As 2012 rears its head, the Midway Monsters faithful have a lot to be excited about.
Unfortunately, history has taught us that Bear fans get excited just about every year, and the hype is paid off about as consistently as a Rex Grossman stat line. Sometimes Good Rex shows up, but usually Bad Rex does.
So with a season's worth of hype building in just three days before a potentially epic tilt with the Packers up north, there's no better time to have a look at what we know—and don't know quite yet—about one of the NFC's most intriguing squads.
Chris Rock's great bit discussing fathers who brag about taking care of their kids and staying out of prison applies here.
You are SUPPOSED to take care of your kids. You are SUPPOSED to stay out of prison. You are SUPPOSED to block defensive ends when they are trying to decapitate your quarterback.
Why are we getting so excited about one week's performance that resulted in Jay Cutler's limbs still being intact?
The answer is that somehow, the Bears' young left tackle has been thrust into a spotlight neither he nor the team envisioned when they plucked him in the seventh round from West Texas A&M.
He was a raw project who'd transferred out of Texas and Mike Tice thought he could be a contributor a few years down the road. Now Tice needs him.
He won the job in training camp. He played well in preseason. He played well against the Colts (minus Dwight Freeney for most of the game).
The truth is, we just don't know yet if this guy is a starting left tackle on an elite NFL team. If this guy succeeds and keeps Cutler's backside clean, it'll be one of the year's best stories.
I take you back to September 7, 2011. I was sitting in a bar at 8 a.m. local time in Kaua'i because I was on vacation and the DirecTV iPad app was a colossal fail. I rolled up to a table full of Bears fans at the one and only Kalapaki Joe's near downtown Koloa and I had this exchange at halftime.
Me: "How are we looking?"
Plutaranski: "Martz has it dialed in, he's pushing all the right buttons..."
Cznerivic: "Atlanta's defense has no idea what's coming."
Dobziskivich: "I knew it'd just take a year for our guys to figure out Martz - he's a genius."
Dear Mike Tice,
Please, please, please—in the name of John Shoop. Read the above exchange and any thoughts you have regarding overconfidence after one nice play-calling outing...well...just...like...unthink them. Because of Tice's dedication to the run game, I continue to be a lover and not a doubter, but let's just stay on track.
Seems strange to list an actual division as a question mark for this season, but the NFC's typical divisional doormat accounts for exactly 1/4 of the Bears' schedule—as well as that of its NFC North compatriots.
After the 49er's dismantling of Green Bay in Week 1, Arizona's last-minute win and St. Louis' close loss at Detroit, the question becomes whether these supposed easy games on the Bears' schedule suddenly become tougher when considering a race for one of the conference's two wild-card spots.
While the Packers already dropped a home game to the 49ers, the Bears travel to SF and also play at Arizona, as do the Lions. With the Bears, Lions and Packers all playoff contenders, it could be a surprise loss in Arizona or Seattle that ends up sinking someone's post-season hopes.
When I was a senior in high school, I asked my basketball coach what he thought of my prospects to play college ball. The words "I wish you were better" came out of his mouth, and so in this moment of personal reflection and humiliation, I pass these sage syllables along to the Bears' entire Safety contingent.
Guys, I just wish you were better.
Major Wright has not shown a mastery of the Cover-2, and Chris Conte is as tough as they come, but not 100% healthy and surely not the elite athlete that most of the NFL's top defenses boast at that position.
Combine that with two games against Aaron Rodgers, two against Megatron and an NFL that broke nearly every league-wide passing statistic in Week 1, and you can see where I'm going with this. I'm a doubter right now.
Check out this stat: After Thursday's game at Green Bay, the Bears don't play another outdoor road game above the Mason-Dixon line until...uh...ever.
You read that right. Fact is, there's really only one game all season that has real winter potential and that's Dec. 16 when the Packers return the favor.
The Bears' last two games in late December are at Arizona and at Detroit. They also play at the Metrodome earlier in December.
Why are we talking about this?
Here's why: If the Bears continue to throw the ball as effectively as they've done, the lack of snow or cold weather games should potentially help them.
The down side is that all this sunshine could turn run-committed Mike Tice into Mike Mmmmmm....I can't say it...you get the picture.
If you're a believer in the Bears as a cold weather, run-focused team, then this may not be great news. The warm weather could further trouble our questionable secondary as opposing QB's look downfield more, and it could also put more pressure on our (ugh) offensive line if the team ends up in more shootouts than fog bowls.
Cutler has said he loves playing in cold weather, so whichever way the ground hog was supposed to look for it to be cold more often this winter....I hope he looked that way.
The picture at left is of Matt Forte celebrating in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. Matt Forte likes celebrating. Matt Forte also likes scoring touchdowns. Matt Forte doesn't like sitting on the bench while Michael Bush is scoring touchdowns, which he did twice on Sunday. As popular as the two-headed moster running back tactic seems to be nowadays, it comes with a price. That price, coupled with the millions of dollars the Bears dumped in Forte's lap this summer, was thought to be relatively low during training camp. It skyrockted after Forte made his displeasure known after week one. Winning is a great band-aid for these sorts of rifts, but as soon as a couple games wind up in the right-hand column and the short-yardage sets aren't delivering as well as they did against Indy, just keep this one on the radar. By the way, my buddy D insists that Michael Bush always be referred to as "a pudgy Michael Bush" - take it or leave it. We say it with affection, Michael, all love.
While the ghost of David Terrell will likely harass Alshon Jeffrey all season long, in Week 1 the rookie from South Carolina actually already has exhibited two things that Terrell never did: 1) humility; and 2) HE ACTUALLY CATCHES THE FOOTBALL.
Sorry, did I say that out loud? Whew - that was...uh...ok back to business.
Jeffrey is as big and talented as he is shy and reclusive. He dislikes interviews, but he loves running over, on top of and through defensive backs, which makes me lean towards dropping any doubts (insert "faster than David Terrell drops..." joke here).
Some questioned his speed, but he got behind Indy's secondary with not much effort on Sunday. But he's still a rookie and still getting used to playing in the big city. His psyche could be fragile, and with a ton of receiving talent around him, he could get lost at times.
I'm pulling for him and think he's a key to two of the Bears' biggest weaknesses over the past two seasons: 3rd down and red zone passing situations.
For now, I'm a lover.
Do I really need to write this slide?
Do I need to actually explain what Brian Urlacher means to the Bears' defense in 2012 both physically and emotionally?
Am I contractually obligated to have a meaningless discussion about how he went to some doctor in Turkmenistan and had two bottles of goat milk and a handful of spider eyeballs rubbed on his knee?
Have you not seen Nick Roach play middle linebacker...during the REGULAR season?
Is it necessary for me to go Jaworski and break down the all-22 tape so you can see the importance of a middle linebacker with his skill set in a Cover-2 scheme?
Are you not aware of the Bears' record without Urlacher since he joined the team (actually...you may not be - they're 7-15 without him)?
Ok, well—I'm glad we didn't have to go through that one. Next.
Brandon Marshall said all the right things this weekend.
Prior to this week's game, when asked if he felt lucky to be in Chicago, Marshall exhorted a reporter to pinch him to make sure his dream career in the Windy City was real.
After the game, he credited his fellow receivers, quarterback and offensive line for the team's success.
Let's be very honest right now: The Bears have never—EVER—had a pure receiving talent that comes anywhere near Brandon Marshall. When you have to go back to Marty Booker as an example, it's an issue.
When you have to go back and argue whether or not Willie Gault was really a No. 1 receiver, it's an issue.
When you have guys throwing in Tommy Waddle's name (BTW—I love Tom- Waddle-fan-guy, mostly because I'm one of them), it's an issue.
The truth is, the game Marshall had on Sunday against Indianapolis was as good a performance by a Bear receiver as I've seen, because it was simple. He ran routes, he avoided jams at the line of scrimmage, he overpowered smaller corners, he used his body to shield the ball. He was a receiver, and we don't see those often in orange and blue.
We know Brandon Marshall is the most talented pass catcher we've seen, but what we don't know is whether he will keep his head once some adversity starts to blow in off the lake.
Receivers haven't become the NFL's Prima Donna position for nothing.
My only knock on Marshall to date is that in his post-game press interviews he dropped the "We have all the pieces in place" line, which was the mantra of a certain Death Spiral Dave Wannstedt.
Brandon, no more talk about pieces, please.
I preface this closing slide by saying that Jay Cutler makes this team go.
He is the leader; his arm and decision making will determine the overall success of this team more than any other player.
Guess what, that's true for every single NFL team this year. If their QB suffers, so does their team.
So contrary to typical form, I will not pin this team's hopes on a quarterback. Instead, I will highlight the most dominant player in the NFL today.
When you watch Peppers play every week, you come to realize that he resembles a 16 year-old kid playing Pee Wee football. The things he does to other football players make no sense. He is simply bigger, stronger, faster and better than any offensive lineman...ever.
While Lance Briggs and Urlacher are what make the Bears a top defense, Peppers is what makes them at times THE top defense. When he's healthy, it's thoughts of him on the hunt that will keep Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Tony Romo up at night over the next month.
The scary part is that Peppers played basically at 75 percent last year. If his health holds up, he makes this defense dominant, and that, more than anything else will determine whether you're a lover or a doubter of this 2012 Bears squad.