Say what you want to about Jay Cutler and his cannon arm or Matt Forte and the offensive line. Make arguments for whoever ends up as our starting free safety or Brian Urlacher in the middle. But the real key to success this season is Head Coach Lovie Smith.
This is really a make-or-break year for Lovie, and really, his entire coaching staff. With a franchise quarterback, a long term solution at running back and several up and coming offensive lineman, the Chicago Bears offense should be able to stay with most teams in the NFL (providing Ron Tuner doesn't hold anybody back).
But with the offensive improvements, we come to the real problem which lies with the defense.
Last season the Bears defense got worked over on more than one occasion. They gave up the following:
1) 27 points to Brian Griese and the Bucs.
2) 22 points and a deep pass to set up the winning field goal to the Falcons.
3) 41 points in a win over the Vikings.
4) 23 points to the eventual 0-16 Detroit Lions (that was the second most points scored by the Lions last year).
5) 37 points to the Green Bay Packers in a blowout loss.
6) 34 points to the Vikings again.
7) 31 points in a win-or-go-home game against the Houston Texans.
The defense ended as just a run-of-the-mill unit, ranked 15th in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed per game.
And that wasn't even the frustrating part. The worst was you knew what was going to happen. You would know that Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach would crowd the line of scrimmage and then fall back in coverage as the ball was snapped.
And every time they did this, the Bears defensive backs would be 5-10 yards off the line, leaving that wide open ten yard slant pattern every time. It was like the coaching staff forgot that the DB's are allowed to jam people.
It was brutal at first, but then it became sad and then, eventually, amusing because no one could understand why the Bears defense did not adjust to these tactics...tactics that everybody watching from home would see coming.
The most obvious scapegoat was defensive coordinator Bob Babich. However, I don't hold him responsible, at least not fully. This defense is Lovie Smith's baby. It is his design, his schemes, his way of football. Babich was really just a puppet.
I say "was" because Lovie has announced that he will be taking over the defensive play calling during games for this upcoming season.
And I will give him credit for stepping up and taking the responsibility.
If the Bears defense comes out and plays like everyone believes they can, then he will look like a genius. If the defense comes out and stinks it up like they did at times last season, then there will be nobody to blame but himself.
To be successful, the Chicago Bears' defense will have to hold teams to 21 points or under. If they can do that, then they should win at least 10 games, easy.
That will require a lot of hard work by the players, a lot of assistance from the training staff, and most importantly, Lovie to prove he is a defensive mastermind.