Six games in, the Chicago Bears are 4-2, a half game atop the NFC North, but are they headed for the playoffs? Is Julius Peppers still elite? Is Marc Trestman the answer? How good can Alshon Jeffery be? The answers to these questions, and more, below.
Marc Trestman is an upgrade over Lovie Smith. Buy or Sell?
Through six games Trestman has given Bears fans what they’ve always wanted: an offense. A real offense. To the tune of 369 yards and 28.7 points per game, the latter ranking fifth-highest in the league.
In addition, Jay Cutler looks like a changed man. Aside from the three-interception effort against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, he’s putting up the kind of numbers Chicago has never seen from the quarterback position.
How much credit does Trestman deserve for this? It’s tough to say exactly, but some things are certain: Cutler isn’t throwing the ball as far down the field as in previous years. The offense, once very hit-or-miss reliant on deeper throws, now moves more methodically due to a higher percentage of positive-yardage plays.
On the other hand, the Bears defense has turned to shambles. Stalwarts in 2012, the Bears are at the bottom half of the chart in almost every defensive category.
That said, I’m BUYING Marc Trestman as an upgrade for Chicago, not because he’s a better overall coach—that remains to be seen. I’m buying because right now he’s a better fit for Chicago. The Bears have big-time offensive weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett. Trestman has shown he can tailor the offense to their individual strengths.
Julius Peppers is still an elite defensive end. Buy or Sell?
It’s becoming painfully obvious: The Bears pass rush is bad. How bad? Eight sacks in six games bad.
That rate equates to 21 sacks over 16 games. In the last three years only one team, the 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars, finished below that mark.
But surely Peppers, the $84-million man, is not to blame. He gets double-teamed every play! He eats up two blockers so everyone else can roam free!
Actually, no. It’s not 2011 anymore.
The truth is that Peppers is playing like a shell of his former all-pro self. Often against the Giants he was handled by a sole blocker, and too often he was completely taken out of the play. He finished the game with no tackles and just one QB hurry. On the season he has just 10 hurries. Forty-one players top that mark—and that’s with Peppers playing an extra game.
I’m SELLING Peppers as an elite defensive end right now but praying that he starts to play like one soon.
Alshon Jeffery Could Be a No. 1 option. Buy or Sell?
Good receivers catch the ball when they’re open. Great receivers catch the ball even when they’re not.
Jeffery has proven the ability to catch the ball in any coverage from any spot on the field. He’s developing into the Bears’ version of Derrick Rose—too big, too strong, too fast. Defenders who can keep up with his speed can’t outmuscle him for the ball. Stronger players simply can’t match his stride.
What this adds up to is a big security blanket for Jay Cutler. He can throw it in Jeffery’s direction and know that, if anyone is going to get his hands on the ball, it’ll be No. 17. Because Jeffery can make a quarterback’s job so much easier, I’m BUYING him as a legitimate No. 1 option, if not now, then not too far in the future.
The Bears miss Brian Urlacher. Buy or Sell?
The Bears missed 10 tackles against the New York Giants. They made Brandon Jacobs look like the Incredible Hulk. Two weeks earlier against the Lions, it looked more like a Reggie Bush highlight package than a Bears game.
Over the years Bears fans grew accustomed to seeing swarming blue jerseys, blazing speed and sound fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball. This year, aside from Lance Briggs, it’s tough to trust anyone in the second or third levels to make tackles.
For this reason, I’m BUYING the fact that the Bears miss Urlacher. In 2012 he was a year older and a step slower, but he could always be trusted to introduce opposing running backs to the turf.
The Bears will make the playoffs. Buy or Sell?
The Bears’ 4-2 record may look nicer than it actually is. For one, they’ve played two winless teams. Second, they’ve played four of their first six games at home.
Their easiest tests remaining—Minnesota, St. Louis, Cleveland and Philadelphia—are all road games. Dallas, though just 2-3, has proven to be no slouch. Baltimore and Green Bay also appear better than their records.
It’s not going to be an easy road to the playoffs for the Bears, especially with division rivals Green Bay and Detroit looking strong. I see the Packers reaching 11 wins while Chicago and Detroit fight for a wild-card spot. Ultimately though, I’m BUYING Chicago beating Detroit, winning 10 games and making the playoffs.