2011 NFL Preview: 5 Ways the Chicago Bears Can Improve to Win the NFC North
The Chicago Bears are the defending NFC North champions, but if they want to repeat as the division kings they will have to improve from last season.
The Bears will to improve internally as well as battle new external hurdles. The Bears will have a tougher time winning the NFC North this season because the increased talent in the division.
First off, the Bears will have to get by the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. They will also have to contend with Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. The Lions should be healthy this year, and will be a sleeper pick to make it to the playoffs. The Vikings improved when they acquired Donovan McNabb from Washington.
There are several ways the Bears can improve, and if successful they will legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
1. Offensive Line Improvement
To say the Chicago Bears offensive line was bad last year would be the understatement of the year. The offensive line gave up a league high 56 sacks in 2010.
In Week 4 their poor play even led to QB Jay Cutler receiving a concussion on one of the nine sacks the line gave up. This knocked Cutler out of the game and forced him to miss the following game.
The Bears drafted Gabe Carimi, tackle from the University of Wisconsin, with the 29th overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. Carmimi has not fully shown his abilities thus far in the preseason, but he is slotted to start at right tackle for the Bears.
Unfortunately, the Bears lost long time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz to free agency, and Roberto Garza has changed positions to fill in as the Bears new center.
With so many young and new players on the offensive line I have very low expectations. Though if they can play with some reasonable success then Jay Cutler and the Bears will benefit greatly.
2. Jay Cutler's Decision Making
Jay Cutler has all the talent in the world, and he will become an elite NFL quarterback. But before that happens he will have to work on his decision making.
Jay Cutler has thrown 42 interceptions since becoming a Chicago Bear, which is far too many, but look at what he has to work with.
Cutler has been sacked 91 times in his last two seasons. To put that in perspective, Peyton Manning has been sacked 29 times in that same two year span.
It is also hard to put up great passing numbers when your best receiver is a running back, Matt Forte. The Chicago Bears' wide receivers simply have to play better. (More on this later)
That being said, Cutler too often forces passes, which generally results in interceptions. He also needs to protect the football in the red zone. It's unacceptable to get into the red zone and leave with zero points.
Cutler has improved on his footwork this offseason, and those improved mechanics along with (hopefully) improved line play should lead to a great season for Jay Cutler.
3. Matt Forte Contract
There has been quite a bit of tension between Matt Forte and the Bears front office this offseason.
Forte wants a new deal, and is on the final year of his rookie contract where he will be making a $550,000 base salary.
Obviously Matt Forte has earned more than this, and will likely receive well deserved top 10 running back money.
Forte was threatening to hold out, but talks with Bears GM Jerry Angelo calmed him.
Angelo also wants a deal done quickly saying, "It's got to happen sooner (rather than later). I don't like to necessarily go into training camp and negotiate with players. We like to do that in the offseason."
Currently there are still no talks of the years or amount they will sign Forte, but it is in the best interest for both parties to sign a deal before the season starts.
Matt Forte is the Bears best offensive weapon, and if they are not careful they could lose him to free agency in 2012.
4. Wide Receiver Play
The Chicago Bears wide receivers are arguable the worst core of wide outs in the NFL. The Bears do not have a legitimate No.1 wide receiver, they just have a bunch of No. 2's and slot receivers.
Johnny Knox has shown the most promise. Last season he had 960 receiving yards with five touchdowns. That being said, those statistics are not very impressive for a No. 1 wide receiver.
To make things worse the Bears have benched Knox for Roy E. Williams from the Dallas Cowboys. Williams has vastly under preformed, so he should fit in nicely with the Bears receivers.
There is a chance that Williams can play as well as he did in Detroit, when he was also under coach Mike Martz, but that is a long shot.
Naturally the Bears wide receivers will improve if Cutler is able to cut back on his interceptions, and if the offensive line holds up.
We can only hope the Bears receivers learn to run routes, and overcome their fears of going over the middle of the field.
The receivers have the talent to be great, but they have to play their best.
The Chicago Bears do not really need to improve their defense, they just need to maintain their elite play. This might be difficult because the core of the Bears defense is aging rapidly.
Brian Urlacher is 33 years old, Lance Briggs will be turning 31 in November, Julius Peppers is 30, and Charles "Peanut" Tillman is 29.
The Bears defense is not too old yet, but they are getting to that age when play begins to dip as well as being more prone to injuries.
Love Smith is a defensive guru, and in 2010 his defense was fourth best in the NFL in points allowed, fifth in interceptions, and fourth in forced fumbles.
There have not been significant defensive changes, so if the Bears can remain healthy I expect their defense to be as dominate as previous years.
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