I have been a Chicago Bears fan for my twenty-two years on Earth. I have been an intelligent, critical football fan and observer for at least the last nine years and, because of that, I have seen a great variety of Bears teams. The first Bears game I ever attended was the infamous 24-23 home loss to the Packers in 1997 in which Erik Kramer’s two-point conversion attempt slipped through the hands of a wide-open Curtis Enis.
I remember watching some pretty brutal, uninspired football for those next few years. Conversely, I will never forget being among the four-thousand or so remaining fans at the Browns game in 2001 when the Bears scored two TDs in the final 32 seconds and won (again) on Mike Brown’s INT return in overtime.
I went to three games in the 2006 season, including both home playoff games, and was constantly amazed by that team. After watching twelve seasons of Bears football prior to these last 16 games, this 2008 team and organization is the model for mediocrity.
It all starts at the top. In the aftermath of his tremendous drafts in 2003 and 2004 that yielded NFLers QB Rex Grossman, CB Charles Tillman, LB Lance Briggs, S Todd Johnson, DT Ian Scott, WR Bobby Wade, WR Justin Gage, DT Tommie Harris, DT Tank Johnson, WR Bernard Berrian, and CB Nathan Vasher, GM Jerry Angelo has struggled, mostly with his early picks. That has left the team thin at defensive end, fullback and on the offensive line.
Luckily the team avoided injuries at those spots, with the exception of Jason McKie’s season ending a few weeks early. However, the wide receiving corps was a true collection from the scrap heap. While I believe that one big receiver can pair with the Hester/Olsen/Forte trio to form a legitimate passing game, Angelo allowed his leading receivers from the last few years to leave without having any plan for how to replace their production.
This lack of planning combined with a few late-round drafting gems (Beekman, Payne, Graham, Harrison) has led to a slightly below-average roster in terms of talent.
As for the coaches, Ron Turner turned a non-existent receiving corps, new starting quarterback, rookie running back and sub-par offensive line into an average scoring offense (ranked fourteenth of 32). That counts as miraculous in my book. Dave Toub’s special teams were excellent except for Devin Hester’s vanishing act. Bob Babich? Yikes.
Seven defensive players made over $5 Million this year (Brown, Ogunleye, Harris, Urlacher, Briggs, Vasher, Tillman) and save for Tillman and Briggs, I don’t think anyone played at a Pro Bowl level. I’d say Babich is 0-for-2 as D-Coordinator. As for Lovie, two things stand out. After a couple of early season collapses, this team never quite, especially in the New Orleans and Green Bay games. However, he’s a defensive coach and his defense was bad. Very average coaching all things considered.
On to the players, Orton was average for an NFL quarterback. Forte was very good and legitimately above-average. As for the receiving corps, as a whole they were miserable, definitely bottom-five. Greg Olsen emerged as a serious red zone threat. But that’s about it. The offensive line certainly wasn’t special and definitely needs to improve.
The linebackers are confusing as Briggs was stellar, Roach was solid and Urlacher was, well, not Urlacher-esque. The secondary was good and even close to great. The defensive line, however, was terrible and is in desperate need of an impact pass rusher. As a defense, they were almost perfectly average.