The Bears started strong, but injuries caught up to them and dragged them down to an 8-8 finish. Meanwhile, the Packers were the best team in the league during the regular season and cruised to a 15-1 season.
Chicago has taken some significant steps toward improving their team this season. But, is it enough to challenge the Packers for the NFC North title? Let's take a look.
Things that Chicago has Going for Them:
1) Improved Passing Game
The Bears finally added a big-name receiver to the roster this year when they traded two third-round draft picks for Brandon Marshall. Marshall is that top-flight receiver who Chicago has needed for a long time.
They also added rookie start Alshon Jeffery to the wide receiver corps. Jeffery is already making strides and could easily finish as the No. 2 receiver on the team behind Marshall this season.
2) Improved Pass Rush
Chicago drafted Shea McClellin because he is a relentless pass-rusher. But he's not the only improvement. Veteran defensive end Israel Idonije is a solid player, and the Bears brought him back for another season.
Between this crew and All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers, the Bears should be able to put a lot more pressure on opposing offenses.
3) Improved Depth At Key Positions
Part of the collapse from last season was due to lack of depth at running back and quarterback. Chicago added former Oakland Raider starters Jason Campbell and Michael Bush as QB and RB, respectively. Both of these guys have had success with other teams and will provide excellent depth where the Bears need it most.
Chicago also added depth in the secondary with rookie Brandon Hardin and former Indianapolis Colt Kelvin Hayden. The Bears hope that Hardin can bring stability to a position that has been a trouble spot for them for several seasons. Hayden is in a heated competition with starting cornerback Tim Jennings, and both will see significant playing time this year.
Challenges that Chicago Still Faces:
1) Huge Question Marks on the Offensive Line
Both are competing to protect Jay Cutler's blind side. Neither has been impressive so far.
2) Uncertainty with Brian Urlacher
Urlacher's knee is not healing. He had surgery this week to help clean things up. He'll miss the rest of the preseason and could miss the season opener.
While Nick Roach is doing his best to fill in, he is nowhere near as talented as Urlacher. The entire defense revolves around him. Without Urlacher, the defense has giant hole in the middle, and they are not nearly the powerhouse that they can be.
3) The Packer Didn't Sit Still Either
The Packers recently added free-agent running back Cedric Benson to the roster. While Benson's best years may be behind him, he's easily the best running back on the team.
Second-round pick Jerel Worthy gives the Packers' defensive line an instant upgrade. Free agent Anthony Hargrove will miss time due to the Saints' Bountygate scandal, but he could be the late season boost that every team needs.
Rookie outside Linebacker Nick Perry has had a quiet training camp, but proved he's ready to play with a big sack of Philip Rivers on the second play of Green Bay's first preseason game against San Diego. Perry will join Clay Matthews this season, giving the Packers two outside rushers who will give any team nightmares.
Will They or Won't They?
So is it enough? Does Chicago have everything they need to challenge the Packers for the division title?
It won't be easy. They'll need Urlacher back. They'll need to close the hole at left tackle. And, they'll need to stay healthy.
But, the injuries are starting to mount in Green Bay, and there's still a month before the regular season. The Bears continue to improve every week, despite the poor performance in their first preseason game. They'll be ready for the regular season.
All of the pieces are in place. They just need time to gel. The Bears face Green Bay in Week 2, and if they can go into Green Bay and grind out a win, it could be the spring board they need to rip off a 12-win season. That should be enough to challenge Green Bay for the division crown.
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