5 Reasons to Believe the Chicago Bears Will Win NFC North in 2011
Time to take a deep breath.
After the Bears were embarrassed by the Saints in the Super Dome, it's easy to take this one game and predict doom and gloom for the Bears in 2011.
But the dust settled, film was watched and stories unfolded, giving us a better picture of what happened to Chicago in New Orleans.
Now, we could take the popular route and present you with all the reasons the Bears will fail this year. But that's not how we roll. Why?
Because the Bears are still a good football team, and one September game does not make or break a season.
Are the Steelers being counted out because the were thoroughly dominated by the Ravens in Week 1? Or the Ravens? They followed up that performance by playing a horrible game against the Titans on Sunday.
How about the Falcons? They were dismantled on all levels by Chicago in their season opener. Is their season over?
Yet you will see people jumping off of Chicago's bandwagon this week quicker than rats off of a sinking ship.
Were the Bears bad on Sunday? Absolutely. But they were not bad for four quarters. This was a game that was within reach until the replay official fell asleep at the switch on the Sproles touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"But, but, but.....the Bears looked disorganized and confused!"
Yes, they did. But what we didn't know at the time was that Cutler sustained a kick to the throat that impaired his ability to be heard in an already noisy dome, causing problems in line assignments and snap counts.
Consider this. Most of the horrendous line work came after Cutler took that kick. And most of the pressure came from the edge around blockers who were late off the ball at the snap. If you are on that line, who has the hardest time hearing the snap count?
Now if the quarterback is having problems projecting his voice after getting his throat kicked, these linemen have to react to the guy next to them, which would create a wave after the snap similar to what we saw Sunday, where the line seemed to start moving from the center and the tackles and tight ends were the last out of their stances.
If you DVR'd the game, go back and watch the line before and after the half. Cutler was reportedly kicked early in the second half. In the first half the line seemed to get off the ball as a unit, while in the second half—and particularly in the fourth quarter—the line seemed to cascade from center outward when exiting out of their stances.
Are there problems in Chicago? For sure.
The Bears discovered that Roy Williams is far more important to the receiving corps than most would have believed.
They also discovered that Major Wright is not Chris Harris, and something has to be done at the free safety position. Harris will be back this week, and the Bears need to seriously consider the idea of returning him to the free safety spot, whether Wright can pay or not.
And they found out that losing both of your starters on the right side of the line is a very bad thing.
But the Bears are still a better team than they were in 2010, when they were a touchdown away from a Super Bowl trip.
So rather than looking at why the Bears will fail, let's take a look at five reasons to believe the Chicago Bears will win NFC North in 2011.
Superior Special Teams
Often overlooked in the Bears successes over the past decade is the impact of the special teams unit.
ST coordinator Dave Toub is the Bears secret weapon, as year after year the Bears present one of the best special teams units in the league even as they continually lose their best unit members like Brendon Ayanbadejo, Adrian Peterson, Todd Johnson, Cameron Worrell, Garrett Wolfe, Danieal Manning, Rashied Davis and Tim Shaw to free agency and such.
This year's unit is no different. Robbie Gould is perfect so far this season kicking field goals and extra points and is ranked fourth in the league in touchback percentage.
The coverage unit has been fantastic, ranking fourth in the league in both average kickoff return yards allowed and average punt return yards allowed.
Adam Podlesh has been very good in his duties, as well. He's done a fine job of holding for Gould after some concern in the preseason, and he's currently second in the league in punt yards and fourth in the league in net yards per punt.
Patrick Mannelly continues his reign of anonymity, which is the best thing you could ever say about a long-snapper. Plus, there's video of him snapping a ball through the window of a moving car floating and from one boat to the other at Navy Pier around out there.
Seriously though, Mannelly is regularly included in conversations about the best long snapper in football. His photo graces this slide because it is probably the only time you will ever actually notice this special teams ace, and he, all kidding aside, deserves some recognition.
And then there is Devin Hester. Even when he doesn't touch the ball, he affects field position. Teams kick high and away from him in order to avoid facing his returns, thus giving the Bears shorter field position.
And everyone knows what he can do if he does field a kick or punt. Devin is the ridiculous cherry on top of a fantastic special teams unit.
Matt Forte Is Among the Best All-Around Backs in the Game
Matt Forte is the Bears best offensive weapon. Period. Let's take it a step further and state that Matt Forte is one of the league's premier offensive weapons.
Since entering the league in 2008, Forte has produced more yards from scrimmage than any other player in the league except Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, and those three men are the only players in the league to cross the 5,000 yards from scrimmage mark in those 50 games. That is pretty elite company to keep.
Forte can do it all. He can run. He can block. He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield and provides Jay Cutler with a reliable relief valve. He can also line up as a wide receiver. And he can do all of these things well.
Forte is currently averaging 4.5 yards per carry rushing. He's also third in the league in receptions among all players, not just running backs.
Mike Martz loves to use running backs in the passing game, but he must get Forte and his rushing ability involved more on the ground, forcing defenses to play honest instead of selling out on the pass.
Lovie Smith stepped in last year and the balance of the offense changed, and he has alluded to making this happen again this week. The Bears can only benefit from making use of Matt Forte moving forward.
Oh, and to Jerry Angelo....pay the man! Can I get an amen?
The Offense Will Continue to Grow in the Second Year of the Martzfense
After last weeks shellacking, it is popular to jump on the "Martz Sux!" bandwagon. And there are definitely legitimate points to be made in the argument that "Mad" Mike indeed sucks.
The Martz offense is a long haul conversion, and that will not sit well with Chicago fans who want immediate effectiveness and will accept no less. But it takes time to install and will include plenty of growing pains.
The more Martz strays away from staying the course and developing the teams knowledge and confidence in his system, the longer it will take to see the offense become a consistent unit. Seen as one of Martz's flaws, this is actually one of Martz's best coaching attributes. But it requires patience.
His offense has it's weaknesses and can be turned on its head with solid game-planning or by virtue of key injuries.
But then, that can be said for every offensive system in the league. The Steelers, Ravens and Falcons have all been squashed in the same manner just this season.
Martz needs to learn to have some patience in the run, and he needs to figure out that the screen pass is not a running play and that defenses catch on to the screen if it is abused.
But contrary to popular opinion, the offense has been better this year than it was last season. And that statement includes the offensive line and the receiving corps.
Mike put together a masterful game plan against the Falcons, but fell short against the Saints. His abandonment of the running game early played a large part in that, but key injuries and the previously mentioned chaos created by Cutler being kicked in the throat also had quite a bit to do with the Bears' undoing Sunday.
The offense will continue to improve as this team gets more and more comfortable and will help lead this team to a division crown and into the postseason. And it will be by way of Mike Martz and his long-view approach.
Despite the Shift in Popular Opinion, Defense Still Brings You to the Dance
Oh, the days of the dominant defense being key to winning championships is gone, right? That's what so many would have us believe anyways.
But let's take a look at last year's playoff teams.
Of the league's top 10 offenses, only five even made the playoffs and the league's second-ranked offense, the San Diego Chargers, weren't one of them. Three of the league's top offenses had losing record.
Meanwhile, eight of the top 10 defenses made the playoffs, and none of the top defenses had a losing record.
Looking at the playoffs, of the 11 games played, the better ranked defense won eight. The better ranked offense took just five contests.
Even more interesting is that the only top 10 offense to win a playoff game in 2010 was the Packers, who were ranked 10th in the league offensively, but second in the league defensively. The combined record of the top 10 offenses in the playoffs?
One final thought: no team ranked better than 10th offensively made it past the divisional round of the playoffs while the top four defensively ranked playoff teams all made it to the championship round, with the Super Bowl pitting the league's No.1 and No.2 defenses against each other.
The demise of defense as the road to glory may have been a bit exaggerated.
The Bears are still a star-studded defensive unit that knows how to win football games, and the group can take this team to the top of the NFC North and beyond.
Jay Cutler's Improvement in the Direction of Elite
Fair or not, Cutler ended last season under a cloud of scrutiny over a litany of issues including his toughness, his heart, his mechanics and his decision-making.
Cutler responded my working harder than ever in the offseason. He shed pounds, worked on his mechanics and studied even more film.
The result is a noticeably better quarterback who already was equipped with elite physical tools.
Cutler is being criticized still for the length of time he holds the ball, and while some of this is, indeed, his fault, much of the blame also should be directed at the complex routes required in Martz's scheme that require time to develop.
While the second half of Sunday's game was rough on Cutler, for the most part he has played very well against two of the toughest defenses in the league. It seems lost on the masses that Chicago has faced an Atlanta defense that ranked fifth in the league last season and a Saints defense that chimed in at seventh on the same list.
Jay has the talent and the physical tools to bring Chicago to glory.
And now it's your turn, ladies and gentlemen. Step up on the soapbox below and let your voice be heard!