The Bears came flying into their bye week with a 48-24 spanking of the Detroit Lions. Jay Cutler has looked almost inhuman since his week one debacle and the wide receivers that were supposed to be the weakest part of the offense have put together a solid season to this point.
So, with the bye week upon them and a game back down in Atlanta to follow, here is what the Bears need to be doing to prepare themselves:
I. Get healthy, get healthy, and get healthy.
The Bears injury report going into the Lions game actually accounted for an entire half of a starting team, with 11 players on it.
This bye week is key to getting them healthy.
Offensively, the list includes Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, who both left last game with injuries and Matt Forte who suffered a knee injury the week before.
Frank Omiyale, who was bothered by an ankle injury (although he has room to improve, regardless of injuries) and Dez Clark, returning from a rib injury, both played last week although they could still use the extra time to heal up.
Defensively, it is a mess.
Linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa and Hunter Hillenmeyer are recovering from injuries that have held them out.
And three-fourths of the starting defensive line was listed on the injury report, although all played last week, including Tommie Harris, Alex Brown and Anthony Adams.
They say time heals all wounds; hopefully these wounds only need an extra week.
II. Evaluate what personal changes should be/could be made.
Despite a 121-yard outburst from Matt Forte last week, the offensive line has been shaky at best.
While Cutler has only been sacked eight times, that has as much to do with Jay's mobility as it does the line's play.
Orlando Pace has looked a little slow off the left tackle position and after watching Jared Allen destroy the Packers to the tune of 4.5 sacks, it makes me a little nervous.
Although to be fair, Pace matches up with Allen better since Allen uses his strength, just as much as his speed. As long as Pace can get his hands on the opposing defensive lineman he should be alright.
The bigger issue is Omiyale. So far this season, he has been unable to get any real push on inside running plays. While he has improved from week one to week four, I would at least hope that the coaching staff gives last year's starter, Josh Beekman, a look or two during the course of the break.
In terms of defense, having Al Afalava as the full time starter and moving Kevin Payne to the starting free safety position should at least be considered. I know that Afalava has seen some starts, but he needs to be in there from beginning to end. He just makes plays.
Neither Payne nor Danieal Manning has underperformed. Quite the contrary in my opinion. Going into this season, the safeties were my biggest issue. But so far all three of them have far exceeded my expectations.
Afalava has just been that playmaker this defense needs behind them.
III. Make the rushing attack the focal point of practice.
I love Jay Cutler's rocket arm. I do. It is an amazing talent that I have never seen before in a Chicago Bears uniform.
But Lovie used to preach that this team gets off the bus running. And so far, it has got off the bus, walked around and then climbed back on the bus PASSING.
Forte has 121 yards last week. I know, I know. But seriously, two of his runs account for 98 yards and his other ten carries came to 23 yards.
If at some point, the Bears will find themselves winning a game in the fourth quarter by seven points or less and they will need to be able to run the ball and keep the clock moving. Now is the time to work on that.
IV. Evaluate what changes can made to the defensive pass scheme.
I realize I am harping a little bit, but it just seems that when given time, opposing QB's just pick us apart. And it hasn't just been the top tier QB's like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, both Seneca Wallace and Matthew Stafford had surprising success and in fact, just missed several open receivers on more than a few throws as well.
I realize that Lovie has changed it up from his normal vanilla "bend-but-don't-break" attitude and is blitzing more and I applaud him for that.
I just think that some of the defensive backs, such as Manning and Zach Bowman, play better when they are matched up man-to-man as opposed to the cover two zone.
Playing them in zone sometimes has a tendency to null the athletic advantage those two have and allows experienced receivers, such as Hines Ward to run his route and find the hole in the coverage.
I am not saying a change NEEDS to be made, but I think Lovie could utilize a different look from time to time on blitzes just to take away the slant pattern and confuse the offense.
V. Take the Special Teams out to lunch
Those guys are good. Maynard has had one poor punt all season, Robbie has been Mr. Clutch, Hester, while not being the Hester of old, has been more the adequate and Johnny Knox's kickoff return was a thing of beauty last week.
Seriously though, how good is Dave Toub when it comes to this?
This is the third kick returner in three years to have a run back for a touchdown. Hester ('06-07), Manning ('08) and now Knox.
And it is a testament to how much Lovie appreciates Toub's job because the Bears house more players specifically for special teams than any other in the NFL.
Adrian Peterson, Rashied Davis, Darrell McClover, Craig Steltz, and Israel Idonije all have been major contributors to the unit for the past couple years, A.P. and Rashied for longer than that.
So this unit deserves a nice steak dinner from the other two units. The offense needs to thank them for giving it awesome field position and the defense needs to thank them for them giving the opposing team lousy field position.
And Dave Toub deserves a raise...