Chicago Bears Jay Cutler and Matt Forte exiting the Tunnel
The Chicago Bears enter 2012 with an improved roster and high expectations. Their arch-rivals the Green Bay Packers are the defending NFC North champions, but they are the team the Bears believe they can knock off.
Both teams made moves in the offseason to better their rosters, Green Bay primarily through the draft, and the Bears through trades and the draft. They've both improved for the better and the NFC North has potential to be the toughest division in football.
The Bears will dethrone the Packers in 2012, and there are five reasons why.
Chicago Bears captain Brian Urlacher
In 2011 the Green Bay Packers were abysmal on defense, and while they added Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy in the draft, this is still an average defense at best.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, finished ahead of the Green Bay Packers in both team run defense and team passing defense. Also, according to Football Outsiders adjusted DVOA statistic, which measures how a team performed on a single play based on league averages, the Bears were the No. 1 defense in the league. The Packers were 25th.
The Bears needed help in the secondary as well as the DE position. They addressed both concerns this off-season by drafting Boise State product Shea McClellin and Brandon Hardin out of Oregon St. While Hardin was recently placed on IR, he has the tools to be a contributor when healthy. The Bears also have McClellin focused only on the run and rushing the passer by limiting the time he spends in coverage.
The addition of Nick Perry will immediately help the linebackers, and Jerel Worthy figures to fight for a spot at defensive tackle. Both players have difference-maker potential, but the Packers still have work to do.
Brandon Marshall, receiver for the Chicago Bears
The Miami Dolphins traded Marshall for two second round picks, once again teaming Marshall with Cutler. The two played together in Denver and turned in Pro Bowl seasons during their time together. In the preseason, Marshall has already rekindled the magic he had with Cutler. He has amassed eight catches for 116 yards and a score. Pretty impressive for the preseason, and something he and Cutler will no doubt build on.
Jeffery was added in the second round of the 2012 draft, and while he started as the No. 4 receiver he has worked his way up to getting reps with the first team. According to analysis by RotoWorld via Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, Jeffery is expected to receive a ton of reps and appears to be improving every day. Expect him to be the team's No. 2 receiver come opening day.
With the acquisition of both players, the Bears turned one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL to a very respectable unit. The improved aerial attack makes Chicago a truly two-dimensional team, and with as poor as Green Bay's defense is, this could be enough to propel the Bears past them in the division.
Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears warming up
In order for the Bears offense to live up to increased expectations, offensive coordinator Mike Tice must maintain a balanced attack. Last season, the Bears were near the top of the league in run percentage at 46 percent. That number must remain consistent, or even increase if the Bears are going to overcome the Packers.
If the Bears are running the ball that means they are winning, and in games when Matt Forte has had at least 16 carries Chicago wins 71 percent of the time. Get Forte the ball early and often and let him and new addition Michael Bush open up the passing lanes.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice's new scheme varies vastly from predecessor Mike Martz. Tice's system relies on read-and-react reads rather than anticipation as in Martz's scheme. He also will use Forte and Bush in the right situations. Many times last season it seemed as if Martz often went to the run in the most inopportune times.
In 2012 the Chicago Bears should be among the league leaders in having a balanced run-to-pass ratio. If they can do that they will see success, and win games.
Chicago Bears return-man Devin Hester
The Bears have long been considered the gold standard of special teams in the NFL. Coordinator Dave Toub consistently puts out special teams that excel in blocking and coverage.
An NFL game can often be influenced by special teams, whether it be the field-position battle or returning a kick for a score. The Bears happen to have the greatest return man in the history of the NFL, Devin Hester. The "Windy City Flyer" as he is called is only one return shy of surpassing Deion Sanders for most non-offensive touchdowns in NFL History. He is also currently fourth in NFL history in yards per punt return at 12.9.
Kicker Robbie Gould is also among the NFL greats in terms of field-goal accuracy, currently sitting at fourth. One of the biggest knocks on Gould was his inability to hit kicks outside of fifty yards, but this past year Gould converted on all six attempts outside of 50. He has improved his leg strength and continues to be nearly automatic.
Last season, the Bears were No. 1 prior to adjustments, and No. 2 with them in Football Outsiders Special Teams DVOA ratings. The Bears improved their special teams as well adding Eric Weems and Blake Costanzo so look for them to remain among the league's elite.
Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are one of the few teams in the league who match-up well against Green Bay. This is evident by the fact that neither team has won by more than 14 points in the last five head-to-head contests. The Packers have gotten the better of the Bears winning four of five, but the Bears have closed the talent gap.
The Bears defense is known for playing it safe, rarely taking risks with blitzes because of their confidence in the defensive line. The Packers offense plays well into the Bears scheme as they like to have long and efficient drives, which is something the Bears want because they believe they can force you into a mistake.
On offense, the Bears new group of wide receivers figures to cause problems for a Packers secondary that features both starting corner backs at six feet or shorter. The Bears top two receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, are both taller than 6'3" and are big-bodied receivers.
Matt Forte always causes match-up problems with is ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, forcing a linebacker to play him in coverage. This gives Jay Cutler more passing lanes, and if necessary, room to run.
If the Bears can exploit the areas where they are strong against the Packers they could win both games in the series for the first time in since 2007.
It may also bring the NFC North championship back to Chicago.