Chicago Bears: 5 Positions To Upgrade Next Season
In the age of parity, mediocrity reigns supreme in the NFL. Since losing the Super Bowl on a rainy Miami evening in February 2006, the Chicago Bears have been the paragons of mediocrity, as they have posted a 28-28 record in the three-and-a-half seasons following their Super Bowl letdown.
Thus far during the 2010 season, there have been signs Chicago could break this trend. Against Dallas, Green Bay and most recently Buffalo, Chicago showed glimpses of a team ready to break free from the chains of mediocrity and join the ranks of the NFL’s elite.
Alas, this same team has also displayed an alarming tendency to self-destruct, which was most evident in the Week 4 debacle against the New York Giants.
Throughout this roller-coaster season, some Bears players have consistently played well, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Others continue to disappoint, as they help keep this Bears team from reaching its true potential.
In reviewing the eight Bears games from 2010, it becomes clear that five positions need upgrading in 2011 for Chicago to have a chance to become an elite team.
Critics and fans alike have panned Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz for abandoning the run and relying too much on the pass. This criticism is fair, for an offense must maintain a semblance of a running game to ensure opposing defenses remain honest.
But in defense of Martz, when he calls for the run, the Bears running duo of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor have been mostly underwhelming. Both backs are averaging less than four yards per carry this season, albeit with limited opportunities. Even the woeful Buffalo Bills, the NFL’s worst rush defense, contained the Bears’ mediocre ground game.
Yes, Forte and Taylor had great games against the hapless Carolina Panthers, but outside of that performance, the running tandem has struggled to move the chains.
For Forte, average to below-average running productivity has characterized his professional career. Since becoming a Bear, Forte has never averaged over 3.9 yards per carry in a season (former Tennessee Titan Eddie George comes to mind).
Although the former Tulane standout excels as a third-down back, due to his good blocking and excellent hands, he lacks the ability to dominate opposing defenses. To be fair, the Bears offensive line remains a work in progress. Still, elite backs create their own opportunities.
Forte will likely enjoy a long career as the quintessential third down back, much like his teammate Chester Taylor has. The Bears, however, need an every down back capable of scoring whenever he has the ball (Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are the best examples).
Chicago may need to consider using a high draft pick on a running back this offseason. Or perhaps they may consider making a move for Ronnie Brown, who may reach the market this winter.
As Bears fans know, Chicago’s offensive line has been downright awful this year, allowing an NFL leading 32 sacks. Credit line coach Mike Tice for improving protection in recent weeks, but the unit must improve its run blocking and pass protection; otherwise, the Bears may lose its franchise quarterback to injury.
Left tackle Frank Omiyale, who took over for a struggling and, at the time, injured Chris Williams in Week 2, has shown some potential this season. His steady play in Dallas against speed rusher DeMarcus Ware created time for Cutler to lead the offense to victory in an upset at Jerry’s World.
Despite these limited successes, the 315 lb. tackle has also allowed opposing teams to generate consistent pressure on QB Jay Cutler.
The tackle has also displayed poor discipline. On Sunday, he had an inopportune false start that helped push the Bears out of the red zone against the Bills, leading to a missed Robbie Gould field goal.
Omiyale has also struggled at other positions. Last year, he was major disappointment as a guard, where he was plagued by false starts and missed blocks. He later moved to RT, where he enjoyed some successes, yet was eventually outplayed by Kevin Shaffer.
Scouts praise Omiyale for good technique and his versatility, yet they also note he has been inconsistent in his pass and run blocking. Omiyale is a prototypical backup who can fill in anywhere on the line; however, he’s not starting material, especially on the left side in a highly demanding system that expects him to win one-on-one matchups against elite speed rushers.
The Bears definitely need to upgrade the LT position in the 2011 draft. Meanwhile, the free agency will likely be devoid of good tackles.
DTs Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams are performing unexpectedly well in run defense. Their strong interior play has been instrumental in stuffing opposing rushers, propelling the Bears defense to third place in NFL run defense.
Chicago, however, needs better production from its interior lineman in terms of pass rush. Unless Tommie Harris rediscovers his Pro Bowl form, Chicago must recruit or develop a better inside pass rusher. Moreover, having a good inside rush has the added benefit of relieving pressure on sack-master Julius Peppers, who would face less double teams every Sunday.
That said, Chicago could have a potential jewel on its roster. DT Henry Melton has displayed his potential in recent weeks, putting pressure on opposing QBs in passing situations. During the Buffalo game, for instance, he filled in for an injured Julius Peppers on the final play of the game. His pressure helped lead to a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception that sealed the Bears victory.
If Melton continues to improve, Chicago may avoid spending a high draft pick on their defensive line. Otherwise, Chicago will need to scour the middle rounds of the draft for a potential pass rushing defensive tackle.
As good as Chicago’s defense has been in 2010, they remain vulnerable to the pass. This season, when opposing offenses neutralize the Bears’ pass rush, quarterbacks—most notably Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Fitzpatrick—have moved the ball well against the Bears.
The poor pass defense can be traced all the way back to 2005. That season the Bears surprised the NFL by making the playoffs behind an anemic offense led by Kyle Orton. In the playoffs, the Carolina Panthers defeated the Bears via a potent passing attack that exposed CB Charles Tillman, who was unable to contain the speedy Steve Smith.
In subsequent seasons, opposing teams have continued moving the ball well against the Bears secondary. Last year, for instance, the Cardinals and the Bengals dominated the Bears through the air.
So far this year, behind an improved pass rush, Chicago has enjoyed better secondary play. Nevertheless, when afforded time in the pocket, opponents have successfully passed against the Bears, as was evident against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
The problem for Chicago is that it lacks a shutdown cornerback capable of blanketing receivers in man-to-man and zone coverage. Starting CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have performed admirably in run support and turnover creation, but they lack the skills to dominate opposition receivers.
If Chicago can recruit or develop a shutdown corner, the Bears would become an elite defense capable of thwarting opposing rushers and passers—a balance they have yet to achieve since the days of Ditka.
Given that draft priority will go to the offensive line, Chicago will need to examine the free agent market. In 2011, one of the best shutdown corners of all time, Champ Bailey, is set to become a free agent. At 32, Bailey could have a few more years left in his tank. Would Chicago be willing to pay top money for an aging superstar?
RG Roberto Garza has been an average NFL lineman throughout his career. Meanwhile, left guard Chris Williams has been an utter disappointment since entering the NFL.
The two underwhelming guards have been unable to create running lanes or protect the quarterback on a consistent basis. To improve a stalled run game and pass protection, the Bears need stronger, aggressive blockers on the inside, which in Garza and Williams they lack.
Garza is consistently average, meaning he will probably stick around awhile longer. Chris Williams, however, better improve quickly this year; otherwise, the former first round pick may be out of a starting job this spring.
Since becoming a Bear in 2008, Williams has failed to display the skills and consistency expected in an elite blocker, which is why he is no longer the starting left tackle. Still, at times, he has shown potential. Last year for instance, he neutralized DE Jared Allen during a critical divisional matchup against the Vikings.
Williams has all the skills and tendencies to be a good blocker, but he just has not settled in yet. If he does not find a home at LG, the Bears will need to look elsewhere for a good interior lineman.
The Bears will likely use an early to middle pick on a guard. Chicago could also pursue Saints guard Carl Nicks—an elite, young blocker who could solidify the Bears interior for years to come. Nicks will likely demand a high salary, and Bears GM Jerry Angelo, has a tendency to avoid signing high priced linemen.