Chicago Bears Super Bowl-Bound? How the 2010 Team Lines Up vs. the 2006 Version
"BUT THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! AND WE LET 'EM OFF THE HOOK!"
Dennis Green was the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, and he starting yelling after the game to the media as if he didn't care that the entire nation was going to see that on ESPN the next day. He kept rambling about how the Bears were "who they they thought they were," like a madman that was making no sense.
The Bears defeated the Cardinals by a score of 24-23 on national television, and the Bears' quarterback, Rex Grossman, had, according to Aaron Schatz of footballoutsiders.com, the worst game of any quarterback going back to 1995.
Oh, and here's the thing, as he put it, "They won ANYWAY!"
The Cardinals had had a 20-0 lead at halftime. Rex Grossman in the first half had six turnovers, four interceptions and two fumbles, and Matt Leinart had torched the Bears' defense for two touchdowns in his second NFL start as a rookie quarterback.
The second half started, and the Cardinals were prepared to run out the clock, but the Bears were not having any of it. Some of those guys on that team basically were going to prove that they could have Benedict Arnold at quarterback, and they were going to win regardless.
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The Bears were down 23-3 and then Leinart went back to pass, was creamed, and the ball was picked up by safety Mike Brown who runs three yards for a touchdown.
Cardinals' running back Edgerrin James ran up the middle on a later drive and Brian Urlacher forced the ball out of his hands. Defensive back Charles Tillman picked it up and ran 43 yards for a touchdown. A second defensive touchdown.
The Bears then forced a fourth down, and the Cardinals punted the ball to Devin Hester who took it back 83 yards for a touchdown and the lead.
The Cardinals still had a chance to win the game with less than a minute to go. Leinart drove down the field and Neil Rackers misses a 41-yard field goal attempt. The final score: 24-23, and an angry Dennis Green.
That was the defining moment of the 2006 Chicago Bears, a team that went to the Super Bowl and lost 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. A defining moment is basically a game during the regular season that you would say captures what that team was like, what that team had to do to win and what that team's strengths were.
Obviously, the strengths of the Bears were that they could overcome a horrible quarterback performance, and score on special teams and defense to win games.
Is this 2010 Bears' team a Super Bowl team like the 2006 Bears were?
Well, what Dennis Green meant by the statement of, "They are who we thought they were," is that the Bears are predictable. At least those Bears were.
The thing about the Chicago Bears is that before Jay Cutler showed up, the Bears franchise was living in the past. They followed a formula made by George Halas, the team's original founder and owner, that he created while he coached the Bears from the 1920s to the late 1960s.
The Bears are tough on defense, specific middle linebackers. You look at guys like Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, Bill George and most recently, Brian Urlacher.
Halas also believed in the running attack. The Bears have a plethora of running backs that have bronze busts in the Hall of Fame. You look to the past and you see George McAfee, Gale Sayers, Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange and Walter Payton.
The Chicago Bears have followed that blueprint their entire history, and it worked for them. The Bears have numerous NFL Championships and a win in Super Bowl XX, but there is a huge problem now. The game has changed to where this dominant style of playing is no longer as effective.
You can't follow this blueprint and expect for your team to consistently contend year in and year out. It just isn't going to happen. The Bears wanted to win Super Bowls without having a quarterback? That's not going to happen.
The Bears all-time passer is Sid Luckman with 14,686 yards and their all-time receiver is Johnny Morris with 5,059 yards. Compare that to Walter Payton's rushing yards, 16,726, and you know how the Bears play football.
The 2006 Bears had one chance really to win the Super Bowl. They were not going to be a serious contender year after year with the way they played football.
The Bears organization has figured that out, and finally has gotten real passer in Jay Cutler, who threw for four touchdowns against the Eagles this past Sunday.
The last time the Bears had four touchdowns passing in a single game by a quarterback not named Jay Cutler was in 2006 with Rex Grossman, who had four against the Lions. However, going beyond that, I cannot find a game with four until 1995 against the Rams where Erik Kramer had four touchdowns.
The Bears' greatest statistical year for a quarterback was 1995 where Erik Kramer threw for a franchise record 3,838 yards, 29 touchdowns and only ten interceptions with a 60.3 completion percentage.
Jay Cutler set the second-best year in his first year in 2009 with 3,666 yards, 27 touchdowns, 26 interceptions and broke the completion record with a 60.5 completion percentage. Last year was easily Jay Cutler's worst year as a full-time starter and for that to be the second best year of the Bears franchise is mind-boggling. Jay Cutler is going to be the first real passer that stepped onto Soldier Field besides the injury prone Jim McMahon.
Take Rex Grossman's season, his one good season in 2006, and compare it to Jay Cutler's 2010 season right now.
Grossman has 3,193 yards passing with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Cutler has 2,311 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through 11 games (Really ten games because he was out of one due to a concussion). Cutler's season will be superior to Grossman's, and I doubt Cutler will need to have an incredible defensive comeback to save him on Monday Night Football.
The thing that really makes Cutler's numbers stand out is that Grossman had two fairly good wide receivers in Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. Cutler has Johnny Knox and Devin Hester as his two best receivers. Knox is on pace to actually have a thousand yards receiving this year.
The Bears have more of a balanced attack of running and passing now than they had in 2006. The Bears before the bye week were 4-3 and lost to the Washington Redskins 17-14, with Cutler having four interceptions, all picked by the same cornerback, DeAngelo Hall.
From what I've learned from looking at numbers and listening to a Chicago Bears' radio broadcaster, the Bears took a good look in the mirror during the bye week and made adjustments on offense that has this team on a 4-0 run after the bye.
They dominated the Miami Dolphins, shutting them out 16-0, and after the game, Brian Urlacher said that he felt that this Bears' defense was better than the one in 2006.
Furthermore, I did some research, listened to Zach Zaidman of the Bears Radio Network, and I've got some interesting things to point out.
The Bears, on offense, during the first seven games where they went 4-3, had 15 third down conversions in total. In the last four games, they have 31 third down conversions. The offense is more balanced with run plays to keep opposing defenses guessing on whether or not the Bears will pass. Chester Taylor and Matt Forte are being used more now.
In 2006, the main Bears' runner was Thomas Jones, who had 1,210 yards rushing and 154 yards receiving for a total of 1.364 yards from scrimmage on 332 total touches (296 rushing attempts, 36 catches).
The second runner was Cedric Benson who had 647 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving for a total of 701 yards from scrimmage on 165 touches (157 rushing attempts, eight catches)
This year, the Bears have Matt Forte and Chester Taylor at running back. Forte already has 684 yards rushing and 353 yards receiving for a total of 1,037 yards from scrimmage off of 164 attempts and 34 catches.
Chester Taylor has helped out with 213 yards on 83 rushing attempts and 100 yards receiving on 14 catches for a total of 313 yards from scrimmage. He was picked up this past free agency period from the Minnesota Vikings.
I have to say that the offensive line of the Bears will continue to make me wonder if they are a real contender. Granted, they are 8-3, but the 17-3 loss to the Giants where Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half and given a concussion is a game that even the worst offensive line in the league shouldn't have.
Nine sacks in the first half? I can't even get that on the Madden NFL video game.
Overall, I think the offense the Bears have now, the one for the second half of the season, will be better than the offense the Bears had in 2006 which finished second in total scoring with 427 points for an average of 26.7 points per game.
They may not finish statistically better because they are averaging 24 points per game over the last four games, and the remaining schedule including the Packers' and Jets' secondaries will be tough, but I'll take an offense run by Jay Cutler over Rex Grossman any day of the year.
Now, let us go to the defense.
The Bears' defense in 2006 was one of the best defenses we saw in the 2000s. They finished third in scoring defense with 255 points allowed, recorded 40 sacks, 25 interceptions, forced 25 fumbles and had three defensive touchdowns. They had four players go to the Pro Bowl, and were just plain tough guys.
This Bears' defense may be even better. Not only does it still have three of the four Pro Bowlers from 2006, it has added Julius Peppers to the defensive line.
The addition of Peppers cannot be understated. He is a member of the 2010 NFL All-Decade Team, which means over the past decade, he was one of the best defensive ends period. I think that the addition of Peppers has helped Chicago significantly. We are talking about a guy who is still young, only 30 years old, and is on the brink of the Hall of Fame with the accolades he's been awarded thus far.
He has recorded six sacks on the season already with an interception and forced fumble. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are having great years with 3.5 sacks and three interceptions between them both.
Because of Peppers' dominance on the line, Israel Idonije, the other defensive end has 6.5 sacks at this point too. They have 23 sacks, 16 interceptions, one interception for a touchdown and 16 forced fumbles in 11 games this season.
A few other things changed defensively after the bye week. The Bears have 12 of their 23 sacks in the past four games. At an average of three a game, the Bears should finish with 38 sacks at the end of the year. This defense is playing so well that it is possible that Urlacher is right. They may be playing better than they were in 2006.
Another great addition is the fact that Lovie Smith also has Rod Marinelli as a defensive coordinator with him, and Marinelli has really helped the team out with playcalling.
Is the defense better than the 2006 version? I've yet to make that determination because the Bears now face a really tough schedule ahead of them. Their opponents' combined records going into the remaining five games are 31-26 with two 9-2 teams in the Jets and Patriots and three division rival games.
Division rivals play you tough no matter what the records are, so the Bears have five hard games left. If they can go undefeated, they will match the 13-3 record the 2006 Bears had.
The third form of the game that is sometime overlooked is the fact that the Bears' special teams has been tremendous during the Lovie Smith era.
The 2006 Bears had the best single-season return season ever when Devin Hester returned three punts, two kickoffs and a missed field goal for touchdowns. His returns helped get three key wins that led to a first-round bye and homefield advantage for the Bears throughout the playoffs.
This year, Devin Hester is showing his old spark again. He has two punt returns for touchdowns already, and several other long returns that impacted field position.
However, I don't think Hester will have the same impact he had in 2006. For one reason, he was a rookie then, so teams didn't know at first how dangerous he was until he had racked up many scores and return yardage. Now, teams plan their punting units to keep Hester from getting the ball.
Also, Hester is four years older now, so some of his tremendous speed may be gone. In this business, any lost speed is important. A tenth of a second is pivotal on a return.
I can't give the special teams unit of 2010 the upper hand over 2006 unless Hester gets another three scores that win games. One of his scores beat the Packers this year, but the other one just trimmed the margin of defeat against the Seahawks from ten points to three.
So, by my estimates and my calculations, I do think the 2010 Bears are better than the Super Bowl Bears of 2006 in two-thirds of the game. I think if you put Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers in that Super Bowl, then Peyton Manning is being talked about as the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl.
I've been a great critic of Cutler in the past, but he's improved himself with Chicago. He does have potential now to be a really effective winning quarterback rather than just a passer like he was in Denver. He was 17-20 as a quarterback in Denver, and in Chicago, he is 14-12 right now. That's an improvement.
Now, just because this team is better than the 2006 one does not mean they are my Super Bowl pick for the NFC this year. That year was unique because 10-6 was good enough for being the number two seeded team. The NFC was beating itself up while in present day 2010, the Falcons are 9-2 and the Saints are 8-3 as well.
I think the Bears are in a prime position to finish with the number two seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. I don't know about the Super Bowl because the 2006 Bears were a one-hit wonder on offense. I don't know how this offense will react in the playoffs, should they make it. It is still a long season left.
I can say that if these Bears stay consistent, then there is no question that they are a Super Bowl threat. They can go from a coach who, if he did not guide this team to the playoffs he would've lost his job, to a team that is a legitimate threat.
If I'm a Bears fan, I'm so excited about the season so far.
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