The Bears were playing some of the best football in the NFL during a five-game winning streak that preceded the Cutler injury. They were rolling, and who knows where they would have stopped even with a Matt Forte injury?
The five-game winning streak with Cutler at the helm and the points scored during that streak are just bits of the optimism that permeates through the Windy City. These and the addition of some key weapons on offense have Bears fans thinking big.
Let's examine some the encouraging signs that point to why Bears fans are so excited for the start of the 2012 season.
Starting with the offense, even with the whole Matt Forte contract situation needing to be resolved, the ground game in Chicago should be amongst the best in the NFL.
The Bears last year ran for over 2,000 yards for only the second time since 1990. They were a top-10 rushing team on the season in terms of yard per carry, with a 4.4 average.
This despite pass-happy Mike Martz's having too much control over the offense to start the season.
Martz is gone, and if there is one thing that new offensive coordinator Mike Tice is good at, it's developing a running game.
The rushing attack was so good, in fact, that the Bears averaged more yards per game after Matt Forte was injured in the game against the Chiefs.
Add in Michael Bush, a free agent from the Raiders, to get yards between the tackles and to take pressure off of Forte, and the rushing attack will be as good as we've seen in a long time.
Forte is still hungry and will be motivated to earn top dollar, and Bush is a backup who could start for most other teams in the NFL. The offensive line, in terms of run-blocking, should only get better with the return of Gabe Carimi at RT and the balance of Lance Louis' shifting back to RG with Chris Spencer's manning the left-guard spot.
Balance to the offense and a focused dedication to the running game will mean the Bears can legitimately open up the passing game.
Using the run to set up the pass will take a lot of pressure off of the offensive line and Cutler. The play-action pass will be a huge key for overall offensive success, and it's where Cutler has thrived in the past.
This leads to the new weapons on offense in the forms of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Brandon Marshall is one of the top receivers in the NFL since his arrival and is a player the Bears have not had—perhaps in the history of the franchise.
Marshall is a legitimate franchise wide receiver to go with a franchise quarterback and a franchise running back.
There are only two three-headed attacks in the NFL that grade out better than the Bears' set of triplets. In Houston there's Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, and in Atlanta there's Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White.
This means the Bears' offense will be more productive than it ever has, and it won't take much to be productive.
The inclusion of the tight ends back into the offensive attack also gives the Bears more versatility on offense.
As it stands right now, the Bears are starting to experiment with ace personnel that includes the use of two TEs.
Kellen Davis has shown potential before, even with his overall lack of production. While the potential may not seem as though it's there, there have been flashes of big things from Davis so far, and a lot of his upside has been evident during minicamp.
Davis has the size, speed and hands to contribute enough to keep things open.
It may seem like a contradiction to include Davis in this article, but he doesn't have to be the top-level TE Lovie Smith proclaimed he would be. He just has to be included again as a weapon on offense.
In addition to Davis, there has been the emergence of second-year TE Kyle Adams, who made the roster as a undrafted free agent last year. Adams is currently ahead of rookie Evan Rodriguez for the H-back spot and has shown strong ability to get down the field in a hurry and to make big catches.
Even if Davis doesn't catch 40 to 60 balls this season, any production from the TEs in general will be a major boost to the Bears' overall offensive production.
Sticking with the offense, we come to the offensive line and reasons for optimism surrounding the unit. Yes, I am actually writing an opinion that states the offensive line is a reason for optimism in 2012.
Well, partially because it can't get any worse, and most obviously because Gabe Carimi returns and Mike Martz is gone.
Most importantly, though, was that when Cutler was in, the Bears allowed only five sacks during their five-game winning streak.
The protection was there, and that was with Martz calling the plays.
The new offensive scheme will improve the Bears' pass-blocking even more and allow them to put together consistent drives and score a lot of points.
Additionally, this is a very strong run blocking unit, something that wasn't the case when Mike Tice took over two seasons ago.
Forte's production has gone up because of how good this offensive line has become at run-blocking. Take nothing away from Forte, but as I mentioned earlier, the run production actually got better after he was injured.
That stemmed from how good of a run-blocking unit this is, which will help in pass-blocking.
This offensive line is only going to get better, and it will surprise a lot of Bears fans and experts once the season starts.
On defense the cornerback position is very deep and experienced.
Charles Tillman is coming off of a Pro Bowl year, one of his best seasons in a Bears uniform, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Consistent reports from Bears minicamp indicate that Tillman has made it a personal mission to compete hard every play in practice against Brandon Marshall. As a result the early evidence shows that Tillman seems to be getting better with age.
On the side opposite of Tillman is Tim Jennings, who has been one of the most consistent corners in the NFL over the last two seasons. Jennings is a strong Cover 2 corner who is solid in run support and makes plays in the open field.
Jennings helps solidify the Bears outside CB spot and is a strong competitor in the secondary.
Adding depth to the secondary is nickelback DJ Moore, who makes more plays per snap than any defender on the Bears roster.
Moore is a young play maker who can blitz from his nickelback spot and has been a turnover machine in the secondary. He is positioning himself to be the best nickelback in the NFL and will really help to boost the Chicago pass defense.
While most everyone is talking about Shea McClellin and the impact he'll have as a rookie, lost in this shuffle is how good Henry Melton is.
Melton is better than Tommie Harris was when he was healthy. Melton graded out better than Harris did in 2005 and during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He will improve against the run as he refines his technique as a full-time defensive tackle.
Melton enters his second season as a starter, and it's contract year to boot. This means that he is looking to get paid.
And the three technique is the engine that makes the Chicago 2 defense run at a high level. That high level has been evident in the Troy Aikman efficiency ratings.
According to quarterback Troy Aikman's defensive efficiency ratings, the Bears defense finished fourth overall in the NFL last year.
From the Chicago Bears' official season review:
The Chicago Bears defense had an Aikman rating of 77.4 during the
2011 season, fourth best in the NFL. Since 2004, the Bears rank third in the NFL with a cumulative defensive Aikman rating of 78.6.
The Aikman ratings rank teams’ offenses and defenses based on a system of seven categories: yards per rush (five points), yards per pass (five points), third-down efficiency (five points), total first downs (five points), points (10 points), red-zone efficiency (10 points) and turnovers (10 points), with a starting base of 50 points, for a total of 100 possible points.
The ratings are calculated with a projected average rating of 75.0, and the higher the number, the better the rating.
While there are no guarantees in the NFL, I can guarantee you this: The Bears offense will be more productive than it has been in nearly 20 years of football, and the defense will again be amongst the best in the NFL.
The combination of these two things will equate to big things in the Windy City during the 2012 NFL season.
The question is whether a little bit of luck will lead the Bears to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy early in 2013.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!