The Bears face one of their tougher challenges this week against the Super Bowl winning New York Giants. It's been interesting to watch the media downplay the possibilities of a repeat for the Giants and it's put a chip on their shoulder.
The Bears will find themselves facing a team who will definitely bring the heat offensively and defensively and we should get a very good look at how the Bears stand going into the regular season.
So what should you be watching this week? Here are five suggestions.
I mentioned this in the "Where They Stand" article on the Bears this week. I get the pushback I always do—they were fine last year.
They were not fine last year. The offensive line was among the worst in the league—even Pro Football Focus rated them that way. Now, life is very different in Chicago now—no more seven-step drops and minimum protection schemes with ultra complex blocking.
Mike Tice has reduced the responsibilities to a simple concept.
And yet, it's not working right now, particularly at left tackle where J'Marcus Webb has won and lost the position more than once.
Is this a big concern? It's hard to say because we've yet to see a full game with the offense and in Jay Cutler's case, even a full half.
The left tackle will be facing Jason Pierre-Paul which should tell us early on how good the line is.
We'll see the line for the longest stretch yet and it will be a good indicator of what we might see early in the season.
One of the ways to pull pressure off the line is to have a solid running game.
Even if they don't run as much as they used to, the Bears have a tremendous backfield.
Matt Forte on his own is a scary prospect for defenses, but adding a red-zone threat like Michael Bush—that's almost not fair.
Like the offensive line, we'll get to see how good this pair is against a good defensive front and we'll also get an indication of how the carries might be split.
It should be a fun thing to watch.
We'll get a little taste of the backups as well.
Lorenzo Booker and Harvey Unga—Kahlil Bell is cut, but one other might not make it and even a quarter of work is a a chance to impress. Heck one kick return is a chance—as Lo-Book found out with a 105-yard kick return for a touchdown against the Redskins.
Bush/Forte is potent—I'd like to see there might be a decent backup just in case.
How Does the Defense Measure Up Minus Urlacher
It's been said many ways but the loss of Brian Urlacher hurts. Not just because of production—though that is a factor—but because of his leadership on the field, and his role in disguising defenses and calling out offensive looks. He makes adjustments by virtue of a wealth of experience and while a guy like Nick Roach can fill in physically, he's not going to be able to add that mental aspect Urlacher has.
When people talk about the Bears letting Urlacher go after his contract is up, I often wonder if they realize how much he does on a play.
If he can't play, he can't play, but last year he could play and if he rehabs right and doesn't come back too soon, he should be fine again.
As long as he is decent, they should keep him at least to mentor his replacement.
Without Urlacher, the defense is still potent. I've said it already this week, but Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin could be the best defensive line in the league.
That Lance Briggs fella is pretty good too. The front seven has the talent to weather the loss of production from one guy, even a talented guy like Urlacher.
Someone has to pick up the chess movement aspect of his game, though, because the Bears have been very good because of it.
Has this unit done enough to slow down the high powered offenses they will face?
They bend but don't break, though this preseason it seems they've broken more often than in the past.
Some of that is because of the backups, but that just begs the question—does this unit have depth?
The Giants do love to throw the ball so we'll see the starters in action—Chris Conte and Major Wright, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will see some passes thrown their way. Their chief challenge will be Victor Cruz since Hakeem Nicks is still hurt.
The Giants are good at game-planning to attack a weaker part of a defense and exploit it. Of the various units for the Bears, the secondary is definitely the weaker.
We finally get to see extended Cutler/Marshall action this week as it's likely we'll see them for close to three quarters.
So far this combination has been everything we'd hoped it would be and while we will see a lot of vanilla play-calling, we should also get a glimpse of what these two can do together.
As a secondary option, watch to see how Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery (who is having a great preseason) and Devin Hester fit in.
They might start finding more room to work with a true number one to pull coverage off them.