*Disclosure: This article is only in effect if the NFL and NFLPA get their heads out of their rear ends and get something down and signed before September.
The Chicago Bears had a very successful season by most measures last year. They won 11 games in the regular season, came out on top in a solid NFC North division, and went to the NFC Conference Championship despite losing to the eventual Super Bowl winners, the Green Bay Packers.
But were the Bears really the second best team in the NFC?
It depends on which half you look at. If you look at the first half, in which Jay Cutler got whacked around like he was a tackling dummy, you would probably say no. If you look at the second half in which Mike Tice came in, was able to create a cohesive offensive line and played at an above average level, I would say yes.
Look at the individual pieces they have.
QB Play: Jay Cutler had a very good year in Mike Martz’ system and took his team to the playoffs for the first time in his career. His touchdown to interception ratio dramatically increased after leading the league in picks the previous season.
This is a guy with all the physical attributes to make him an elite quarterback, it is just a matter of building confidence in his receivers and playbook.
RB Play: After a disappointing sophomore campaign in the 2009-2010 season, Matt Forte bounced back with a very solid year totaling 1500+ all-purpose yards. He is the deciding factor on whether the Bears’ offense is successful or not.
However, his backup Chester Taylor could not claim the same success. Trying to be the change-of-pace back, as well as the goal line runner, Taylor was a disappointment for much of the season. Expect him to be more involved in the offense next year to get him going.
WR and TE Play: Johnny Knox put up a much larger season than most people expected, and Earl Bennett was probably the most consistent target on the opposite side of the field. The problem with the receiving squad was actually the two guys who were expected to do the most damage.
Devin Hester returned to domination in the return game, but not without the consequences to his offensive game. Meanwhile, Devin Aromashodu was non-existent for the majority of the season. On the other hand, Greg Olsen had a very productive season, which eliminated any speculation that he wouldn’t have a role in the Martz system.
OL Play: Mike Tice did an incredible job with a line in which only one name is recognizable outside of the city limits. But somehow, even with the lack of obvious talent, the line did a great job in the second half and looks to be poised to continue to build on last year's success in 2011-2012.
DL Play: Julius Peppers’ numbers may not have been Pro Bowl worthy, but his presence and influence on how the offense could play was off the charts. Peppers and Israel Idonije were a fearsome pair of defensive ends. However, the presence of the tackles wasn’t always felt. Rather, it was masked by the talent of the linebackers.
LB Play: Brian Urlacher was back to being Brian Urlacher, and the defense came alive, something we haven’t seen since the Super Bowl loss in 2007. Lance Briggs had a very solid year as well for the Bears, who continue to boast one of the best sets of linebackers in the NFL.
DB Play: This was the downside for the Bears defense. If they got hurt, it was through the air. With injuries always seemingly prevalent in the secondary, the need to acquire depth at this position more so than any other, was always there. Chris Harris and Danieal Manning had very solid years, but Charles Tillman continues to slip when the spotlight is on him late in the game.
S.T. Play: Well, we knew they would be good, Devin Hester coming back made them great, and Danieal Manning being an additional dangerous threat made them elite. Enough said.
So, what do they need?
- The Bears could still use some help in a very thin secondary despite drafting Chris Conte.
- They needed to draft a player who can lock down the left tackle spot like Chris Williams was supposed to do. They attempted to address that by taking Gabe Carimi, but in recent days, reports have come out saying he is more suited as a interior lineman.
- Finally, they need to bring in a possession receiver who can help make the vertical game with Johnny Knox even more explosive.
Conclusion: If they can bring in the right pieces, and there is a season, there is not a doubt in my mind (at this point) that the Bears can go to the Super Bowl in 2012. It all starts opening weekend against the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons.