For the first time since Columbus discovered America, the Chicago Bears have an actual quarterback. Unless you live under a rock, then you have probably heard that the Bears acquired Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos.
This marks the first time in decades that the Bears appear set at the most important position in professional sports.
While Cutler is a nice addition (who am I kidding? It is a once-in-a-lifetime addition) it will take all three phases of football for the Bears to return to the playoffs. Most notably, defense and special teams will have to improve for the 2009 Bears.
The Bears looked like cubs on defense last year (the baby bear, not the Chicago baseball team). Ranking 21st in total yards per game is bad enough, but how about ranking 30th out of 32 teams in passing yards per game?
That is exactly where the once-proud Bears defense found themselves last year. It seemed as if the entire Bears defense aged by three of four years in about three or four months. In the Bears’ final three losses, their defense gave up 30+ points in each game.
When you are scratching and clawing down the stretch to make the playoffs, your defense has to be rock-solid, but these numbers show the Bears defense was anything but.
With no major additions to the core group of defenders, it appears the Bears will have to find themselves, and one another, once again. Jay Cutler can throw for 400 yards a game, but what good will that do if the defense is giving up 401 yards a game?
To sum up the Bears on special teams last year, one need only look at what Devin Hester did—or, rather, what he did not do. He did not return any kicks for touchdowns last year, and the Bears looked lifeless at times on special teams.
While no one can feasibly ask for a Hester touchdown every game, once in a while would certainly be nice.
The reasons for the lackluster production are many: Hester played an increasing role as a wide receiver, thus not being as fresh in the return game. The wedge blocking was ineffective, possibly because many players played increasing roles on defense to cover up other players’ injuries. Teams simply now know how to cover Hester and his zigzag methods.
But what really drove fans nuts was their below-average coverage on kicks and punts. None was more noticeable than in the Atlanta Falcons game, when the Bears kick coverage allowed the Falcons a large chunk of yardage that inevitably led to a game-winning field goal by Jason Elam, all in the last seconds of regulation play.
With a new, deep crop of rookies coming in, there is reason to believe the Bears can play sound special teams once again. The biggest reason for optimism is Danieal Manning and his 29.6 average kickoff return number from last year.
This will allow Hester to hopefully concentrate on becoming an elite wide receiver, which the Bears are sorely lacking.
With a schedule featuring the Browns, Bengals, 49ers, Seahawks, and Lions, you have to figure the Bears can do no worse than last year’s 9-7 team.
Try mixing in a Pro Bowl quarterback, a Pro Bowl tackle in Orlando Pace, and emerging stars Matt Forte and Greg Olsen, and I’ll take my chances.
It is also nice playing in the NFC North, where no one team seems to be dominant (plus, you have the Lions to beat up on). The Bears will have to play defense again to be a playoff team, and the special teams unit is an important X-factor in this team’s overall success.
I will predict two things: the Bears go 10-6 and earn a wild-card spot in the NFC, and Jay Cutler will run for mayor and get elected due to Bears’ fans being in absolute hysteria that they actually have a quarterback.
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