Monday, September 10, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2012 Chicago Bears

Wow. What is there to say? We've never seen a Chicago Bears team like this in years, if ever, as the Bears overcame a slow start to put on an offensive show yesterday against Indianapolis. We were all excited before the season began at the prospect of finally getting some playmakers at wide receiver to help Jay Cutler, but I don't think anyone expected these results. And with the way that the defense played, specifically Tim Jennings, the sky is the limit for this Bears team. We'll know for sure if this team is for real after their game Thursday against the Packers, but it's hard not to be pumped.

Man, that offense. The unit started slow, and looked like they were pressing and attempting to force their new look offense instead of just playing their game. Once they got relaxed and started to gel, however, they took off.

Cutler and Marshall. All Day.
Cutler hooked up with his new/old favorite target Brandon Marshall on a regular basis. They both give the Bears an offensive duo unlike any we've seen in years. The Bears passing offense used to struggle on long third downs, or in converting on plays where the Bears needed to gain significant yardage. Defenses simply did not have to respect them. But now, the Bears have multiple legitimate receiving weapons that afford the Bears the opportunity to move the football like some of the better passing offenses in the NFL. For once, this is a team that can win in a shootout. Gone are the days of field goal, possession-dominated football. Yesterday, the Bears took their rightful place as a modern NFL offense.

I thought the offensive line overcame a shaky start to really come together and give Cutler the protection he needed. There wouldn't be some of the big plays later in the game if there wasn't protection. This is also a reflection of the new offensive philosophy of Mike Tice, but all in all, it's hard to complain about an offensive line that allowed Cutler to throw for 333 yards and two touchdowns, and enable Matt Forte to rack up 120 total yards and a touchdown. Speaking of Forte, I think the new look offense has rejuvenated him as well. His vision and burst are always superior, but it felt like nearly every play Forte was barrelling through defenders or juking around them. If there were any lingering doubts as to whether Forte was healthy, I think they have all been assuaged now. I expect a huge year from him as he remains a vital cog in an offense that no longer has to rely solely on him.

It wasn't just Marshall and Forte. I think that Alshon Jeffery stepped up and cemented the number 2 receiver role as well with a beautiful reception on a perfectly thrown bomb from Cutler for a 42 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

I thought that Jeffery was a huge steal for the Bears in the second round anyways, given his first round talent, but I didn't figure him to step up and seize the number 2 role so quickly. Jeffery ended up with 80 total yards and gives Cutler yet another physically imposing matchup to look too. Can you imagine opposing defenses attempting to stick two corners on the outside against Marshall and Jeffery, both huge, physical receivers? Jeffery's ascension also allows Devin Hester to fit in nicely in the slot with Earl Bennett as well on 4 receiver formations. I don't know how any defense can consistently defend that. Those defenses won't be able to shade both safeties off to double on the outside, or they leave the middle of the field wide open to be gashed by Hester or Bennett. But both Marshall and Jeffery are so big and physical that they can almost always win a battle against single coverage. I love it. Good luck opposing defenses.

As well as the offense played, I was more than impressed with the defense. As I wrote a few days ago, this team was unusual in the respect that most of the questions were on the defensive side of the ball. For me, they were mostly answered yesterday. The defensive line, led by the ridiculous Julius Peppers (who had one of my favorite plays of the game when he pushed straight through the line and hit Luck in the chest with his left hand, sending the rookie sprawling), got in rookie Andrew Luck's face the entire game, providing a nice welcome-to-the-NFL party for the number 1 pick. Brian Urlacher didn't play much, as Lovie Smith pulled him once the Bears got a big lead. But from what we saw, he looked good. He looked a little stiff in his lateral movements to a certain degree, but I think we can blame rust and him getting used to his new knee brace for that.

Jennings was outstanding
But the standout was, in clear fashion, cornerback Tim Jennings. Jennings had one of the better games a cornerback can have, with two interceptions, another ridiculous play that tipped the ball to Chris Conte for another interception, and numerous great plays throughout the game. We listened all off season as Bears management and Jennings' teammates waxed poetic about how hard Jennings had worked and how great he looked in drills and camp. Well, it showed here. Both of his interceptions were outstanding athletic plays, and his tip to Conte was just as impressive. Jennings even had another great play that was incorrectly called pass interference by the woeful replacement officials. What a valuable asset for this defense if Jennings is going to play this well; it provides the defense with another great cornerback to go along with Charles Tillman (who hopefully isn't too seriously injured).

The big question for this team is how this success is going to project going forward. The Colts are, admittedly, a bad team. There's a reason they had the number 1 pick in this year's draft, and drafting Andrew Luck doesn't change that overnight. The Bears will have to come out and establish the same type of production and mentality against Green Bay on Thursday, and you better believe the Packers will be ready to go after a rough opening loss to San Francisco yesterday. Still, for once I'm confident. This Bears team, besides the still unproven offensive line, does not have any weaknesses. Their defense has always been the toughest that Aaron Rodgers has faced, and he typically does not perform as well as he usually does against the rest of the league. If the Bears can come out, unleash their newly-lethal offense, and keep up the same intensity and production on defense, there's no question I feel they can not only beat Green Bay Thursday, but be a real Super Bowl contender all season.