Why the Chicago Bears Will Make the Playoffs This Year
The seat is heating up, Lovie. The Bears have missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons, posting a 23-25 record over that span.
The front office pulled out all the stops this offseason to put the Bears in a position to contend, knowing full well this is do-or-die time for their tenures in the Windy City.
If the Bears fall short of the postseason again, they're gone. However, the moves made this offseason coupled with a few other factors are why the Bears are once going to once again be playoff-bound.
A Healthy Brian Urlacher
Urlacher is the most maligned athlete in Chicago today. His production has fallen off a bit from where it was at earlier in his career and injuries have slowed him down as well. However, love him or hate him, one thing remains the same: The Bears are much better with him on the field.
The Bears are well under .500 when Urlacher isn’t there patrolling the middle in Lovie’s Cover 2 scheme. Despite his age, Urlacher is still one of the top linebackers in the game and his leadership and ability on the field are essential to Chicago’s success.
His return means having the defensive leader and coach on the field back, something that was lacking last years, think of the Cincinnati game. Urlacher knows where to line everyone up, and their assignments.
A healthy No. 54 will help return the Bear defense to being one of the better units in the league, mark it down.
The Signing of Julius Peppers
Peppers is an absolute freakish athlete and terror for offensive tackles to defend-sometimes. He has been known to take plays off throughout his career, especially in games where the spotlight isn’t shining so brightly. Think of some mediocre NFC South matchups when the Panthers were a subpar team.
The spotlight is always shining in Chicago. Peppers will be under the microscope of Bears fans on every snap; something vastly different than what he was accustomed to with his hometown Panthers.
If he wants to be a fan favorite here like he was in Carolina, he’s going to have to work hard and produce the results everyone knows he is capable of. I think he will do just that.
One of the main reasons Peppers came here was to play for Lovie Smith. If the Bears don’t step it up this year, Lovie is likely gone and then Peppers has the rest of his contract to play out under a different staff. He doesn’t want that.
Rod Marinelli should be able to get the most out of Peppers and take his game to another level. His pass rushing abilities will be a game changer for a defense looking to rebound from two consecutive disappointing seasons.
WR Corps One Year Older
This still isn’t one of the better WR corps in the league, but they should be much improved over last year’s debacles of reading coverages incorrectly and cutting the opposite way of the throw, thus contributing to many of Jay Cutler’s 26 picks.
Each of these youngsters has another year of experience under his belt now, so there should be a dramatic decrease in the amount of “rookie” type mistakes that plagued them last year.
Playing in Mike Martz’s system will utilize their talents better as well. They aren’t Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, but guys like Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu are all off to good starts comprehending the system and will see an increase in production. Earl Bennett and Juaquin Iglesias will provide solid depth and see reps when Martz goes to four and five wide sets.
This unit can flat out fly. Anticipate Martz taking full advantage of this speed when he dials up his famous seven step drops.
Finally, the Bears have an offensive coordinator with an aggressive game plan and a proven track record! It’s about time; it was starting to look like the Cubs may win a World Series before that happened.
All North Side jokes aside, Martz has been the brains behind many juggernaut offenses over the past decade or so.
The “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams offenses of the early 2000’s were all under the tutelage of Martz, as he took the abilities of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce to levels they never would have reached without him.
The Bears do not have the talent Martz had in St. Louis, but look at the production he has gotten elsewhere in his NFL coaching career: Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan of the 49ers combined for nearly 4,000 yards passing in 2008 while Frank Gore rushed for over 1,000, and Jon Kitna of all people threw for over 4,000 yards two seasons. This bodes extremely well for the Monsters of the Midway.
The Bears are much more talented and have better weapons to fit Martz’s system than his teams in San Fran and Detroit did. Reports from OTA’s have been that the offense is starting to adjust well to the complexities of his offense, as long as that continues look for the offense to improve big time this season.
Addition of Chester Taylor
At times last season, it looked like Matt Forte was stuck in second gear unable to hit the hole with any sort of conviction whatsoever. It was maddening to watch. Solution? Insert Chester Taylor.
Forte amassed only 926 yards on the ground while putting up a measly 3.6 YPC average last year. Taylor has a career 4.3 YPC average. He should at the least complement Forte well, if not take the starting job all together.
He was a great supplement to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, thus keeping down the mileage and wear on tear on his body. For a 30-year-old back with his skill level, his body is relatively fresh.
For years, Dave Toub has been the mastermind behind the Bears terrific special teams units; this year’s should be as good as ever.
Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, and Johnny Knox are all top-notch kick returners, and will provide the offense with very solid field position.
The trio of Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard, and Patrick Mannelly is as good as it gets in the NFL, and has been for quite some time.
Players like Tim Shaw, Israel Idonije, and Henry Melton will also contribute on both kicking and return teams.
Cutler More Comfortable
Last year was a transitional year for Jay Cutler, and it proved to be a tough one at that. The expectations and pressure placed on him from the moment news broke of the trade were outrageously unrealistic. That, along with him being placed under a much tighter microscope by fans in Chicago than he was used to in Denver, were roadblocks for No. 6.
Now he’s been around town for a year, and knows what to expect from the fans and how to deal with them.
Having a much better repertoire with his wideouts will also help Cutler settle in this year. There should be much better communication in the passing game this year, whereas last year Cutler at times seemed to only be comfortable with college teammate Earl Bennett.
The Bears' strength of schedule may be ranked the 14th toughest in the league, but when you look closer it is easier than that.
Sure the Lions should be vastly improved, but they are by no means a playoff team and Chicago still gets to play them twice.
Neither the Eagles nor Giants should be as tough as they were last year, which the rankings take into account.
The Panthers, Seahawks, and Bills are all going through transitional phases.
Aside from Week Two against Dallas, the Bears play their big non-divisional games at home: The Patriots, Jets, Redskins, and Eagles all will be coming to Soldier Field this year.