With the potential of a good season ahead, question marks loom about the depth and reliability of the offensive line, an aging defense, leadership’s attitude, and the chip on Cutler’s shoulder. Errors continue to outshine potential gains the Bears have going into the 2011 season. What could be a stellar year for this team is overshadowed by their flawless arch rivals up north.
I’m not even going to try to exercise my psychic muscle here to determine how far into the post-season the Bears will go. They can get there, but history and statistics are against them. There are still problems on the O-line that need some work. QB protection needs to be rule #1. Cutler needs to be able to find his target and get rid of the ball before the pass rushers can get to him. WR need to hustle down the field while the TE hangs back to block and cover. This coordination is part of Martz’s brilliance.
Based on Martz’s coaching philosophy, the movement of the offensive team needs to be fluid and confident. Even though Martz can rely on his RB’s to gain some yardage running the ball, to waste the powerful arm of Cutler would be a crime. The pass plays are where Martz can showcase the talent and athleticism of this team. For it to work, the players need to hit their marks. The number interceptions and incomplete passes illustrate the dangerous side of that philosophy. The former cost the Bears various levels of frustration last season. The turnovers, the sacks, and apathy turned the end of the season into a real let down. With a fresh start this year, the only thing that can hold them back is errors.
Cutler has been the center of much hype and criticism through the off-season. His credibility appears to be on the line, but reports continue to label him as indifferent and indignant. I can’t say that I agree with that. Just watch him at training camp and he appears to be focused, engaged with the coaches and teammates, and, maybe even happy. He can’t possibly be numb to the public criticism; he has to know they are going to have to show up with something to prove—a deep desire to win.
Defense is really solid this year. As long as Briggs and Urlacher remain injury-free, they will continue to prevail as a world-class defense. Looking forward, both Briggs and Urlacher are aging, and it’s time to start planning replacements to step into their shoes. They are both still heavy hitters that can move fast, but it would show some prudence to start to work out a next generation defense for the Bears.
Statistically speaking, the Bears have not continued to perform well after a solid season. As an example, after the 2006-7 season when the Bears finished 11-5 , they followed up with three seasons of painfully uninteresting football—7-9, 9-7, and 7-9 seasons. Those are their numbers to beat.
Expect the Bears to continue to focus on the offensive line’s ability to protect and push forward as they get more comfortable in seated positions. A few more details still need to be worked out to determine the final starting lineup. Briggs, Wootton will sit it out tonight; seasoned vets may not play as much to avoid unnecessary injury. Cutler is likely to play a little longer than last week as the offense gets more comfortable and into a groove.