The Bears have just finished an impressive stretch in which they have won five straight games and are playing as well as they have played since their Super Bowl run in 2006.
Quarterback Jay Cutler has been playing his most efficient and impressive ball during his tenure with the Bears, Matt Forte continues to lead the way as an elite all-purpose back and is finally being utilized to the fullest by stubborn offensive coordinator Mike Martz and the defense has been flat-out dominant and scary as they often have at times during the Lovie Smith regime.
The Bears are playing football on a level only rivaled or surpassed by the likes of the rival Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. Given the upcoming AFC West round-robin series and games against the Seahawks and Vikings, it seemed as if the Bears were set up to finish the season at 11-5 or 12-4, with a healthy Cutler leading the way.
All is well in Chicago, right?
For a moment, let’s try to ignore the fact that the Bears just got terrible news that their franchise quarterback has been declared “out for the regular season.”
While it’s very exciting to see the Bears performing at such a high level and clicking on all cylinders, anchored by their staples on special teams and a ferocious and opportunistic but steady defense, I can’t help but think: What a wasted opportunity!
The Bears are awesome, but I think most would agree they will not be the favorite to come out of the NFC, much less win the division. What if Jerry Angelo had done his job in the offseason and in years past?
First, despite the fact that the Bears' run-heavy scheme has slowed down pass rushes and decreased pressure on Cutler, imagine if Jerry Angelo had spent some of the extra cash that he had coming out of the lockout this offseason on the offensive line? It was very disappointing to many Bears fans that the Bears' only upgrade to a unit that was declared a weakness last year was the drafting of Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin and the questionable replacement of longtime anchor Olin Kreutz with Chris Spencer.
How can a team have money left over and still have gaping holes on an offensive line that is commissioned to block for their best offensive player in Matt Forte and protect their No. 1 investment on offense in Jay Cutler? It does not make sense at all.
This was a missed opportunity for the Bears to allow Cutler, the polarizing player that unquestionably has the talent and track record, to perform at a high level when protected. Not one significant signing to solidify the line? That’s insane.
Secondly, Angelo sat in front of local media on several occasions and told people that the wide receiver corps did not need any sort of upgrade. Are you serious?
OK, let me be clear: The Bears have an adequate group of wide receivers. Johnny Knox had a very surprisingly productive season in 2010 with 51 catches for 960 yards, Devin Hester has shown signs of being a useful player on offense in addition to his special-teams heroics and Earl Bennett, Cutler’s safety blanket, had become a reliable and crucial option in the slot and on conversion plays.
However, when afforded the chance to upgrade the wide receiver depth chart with a true “No. 1” receiver like Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards or even Randy Moss, Angelo opted to bring in Roy Williams, who has been inconsistent and underachieving over the course of his career to say the least.
His best year in Dallas was 38 catches for 596 yards. That is FAR inferior to his best years in Detroit under Mike Martz, when he caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards in 2006. Clearly, there was very little reason to expect him to come in and lead the receiving corps, so why stop there, Jerry? Why not go after a front-line wide receiver to provide the oft-criticized Cutler with the proper tools he needs to succeed?
Again, Angelo missed the ball and essentially said we are fine with what we have.
To add insult to injury, the one player the Bears had that created mismatches on a regular basis (outside of Forte) was TE Greg Olsen. Once Mike Martz showed up in town, he seemed to have his mind made up that tight ends are made to block, not catch passes, and he immediately rendered Olsen, arguably the team’s biggest threat in the passing game, useless. The mismanagement of Olsen ended this summer when the Bears traded Olsen to Carolina for very little in return.
Why would you subtract such a big weapon from an already fragile, or just “good enough” passing game? It’s bad enough the Bears did not secure a No. 1 target for Cutler after seeing how well he played with Brandon Marshall in Denver, but to also take away his TE security blanket was plain irresponsible.
It seems these days that every successful quarterback in the league is blessed with an ultra-athletic and talented TE that can cause mismatches in the passing game. Rodgers has Finley. Brady has Gronkowski and Hernandez. Brees has Graham. Roethlisberger has Miller, and Manning had Clark.
Why has Angelo not gotten the memo from his peers?
Imagine Cutler with Forte, Olsen, a solid offensive line and a true No. 1 wide receiver to go along with the solid receiving corps they have already? There would be no way to stop the Bears. Cutler is not a perfect quarterback by any means, but he is very talented, and the more you widen the margin for error for him, the better a quarterback he is.
Just three years ago in 2008, he threw for over 4,500 yards in Denver. Do you think he could not do that now? Given that he has matured as a quarterback and would have even more weapons than he had in Denver, how good would the Bears be then if you combine this type of offense with the defense and special teams they are already blessed with?
Jerry Angelo, you missed it!
You had a chance to build a championship ball club this year. Instead, your fan base has been blessed with great football this season, but most would acknowledge there is a ceiling, whether Cutler got hurt this year or not.
I think most are willing to admit that the Packers, Saints and maybe the 49ers are a step up overall from the Bears. What a missed opportunity. Angelo has made his share of good moves over the years, getting Cutler and Peppers, drafting Forte and re-signing most of the key cogs on defense. But given a chance to win it all in 2011, when no team is perfect, including the machine-like Green Bay Packers, it’s more than likely the Bears will end with similar results as last year—or worst.
The team’s resiliency in Cutler’s absence will determine a lot, but I am prepared to put a lot of the blame on Angelo if the Bears simply make the playoffs and lose in the wild-card or divisional round instead of playing into February.