Bears Can Win North in '09, but Is That It?

Giles BruceContributor IMay 13, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 30:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Denver Broncos throws a pass against the New York Jets on November 30, 2008 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears go into the 2009 season having something the 2008 Bears did not.

In fact, you'd have to go back to the 1940s (otherwise known as the Sid Luckman era) to find a Bears team with one of these—an actual NFL quarterback.

But Luckman, a hall of famer, never threw for more than 2,712 yards in a season. New Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler, threw for over 4,000 yards for Denver last season.  A feat no Bears signal caller has accomplished, ever.

So forget about analyzing every minor position battle and throw out talk of a washed up defense. The Bears have a quarterback! Without one last season (sorry, Kyle Orton) the Bears went 9-7.

Cutler has to be good for two wins, right?

Other than Cutler, the Bears didn't make a lot of improvements in the offseason—on the field, at least.

Sure, first-year wideout Juaquin Iglesias should make an impact, especially given who's going to be throwing him the ball. But you can't expect a rookie to save a mediocre receiving corps. You can, according to what GM Jerry Angelo said in his postseason press conference about quarterbacks making the wide receivers and not the other way around, expect Cutler to do so. 

The rest of the offense looks to be set. Running back Matt Forte proved last year he can carry the load, with or without the help of an often invisible Kevin Jones. Tight end Greg Olsen should make strides with Cutler's arrival. And the offensive line should be improved with the additions of Orlando Pace, Kevin Shaffer, and Frank Omilyale, though don't expect it to be an elite unit.

On the defensive side of the ball, the most significant offseason additions were in the coaching ranks. If Rod Marinelli is even half the defensive line coach that Angelo, Lovie Smith, and football scribes make him out to be, the entire defense will be better.

While the following statement is a football cliche, it's also true.  It all starts up front. A good defensive line puts pressure on the opposing quarterback, which, in turn, makes the secondary's job easier.

Regardless, D-linemen like Tommie Harris, Adewale Ogunleye, and Mark Anderson needed to step it up, even before Marinelli was brought on board. Now they have no excuse for underachieving.

The Bears have also been talking up new defensive backs coach Jon Hoke. Whoever their coach is, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher and safeties Craig Steltz and Kevin Payne simply need to play better football. And safety Josh Bullocks has to show his You Tube audience and New Orleans Saints fans that the Bears knew what they were doing when they signed him in March.

Lovie Smith, a top defensive coordinator in his Rams days, will now call the defensive shots. Whether or not the Bears' defensive ineptitude the last few years was previous coordinator Bob Babich's fault, it can't hurt to have Smith in control.

The Bears got some possible defensive gems on the second day of the draft in cornerback D.J. Moore, defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, and linebacker Marcus Freeman. But it's unlikely any of them will start, so it will be up to the players who suited up for the '08 Bears to get the Bears back to the playoffs for the first time since '06.

In the offseason, Angelo gave the Bears what they've always wanted and needed, a franchise quarterback. That should be enough to keep the Bears in the playoff hunt. And since the rest of the NFC North didn't get that much better in the offseason, the Bears likely will win their division in '09.

But once they get to the postseason, can they do any damage? In this day of ever-demanding Chicago sports fans, just making it is not enough. Since we know what Cutler can do, the defense must return to pre-'07 form, if the Bears have any hope of getting past their first playoff game.