The Chicago Bears are finally fantasy football relevant.
The New Monsters of the Midway
Lovie Smith was hired for the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears in 2004 and from the moment he took the job, his goal was clear: beat the Green Bay Packers. From 2004-2008, Smith was successful in his mission; the Bears went 7-2 against the Packers in that span and even appeared in a Super Bowl in 2006. Aaron Rodgers took over as quarterback for the Packers in 2008, and the tables have since turned to the tune of a 7-2 Packer advantage. The advent of A-Rod and the aerial frenzy that swept the league in 2011 have combined to limit the Bears to contender status. This offseason, the Bears organization has responded to the challenge, making moves designed to capitalize on the new era of the game and to transition the team from contender to champion.
The Bears’ front office moves last offseason were a demonstration of futility. The ill-advised trade of Greg Olsen for a third round pick and the failed introduction of Brandon Meriweather served as kindling for a wildfire further accelerated by the losses of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. The good news this season is that Cutler and Forte are back and healthy, and management has been aggressive in landing top playing and coaching talent to wash away the foul taste of last season.
These changes are largely cultural. In a division with two other elite quarterbacks and receivers like Harvin, Jennings, and Megatron, the Bears have responded by surrounding Jay Cutler with outstanding receiving talent in All-Pro Brandon Marshall and heralded rookie Alshon Jeffrey. The Bears have also replaced maligned offensive coordinator Mike Martz with Mike Tice. Already, Tice has begun to re-integrate the athletic tight end Kellen Davis into the offense, further adding Cutler’s array of options.
If Cutler, Marshall and Jeffrey mesh well and play to their full potential, the NFC North will have three quarterbacks that will easily surpass the 4,000 yard mark. Cutler has a tendency to look deep, where the size and athleticism of the aggressive combination Marshall and Jeffrey will shine. This season will be the first in a while in which Cutler will have a legitimate deep threat with the strength to make catches in traffic; now he’ll have two.
Earl Bennett and Devin Hester will also factor heavily into the offense. Bennett is a dependable option with excellent hands and Hester still possesses world-class speed he can use to slip behind safeties on deep routes. With Marshall likely drawing constant double teams, Hester is due to see a lot more open field in 2012 and will likely see increased production as a result. If Bennett can stay healthy, he will enjoy plenty of success on routes over the middle from the slot.
Last but certainly not least among Cutler’s weapons will be running back Matt Forte, freshly signed to a long-term deal that will keep him in a Bears uniform for the next four seasons. Forte’s electric 2011 was cut short by injury, but he has kept himself in outstanding shape over the offseason and is fully prepared to play at a high level, according to Jay Cutler. Forte’s abilities as a blocker and receiver will help keep him on the field for a high volume of snaps, and the improvements in the Bears’ passing game should help to expand some of the holes he’ll see on run plays.
While it all sounds like glitter and rainbows, the offensive line remains a large question mark. J’Marcus Webb is a poor solution at left tackle and his highly prone to mistakes in the form of both penalties and sacks. Gabe Carimi, a second-year mammoth at right tackle, should be ready to play this season but is still recovering from a 2011 knee injury. With uncertainty at both tackle positions, the Bears will restrict Cutler to shorter drops, which could potentially affect the Bears’ deep game.
If the o-line holds up and the Bears stay healthy, the Monsters of the Midway could easily bounce back to their 2010 NFC Championship form. The defense is there and the foundation for a lethal offense has been built; it’s up to Cutler to capitalize.
By Jimbo Slice