6 Reasons Chicago Bears Will Improve (Record-Wise) from Last Season
I didn't care for the draft, but am hopeful that Phil Emery knows what he is doing, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. I did appreciate the job that Emery did in trades and free agency this offseason.
Last year, the Bears were rolling at 7-3 when QB Jay Cutler went down to injury. If that had not happened, this would have been a playoff team for certain. But even if the Bears had a capable backup to Cutler, they possibly still would have made the playoffs.
Meanwhile, there are lots of reasons why this season will be key for the Bears. For one, the core defensive stars are aging. Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are all in their 30s. It is a pivotal season because fairly soon, the Bears will be rebuilding that core, so 2012 may be the best opportunity they have to reach the Super Bowl for years.
Likewise, there are many reasons why I expect our Bears to improve upon last season's disappointing 8-8 record. Let's take a look at them right now.
Solid Backups in Place for Forte and Cutler
One of the reasons why Jerry Angelo got fired, in addition to having a poor draft record, was not having an adequate backup to Cutler at quarterback. So Emery went out and signed Jason Campbell as a free agent.
I'm surprised Campbell settled for a back-up role so quickly, but I am glad they have him. The 30-year-old QB has a career 82.8 pass rating with 74 TDs against 50 interceptions. He has twice thrown for more than 3,200 yards in a season.
Campbell is also fairly mobile. But the main thing he provides is solid insurance in case Cutler goes down again.
The Addition of Brandon Marshall
And you can forget about all of those reports of his off-field behavior. He is the best weapon the Bears have had for Cutler, and perhaps the best wideout the team has EVER had.
He and Cutler have worked their magic together before, and there is no reason to expect nothing but great things for 2012. Marshall has had more than 1,000 yards receiving in five consecutive seasons, and he is a workhorse.
Three times he has caught more than 100 balls in a season. Plus, he is a tall target for Cutler—at 6'4", he will be a welcome change for a QB who hasn't had a wideout taller than six feet other than Roy Williams, and he doesn't count since he had alligator arms.
Cutler Is Healthy
Look, having a healthy Jay Cutler is no certainty for a full season, but the fact is, his return to health is a real key for this Bears team. Last year, they were riding high at 7-3 before Cutler got hurt, so there is no reason to think that if he stays healthy this year that the final record won't be much better than 8-8.
Matt Forte will be healthy once again as well, and he was having an MVP-type of season before he got injured last season.
So, despite the backups the Bears picked up for Cutler and Forte, having those two guys in one piece is a huge key to the Bears improving upon their record in 2012.
Meanwhile, Cutler really showed strong signs that he was maturing last season. He became more of a vocal leader and came into camp in better shape. He's in his prime and ready for a huge season.
And hey, Cutler's girlfriend is having his baby, so Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.
In addition to trading for Marshall, I especially liked the fact that he went out and made some under-the-radar acquisitions that will improve the depth of the team this year.
He went out and acquired a real back-up QB in Jason Campbell and a solid backup to Matt Forte at running back in Michael Bush.
Johnny Knox may not be ready to play this season, so they went out and bolstered the receiver corps. In addition to adding Marshall, they drafted Alshon Jeffery and signed Devin Thomas and Eric Weems.
They also added a tight end by drafting Evan Rodriguez. They could use some more depth at defensive tackle, having released Anthony Adams and losing Amobi Okoye to free agency, but the addition of Geno Hayes and Blake Costanzo bolsters the linebackers crew.
They drafted a couple of cornerbacks late, though I would rather have had one good one in the first three rounds. Brian Harden was drafted to add safety depth.
Mike Tice Takes over as Offensive Signal-Caller
No more seven step drops should really help the offensive line, even though the Bears didn't make any substantial upgrades there this offseason. It appears that, once again, they will trot out J'Marcus Webb at left tackle, which is the bad news.
But the good news is that under Mike Tice, the Bears should be much more willing to do max protects and help out the Bears line than former OC Mike Martz was. Martz did flex, but every year, it took awhile for him to adjust. Tice should be much more willing to adjust to what is needed.
Another positive from this change in leadership over the offense is that Tice wants to utilize the tight end position, so we should actually find out what we have in Kellen Davis. They also drafted a TE, so this position should really help the offense.
Finally, for all of the so-called complicated receiver sets and all that jazz, the Martz offense didn't take that many chances with the deep ball downfield. Part of the reason, of course, is that Cutler would be on his back before a long route could unfold.
But Tice will want to throw that deep ball occasionally, which should stretch the defense.
Lovie Smith Has Urgency to Win
This is the final season of head coach Lovie Smith's contract. And while new GM Phil Emery was told that retaining Smith was part of his accepting the job this offseason, he does not have that same mantra for next season. At least, not that we know of.
That means that Smith could be in jeopardy of losing his job if the Bears fall flat on their face. There are expectations, like there were last year, and two consecutive seasons without playoffs would likely make bringing him back a hard sell to most Bears fans.
The last time Smith had such a sense of urgency to win now was in 2009, when both he and since deposed GM Jerry Angelo were under fire. They went out and made a splash in free agency, signing Julius Peppers to a huge contract and making the playoffs.
Would Emery fire Lovie after a bad season? I don't know. But I don't think the Bears coach wants to find out.