cutler is a very good quarterback, but he has the tools to be great, and now, he has the weapons.
To put it simply, Cutler is out of excuses for erratic play, and if Cutler starts to sink back into old habits, the finger can be pointed squarely at Bates.
The other concern is, just how involved in play-calling will Jeremy Bates be? There should be no sharing of the play-calling duties here in Chicago between Tice and Bates. In his two stops where he has called plays, Bates has been disastrous. In two years with Pete Carroll (one at USC and one in Seattle), Bates has been the laughingstock of the nation as an offensive coordinator.
It's not as if Bates' phone was ringing off the hook for him to step in and be an OC somewhere else; he wasn't in high demand.
Bates is hoping to further his career by what he can do with Cutler, but he has to set a strong tone with Cutler and mold him so that his talent can start to equate to production. He's only the QB coach in Chicago, but his fingerprints will be all over the passing attack
A Legitimate Pass-Rusher Has to Emerge Opposite Julius Peppers
The third-down rush specialist position is in flux no matter how good anyone thinks Shea McClellin can be. The chance that McClellin is going to come in and make an instant impact as a rookie is slim to none. It's very rare that a rookie DE comes out and puts up double-digit sack numbers.
That means that there is still going to be a lot of attention focused on Julius Peppers and a veteran is going to have to step up his pass-rush game for the defense to keep performing at a high level.
Can Israel Idonije find the fountain of youth? Will Corey Wootton stay healthy and finally meet expectations? Is Chauncey Davis more than just a journeyman DE who looked good in spurts as a run stopper?
Someone is going to have to step up and get pressure opposite Peppers; it's not safe to count on a rookie.
Devin Hester Is the No. 2 Receiver Until Further Notice
Sticking with the rookie theme is the need for rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery to come in and start over Devin Hester. Thus far, Jeffery has missed as much time, as he's practiced with various lower-leg injuries.
Learning the offense is what OTAs and mini-camps are for, and Jeffery missed significant time in all three.
Speaking frankly, most rookie wide receivers always take time to develop at the NFL level. This likely means Jeffery's rookie impact could be minimal, limiting his snaps and putting all the pressure on Devin Hester to be the No. 2 receiver.
This is a role Hester is not suited for, as he's proven time and again he's at best a fourth of fifth receiving option instead of a second.
Interior Pass-Rush Problems?
Compounding the pass-rush problems is the loss of Amobi Okoye. Okoye was a strong pass rusher for the Bears in 2011, adding four sacks and 27 QBPs a mere seven less than Melton.
The Bears aren't likely to replace that type of pressure on the QB with any one currently on the roster from the all important three-technique defensive tackle spot. Also, in an interview on BearReport Radio, DT Israel Idonije seemed to completely shoot down any idea of sliding him back inside.
You simply can't underestimate the importance of a solid defensive tackle rotation in this defense, and right now, there's a gaping hole that may not be adequately filled.
Challenging Schedule Ahead with Three of Final Four Games on the Road
The schedule also doesn't favor the Bears much, with three of their last four games on the road. With an initial glance, I see seven games on the schedule the Bears should most definitely mark down as wins.
The other nine games could be definite stumbling blocks with an improved Panthers, Titans and Cowboys team, tough in-division games against the Packers and Lions and games against two tough playoff teams from last year in the 49ers and Texans.
We also shouldn't write off the scrappy Seahawks, as they thoroughly thumped the Bears last year and have won two of the last three meetings.
Can Kellen Davis Be a Real Threat at the Tight End Position?
Elsewhere on offense, there is the concern of just how good can Kellen Davis be as a tight end? Davis has shown flashes, but he's never been very consistent, nor has he been asked to be a productive target for Cutler.
Davis has a career high of 18 catches in four years with the Bears and has only shown some ability to make plays in the red-zone.
There are only question marks surrounding Davis; no real production to point to.
If Davis falters, that's another weapon the Bears are counting on to help out the offense.
The Safety Position Is a Leader in the Secondary; Who Steps Up?
The next spot to mention that's been obvious for quite some time is the safety position. Chris Conte is entering only his second year and is being counted on to be one of the chief leaders in the secondary, primarily because that's the responsibility of being a safety in the Cover-2.
If Conte struggles to take charge as a starter and Major Wright continues to deal with injury problems, there is no real depth behind these two other than a rookie (Hardin) and a special teams ace (Steltz).
Teams could very well take advantage of a young and inexperienced and a very inconsistent safety position.
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Brett Solesky is editor and publisher of MidwayIllustrated.com a Chicago Bears blog. For more articles about the Bears, including a weekly podcast featuring weekly player interviews and other in-depth information visit my blog.