Who is the Chicago Bears' quarterback again? You would have to been living under a meteor rock deep in the heart of Lake Michigan if you didn't know that answer.
Hope you have strong shoulders, Jay Cutler, because you're going to have to carry the expectations of the entire City of Broad Shoulders. Did I forget to mention that the future of a GM and a coach also hangs in your hands?
No pressure, I swear!
But Cutler, who grew up as a Bears fan, should know what's coming. The Bears and a great quarterback go together as well as oil and water, George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, the Cubs and World Series trophies (it hurts me to say that as a Cubs fan), and, well, you get the point.
That is why ever since the Jay Cutler trade, Bears fans have been in a swoon that has them dreaming of deep balls to Devin Hester usually reserved for a Madden game, a wide-open playbook, and all the national attention that comes with having a great player under center.
Bears fans have suffered under the hands of the QB who won't just go away, Brett Favre, for 16 years and had to listen to the media drool over the man's every move. Now they’re ready to snatch the spotlight and stick it to their cheesehead neighbors from the north.
But can Cutler succeed in doing what even Moses—Moreno that is—failed to do, and lead this franchise to the promised land, also known as the Super Bowl in Miami? If he can achieve that with the Bears' current squad in 2009-10, he will truly have to be a miracle worker because this team has serious holes it needs to address.
The most glaring is at wide receiver, where there is nobody on the Bears' roster as good as Brandon Marshall or even Eddie Royal, Cutler's main targets in Denver. Hester, who showed flashes of brilliance last year, is nowhere close to becoming a No. 1 WR as the Bears have him currently listed.
He needs to work on his route running and gain better separation on patterns that don't involve a deep ball. It doesn’t get better as you go down the depth chart, as the Bears have Earl Bennett, a second-year WR who couldn’t pick up the offense last year, Rashied Davis, undersized at 5’9", and rookie Juaquin Iglesias, the 16th WR taken in the 2009 NFL draft.
The team is hoping that Bennett rekindles the stellar relationship that he had with Cutler at Vanderbilt, but there is no guarantee that success will carry against NFL defenses.
The Bears missed an huge opportunity by not aggressively pursuing Torry Holt, who would have provided the team with a true No. 1 and could have mentored the younger players, including Hester, on how to play the position.
If you’re going to go for broke, as Angelo did with the Cutler trade, why not go for the jugular and acquire a top WR for Cutler to pass to. See the 2008 Boston Celtics.
Angelo is justifying his inactivity on the theory that great QBs make their WRs better, i.e. Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre.
But that same reasoning doesn’t apply to Cutler for two reasons. First, Cutler is coming to a brand new team and an offensive system, unlike those guys who had multiple seasons to learn the system. Also, Cutler flourished under Mike Shanahan, and even the most ardent Ron Turner supporter would have to agree that Turner is not close to the offensive mind that Shanahan was.
So expectations of instant success for Cutler should be tapered and expect some growing pains as he adjusts to a new team and city. But an area that should see improvement coming off an already successful season is the running game.
Not only will the respect for Cutler’s arm open up the running game for Matt Forte, the team also beefed up its offensive line with the signing of Orlando Pace and Frank Omilaye. Add to the fact that Forte will have a year of experience under his belt after a stellar rookie year, and you have all the makings of a potential Pro-Bowl year for the running back. He’ll be a steal for whoever drafts him on their fantasy team.
TE Greg Olsen will finally have a QB who can take advantage of his size and speed advantages over LBs. Fellow TE Desmond Clark, although in his twilight, will also put up better numbers because of Cutler.
On the defensive side of things, the question mark is at the free safety position. The Bears let go of often-injured team leader Mike Brown, leading to the current position battle between the unproven Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks. This battle doesn’t inspire confidence as Steltz is still a raw second-year player and Bullocks is most famous for a compilation on YouTube about him titled “How Can a Safety Be This Bad?”
The two linebacker positions are set with Brian Urlacher, at the end of his peak, and Pro Bowler Lance Briggs. The battle for the strong-side LB position between Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach might take an interesting twist if the Bears sign free agent Pisa Tinoisamoa, a Lovie Smith favorite from his St. Louis Rams days. Tinoisamoa led the Rams in tackles last year, and would be a starter over Hillenmeyer or Roach, and create a stellar set of linebackers.
But the guys in front of them will have to play better this year, especially in generating a pass rush. The Bears ranked 30th in pass defense last year, often due to the inordinate amount of time that QB’s were able to sit in the pocket.
All eyes will be on DT Tommie Harris to see if he can recover his Pro Bowl form that had made him the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL before Albert Haynesworth’s monster contract this offseason.
He is the catalyst for the defensive line as he usually takes up double teams, freeing up other players. But he seemed to struggle with his problematic knee last year, and as a result the Bears could not generate enough pressure from their line. Thus they had to resort to blitzing linebackers or defensive backs, leaving them exposed downfield.
It also didn’t help that DE Mark Anderson regressed in his sophomore year. After being named a starter at the beginning of the season over Alex Brown, he was benched and replaced by Brown by the end of the season.
Anderson’s confidence might be shattered, especially after Brown got a contract extension in the offseason. New defensive-line coach Rod Marinelli will have to prove his worth and restore his confidence because the Bears are most effective when Anderson, Brown, and Adewale Ogunleye are all playing well as part of an interchangeable rotation.
But this year’s biggest change to the defense is also expected to come as a result of Cutler. Last year, the defense spent a lot of time on the field as the offense was inept at keeping possession and scoring when they had the ball. This led to the defense often being tired at the end of games.
Cutler’s presence is expected to revitalize the offense, and thus revitalize the defense since it won't be overworked during games. Also, the defensive unit will have leads to protect instead of facing constant pressure to keep the team in the game, which allows them take to more chances.
Without Cutler last year, the Bears, with a serviceable Kyle Orton, finished 9-7 and second in the division behind Minnesota. However, no other teams in the NFC North made as dramatic a move as the Bears did, and with Minnesota’s QB position in limbo, the Bears are expected to win the division.
The Vikings have a quarterback controversy with Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson, two names that don’t scare any defense. The Packers will try to bounce back from a 6-10 season while adjusting to a completely new defensive scheme, and hope that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t fold under the weight of trying to replace Favre. Detroit fans are just hoping to avoid consecutive 0-16 seasons.
The tough games on this year’s schedule will be the games against Minnesota and Green Bay, as well as Pittsburgh at home, Atlanta on the road, Arizona at home, Philadelphia at home and Baltimore on the road. Assuming the Bears basically split those games (5-4) and win all the other ones, they should finish 12-4 and a top seed in the division.
The NFC is up for grabs this year. Arizona has locker room issues due to the disgruntled Anquan Boldin as they try to buck the trend of Super Bowl losers playing poorly in the following season. The Giants still haven’t recovered from the Plaxico Burress saga.
The Cowboys might be less distracting without Terrel Owens, but they’ll have to find someone to replace his production. The Falcons will improve due to Tony Gonzalez and Matt Schaub having another year under his belt, but have questions on defense.
So the situation is just right for the Bears to sneak up on everyone and possibly snatch the NFC crown, but if and only if Cutler lives up to the vaunted expectations that have been placed on him. But I think the lack of a wide-receiver will haunt the Bears in the end and they will exit in the second round of the playoffs.
But for once, Bears fans won't have to worry about their quarterback.