Chicago Bears: The Most Underrated Team in the NFL?
If you look around the blogosphere, you can find article after article calling the Bears mediocre, a horrible team, nothing special, etc. But looking at the roster, you begin to get a different view for how this team will likely perform this season.
The biggest reason that people don't expect the Bears to be good is the offense, most importantly, the passing game. Jay Cutler, the big-name quarterback expected to end the Bears' futility at that position, didn't play well at all throughout most of the season.
If you take a look, however, at his play as well as his statistics, you start to get a different view of how his season went.
He completed 60.5 percent of his passes, a higher percentage than big names like Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan. He threw for 3,666 yards, which put him at 13th in the NFL—not outstanding, but not awful either.
He did lead the NFL in interceptions with 26, but he threw 27 touchdowns. Look at a good amount of those interceptions, and you will see receivers who took an early break off of their routes or just missed the ball completely.
There was a change in this trend, however, at the end of the season.
Cutler threw eight touchdowns and just one interception over the last two games of the season. This outburst coincided with the infusion of wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.
Aromashodu caught 12 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games, finally getting the reps that Cutler called for earlier in the season. Aromashodu has the size and speed to become a Brandon Marshall-type.
Another Devin who proved his ability last season was Devin Hester, who was close to a 1,000-yard season, but was thwarted by injuries that caused him to miss three games. He still needs work on his route running and catching abilities, but the tools are there to create a Steve Smith-like receiver.
Those aren't the only two guys who can step up for the Bears in the passing game though.
Johnny Knox and Earl Bennet both showed potential. Knox even made it to the Pro Bowl last season, even though it was as a return man.
One thing that could hinder the offense this season, and one legitimate concern that the Bears should have, is the offensive line. This isn't, however, a huge issue, especially if they get the most out of the players they have.
Olin Kreutz may be getting older, but he isn't a horrible player yet. He can play the center position pretty well, despite the miles that are on his body.
A guy ready to break out this season is Chris Williams.
Williams was considered a bust right away for the Bears, getting injured before his rookie season even started, then playing quite average at right tackle while the Bears gave the left tackle spot to NFL great Orlando Pace.
Pace didn't live up to the hype, so late in the season, Williams was given a shot at left tackle, his natural position, and he shined. His biggest test was against pass rushing stalwart Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings.
He held Allen sack-less, putting on a show, and stifling everything Allen tried.
The rest of the offensive line is up for grabs, and they might have difficulty this season. Making a play for Alan Faneca would have been a huge move to solidify the offensive line, and I think it was a mistake for the Bears not to go after him.
The biggest thing that annoys me about the criticism of the Bears, however, is the negative view of the defense.
The Bears ranked 17th in defense last season. They obviously needed to make some moves, they did just that, and will have at least four new starters this season.
The biggest added piece is Julius Peppers. Peppers is going to give the Bears the presence their defensive line needs, giving Tommie Harris some help by eating up double-teams pretty much every play.
The Bears will also have a different player on the other end of the line, with Mark Anderson likely getting the starting job. But look for rookie Corey Wootton to get some serious playing time.
The Northwestern product was great in his time in college but fell from his projected second-round status when he hurt his ACL and missed his senior season. He could perform well above his fourth round selection and give solid production in his time on the field, even taking away serious time from Anderson.
Anderson will try to prevent this, and will, if he can return to the form that he was in during his rookie season. In his rookie season, he surprised everybody and got to the quarterback 12 times after being picked in the fifth round.
The Bears biggest hole in their defense was safety last season, and they will likely be starting two guys who weren't even on the roster last season. The first new addition they made to the safety position was through the draft, when they took Major Wright with thief first overall pick (in the third round).
Wright will have the chance to come right in and start at free safety. He's got good size and speed for the position and could have a career similar to Chicago-fan favorite Mike Brown.
The other new safety isn't new at all. In fact, he's back after we mistakenly traded him away three seasons ago. His name is Chris Harris, and he will be playing at the strong safety position and be a big improvement over Kevin Payne, who is no longer on the team.
Perhaps the biggest addition to this team, however, is just a player coming off of an injury. Brian Urlacher is back and healthy for this season after going out in the first game of last season.
A year off also should help all of the other ailments that have hindered him in the years before last season. Even though he isn't the same as he used to be, every Chicago Bears fan knows that there was a black hole where he should have been.
As for the cornerback position, the Bears are extremely underrated.
They have a duo that will mirror that of Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher when they shut down team after team through the air.
Tillman is still a very good corner and can play well against almost every receiver in the league. He shouldn't be an issue this season, as he always is one of the top corners in the league.
On the other side of the field, Zack Bowman is becoming a major ball hawk, intercepting six passes last season, putting him fifth in the NFL in interceptions. If Bowman can stay healthy, look for him to continue that production, staying at the top of the NFL in that category.
After seeing all of these places where the Bears will be better than last season, I only have one question.
Where did the Bears get worse?
I'm Joe W.
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