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The Chicago Bears were looking like one of the strongest teams in the NFC on Week 10. Coming off their fourth straight win, the Bears were 7-3. Then Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were injured in a two week span. The Bears offense struggled and they dropped five straight games and missed the playoffs. Not only are Cutler and Forte healthy for the start of the 2012 season, Cutler will be reunited with his former teammate in Denver, Brandon Marshall.
The Bears' defense was in the middle of the pack in average yards and points allowed. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs anchored the Bears front seven. The Bears defense did not go through many changes, but the Bears did select outside linebacker/defensive end Shea McClellin, who they hope will add to an already ferocious pass rush.
Offense: The Bears' offense was running rather smoothly until Cutler and Forte went down. Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber failed to replace their star players and the Bears offense fell apart. In the games without Cutler and Forte, the most points the Bears scored in a game was 21.
For years the Bears could not find a number one wide receiver for their quarterbacks to connect with. Now the Bears have one of the top receivers in the game. The Bears acquired Brandon Marshall from Miami for essentially nothing. Marshall caught 81 balls for over 1,200 yards and six touchdowns, impressive numbers considering Chad Henne and Matt Moore were throwing to him. The Bears were not finished with improving their receiving group as they drafted South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Jeffery caught 137 passes for over 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns at South Carolina. He will start in Chicago as the number three option but I expect him to quickly become the number two receiver and have a very strong rookie campaign.
The one thing the Bears failed to address was their offensive line. Opponents sacked Chicago's quarterback 49 times last season, which was fifth in the league. The Bears will have their 2010 first round pick Gabe Carimi in the lineup but I don't expect him to save this offensive line. The Bears have major issues at the left tackle and right guard positions and I expect Cutler to be running for his life at points in the season.
Defense: Chicago's defense was one of the worst passing defenses but one of the best rushing defenses. The Bears gave up an average of 254 yards per game through the air but under 100 on the ground. The nasty tandem of Briggs and Urlacher led the team in tackles. Even with Julius Peppers the Bears only had 33 sacks last season (Peppers had 11 of those). Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye accounted for 27 of the Bears' 33 sacks. The defense needs to get more players involved on the pass rush which is what they hope McClellin and Stephen Paea can provide.
The Bears' secondary will have to improve. Although the Bears caught 20 interceptions last season, they must be better at slowing down opposing passing attacks. Charles Tillman is a pro-bowl defensive back but the rest of the secondary has room for improvement. Look out for Major Wright, who had three interceptions a year ago, to become an impact player in the secondary.
Prediction: The Chicago Bears will be a very tough team in 2012. Cutler and Forte are healthy and Marshall and Jeffery will be great additions to the receiving group. The glaring issue of the Bears' offense is their offensive line. I don't trust them to adequately protect Cutler. They may slightly improve from last season, but not by much
The Bears' defense is very good but is aging a bit. Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman and Peppers are all in their thirties and could start to show a bit of regression. Urlacher's health is also a big concern. He got his knee scoped in the middle of August but I have a feeling there is a bigger issue than the Bears and Urlacher are making it out to be. If the Bears can improve its passing defense then this defense will be one of the strongest in the league.
The Bears' schedule is tough. They obviously play four games against the Packers and Lions but also have games against Dallas, Carolina, Houston and San Francisco. I expect the Bears offense to roll with Cutler's new weapons and lead the Bears to a 12-4 record.