Coach- Lovie Smith (9th season 71-57 regular season 3-3 playoffs 3 Division Titles)
All-Time Record- 712-520-42 (9 NFL Championships 1 Super Bowl)
Key Subtractions- Mike Martz, Marian Barber, Caleb Hanie, Anthony Adams, Frank Omiyale
Strength of Schedule-20
The 2011 offense was in full swing in Week #11 when the Bears were playing the San Diego Chargers. The offensive line had begun to protect Jay Cutler while making nice running lanes for Matt Forte to run through. Earl Bennett was becoming Cutler’s favorite target with super bright outlawed orange shoes, and Devin Hester was well Devin Hester. The Bears were on a big time roll and all cylinders seemed to be firing right on time, but a very unfunny thing happened on the Soldier Field turf that late afternoon. The hottest team, in the NFL, season ended when Johnny Knox cut off his route which led to an interception and Jay Cutlers thumb was broken making the TD saving tackle. The rest is history! The Caleb Hanie experience led to 0 wins until the last meaningless game in the Metrodome. Jerry Angelo became the fall guy (so did Marian Barber!) for the collapse and this brings us to Phil Emery.
The New GM pulled off one of the biggest trades since well the Cutler trade while securing a true #1 wide receiver that the Bears have been searching for about as long as Cubs fans have been searching for a championship. Brandon Marshall gets reunited with his BFF Jay Cutler. Emery didn’t stop there, he drafted talented but underachieving Alshon Jeffery. And just like that the Bears wide receiving core went from small quick guys to big quick guys overnight.
The 2nd big thing Emery did was to secure Matt Forte with a long term deal before training camp. Forte along with Michael Bush may be the best 1,2 combo in the league this season. Forte in only 4 seasons already is 5th all-time with total yards from scrimmage in Bears history. The late great Walter Payton still owns the record….. BY A LOT!!
The issue that has surrounded the Bears offense for seemingly ever but really its been a long time has been the offensive line. The unit the past two years has been suspect at best at the beginning of the year, and then after an embarrassing performance on national TV (Giants 2010, Lions 2011) the line solidified and played average the rest of the season. This is the one unit that most Bears fans wish Emery had addressed this offseason.
The defense can be frustrating to watch when they sit in the cover two with their bend don’t break approach. The defense was solid against the run giving up less than 100 yards per game, but they gave up over 250 yards a game through the air. Charles Tillman got his first pro bowl nod, but he struggled against big time receivers including getting beat routinely by Vincent Jackson. The safety position has been a revolving door during the Lovie regime and this unit really needs to step up for the Cover 2 to succeed.
Julius Peppers had another good year while getting double teamed routinely. Emery drafted Shea McClellin in hopes to put more speed opposite Peppers. Shea may be a very good third down option while Israel Idonje will more than likely anchor down the opposite end on early downs. Emery gambled with a 7th round draft choice in Brian Price but the tryout went bust. The Bears brought back Amobi Okoye to help in the middle of the line.
The giant question mark to begin the season will be the middle linebacker position. Brian Urlacher injured his knee in a meaningless game in Minnesota during the last game of the season. Urlacher is surrounded by very good players but the defense is considerably better with Urlacher on the field. The big mystery could be the secret of success or failure for the aging defense in 2012.
Like two ships passing in the night the improving Bears offense may pass for one of the few times ever the aging Bears defense. The only way that the Bears offense doesn’t explode in 2012 will be the offensive line. Mike Martz never seemed willing to budge from his philosophies. It seems like new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will not put the Bears in positions to fail which should lead to big seasons by Cutler, Forte, and Marshall. Expectations may be higher than can be achieved but it will be a major disappointment if this offense doesn’t score routinely. The defense should have at least one more good season in the their aging careers. The turnover is always a major ingredient for the Bears defense which shouldn’t change this year.
The last team that most teams let get overlooked is a “specially” strong suit. Devin Hester, Robbie Gould are two of the best of their trade. The special teams unit routinely puts points on the board or gets the field changed in the Bears favor.
Prediciton Sure to go Wrong (Hopefully not this one!)
The Bears will go 11-5 but will only enter the playoffs as a wild card. The Bears were rolling in Week #11 and there is no reason to believe when healthy this team cannot make another hot run and this time to a Super Bowl title. This has to be the most excited people have been about the Bears since the 80′s. Hopefully the hype and excitement becomes a winning reality!
What’s your final prediction for the Bears season?