Could the Bears Make the Playoffs? You Bet!
Final Thoughts on the 2010 Season and Analysis of the First Half of the 2011 Season
When I think of all the things that have happened to the Bears so far this season, I think of the good fortune they had last year. The Bears played one of the easiest schedules in the league that was imbued with teams down to their third string quarterback (Detroit, Miami, and Minnesota), and won lucky contests against the Packers and the Lions to start the season. What the Bears did was nothing short of miraculous when considering what they had to work with; they had the league's worst offensive line that gave up 56 sacks, 52 of which were leveled on QB Jay Cutler. Who can forget the Sunday Night Football game vs. the New York Giants, where the Bears surrendered nine sacks in the first half, one of which knocked Cutler out of the game, and 10 sacks for the game? Somehow, through the darkness of that aspect of the team, which finished with the league's 29th ranked passing attack and, even worse, were 30th in total offense, their defense carried the team to an 11-5 record, an NFC North Division Championship, and a berth in the NFC Championship Game that was not decided until a last minute interception by the Packers that sent Green Bay on to Super Bowl XLV.
This season started off with high expectations, but the dark clouds of uncertainty were just as pervasive. Could the Bears' offensive line play improve? Would the defense step up and play vintage Chicago Bears' football again this season like it did last year? With new kickoff rules going into effect that moved the point where the ball would be teed for the kickoff up five yards, could Devin Hester and Johnny Knox return kicks with authority, or would that aspect of the Bears' vaunted special teams attack be rendered impotent? The final question, which was on every Bear fans' minds, was who Jerry Angelo was going after in the off-season this year once the lockout was over after back-to-back splashes in 2009 and 2010 with the trade for Jay Cutler and the free agent acquisition of Julius Peppers. The answer to the last question struck dread into the hearts of Bears Nation when Angelo traded TE Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers for a third rounder draft pick. He also struck out on purchasing the contracts of OTs Jermon Bushrod and Willie Colon. Coming to the Bears in their stead were WR Roy Williams, who, after experiencing some success in Detroit, struggled mightily in Dallas and had attitude problems; TE Matt Spaeth from the Pittsburgh Steelers; C Chris Spencer from the Seattle Seahawks; and S Brandon Meriweather from the New England Patriots. Overall, fans' reactions, and mine too, were soured by the lack of major activity and the trade of Greg Olsen, who had become a Chicago fan favorite. Jerry Angelo became public enemy number one in Chicago.
The season opened against Atlanta, and though the scoreboard showed the Bears won handily by a score of 30-12, the defense had trouble stopping the Falcons' offense between the twenties, including giving up a 55-yard run to bowling ball running back Michael Turner. However, confidence within Bears Nation soared, and the Bears rode the blustery Windy City gusts into an engagement with the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. What the Bears got was a rude awakening in a 30-13 lopsided loss to Saints, who marched up, over, and through the Bears in a game that on the surface looked like Chicago had fielded a high school offensive line. The Bears gave up eight sacks in the affair after surrendering just three the prior week against Atlanta. From there, life would continue to get harder, as the Bears returned to Soldier Field for a street fight against their arch rivals from the north, the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
In the game versus Green Bay, Chicago game up the opening touchdown, and from there, the beat down continued to pile on as Green Bay shut down the Bears, 27-17. The score was nearly narrowed when the Bears attempted to use a little trickeration to score a touchdown on a kick return, but it was to no available as the play was called back on a block in the back penalty. For the Bears, they were off to an inauspicious 1-2 start to the 2011 season, and things began to look bleak.
Up next came the Carolina Panthers and their stud rookie QB, Cam Newton. Last season, Chicago laid the wood to the Panthers, 23-6, in a game where the defense dominated and Matt Forte had a field day rushing and receiving. However, this game would be far more contested, as the Panthers had improved greatly on offense from the previous year, when they finished dead last in total offense. Cam Newton had a field day throwing and running the ball, eluding would-be pass rushers with his swiftness, but in the end, it was the Bears who emerged victorious with a 34-29 victory. This was a game Chicago desperately needed, a win over a team they were truly better than to get their record back to .500.
The Detroit Lions were up to the challenge and eager to gain a measure of revenge on the Bears for two hotly contested losses in 2010, and they would do so on Monday Night Football, the Lions first such appearance on the program since 2002. After the Bears balked at kicking a field goal in the first half and failing on a 4th and 1 dive play, Chicago entered half time with a 10-7 lead after a 73 yard Matthew Stafford bomb to "Megatron" Calvin Johnson led the Lions to an early 7-0. However, the Bears defense would falter in the second half, again giving up a big play, this time on the ground as Jahvid Best rushed 88 yards to pay dirt in the decisive touchdown that put the Lions up for good on the Bears. The final score was 24-13, and the Bears would leave Motown singing the blues and thinking about missed opportunities.
On Sunday Night Football, the Bears would play hosts to the Minnesota Vikings, a one-win team to that point. Chicago would have little trouble dispatching their opponent as they rolled to a 39-10 victory that, when taken into account, was not as close as the score showed. Following that week, the Bears would travel across the pond to London, England, to face the NFC South's first place team, the Tampa Buccaneers. The Bears would hold their opponents for the second straight week to under 300 total yards in their victory over the Bucs, knocking out RB Earnest Graham en route to a 24-18 victory that grew uncomfortably exciting as the game concluded as the Bears' pass rush faltered.
Thoughts on the Future of this Season
Moving forward, the Bears find themselves in curiously the same position as they were at this time last year: after eight weeks, Chicago in both 2010 and 2011 finished 4-3 and experienced one beat down while losing in closer contests against the other two teams. The beat down in the first half of the 2010 season was against the Giants, while this year's only beat down has been against the Saints. The Bears offense has improved dramatically over the offense that was fielded at this time a year ago, as they are currently averaging a respectable 24.3 points per contest. As has been mentioned in one thread in the forums, the Bears have faced the toughest schedule in the NFC and the second toughest in the NFL. The schedule only gets easier from here, as they look forward to pressing on toward challenging for a spot in the playoffs for this season.
As the standings show, the Bears are in possession of the sixth and final playoff spot out of the NFC. Down the road, the only three teams Chicago will face with winning records are Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, and Green Bay. A .500 record against those four teams will surely mean the Bears will lock up a berth in the playoffs. The least likely win of those four will be the Packers, though they certainly look suspect with their defense struggling to shut teams down. San Diego blew a lead and lost to the Jets last weekend; they play Kansas City on Monday Night Football tomorrow night. Oakland has been up-and-down and their passing attack has looked awful since QB Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone and new acquisition Carson Palmer stepped up, cold, without any practice prior to last week's 28-0 drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs. Kansas City has been blown out twice this season, once by Buffalo, the other time by Detroit. Denver has arguably the worst QB in the NFL starting for them in Tim Tebow.
My guess is that the worst the Bears will do is 6-3 the rest of the way, with 7-2 or even 8-1 not being outside the realm of possibility. The defense seems to be starting to click for the team, as I mentioned earlier that they have posted back-to-back weeks of giving up under 300 yards in total offense against Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The offense is a far cry better than it was at any point last year, including the offensive line. Part of the offensive line's improvement comes as a result of Lovie Smith and Mike Tice sitting down with Mike Martz and telling him to run the ball more and with authority. Since the Bears went to that formula in Week 4, they are 3-1 and should have been 4-0 if not for the offensive line faltering against Detroit on Monday Night Football. The Bears have a lot to prove, but I think they will finish no worse than 10-6. I think we win the next two games without question, and that includes Detroit. Detroit crushed a weak Denver Broncos team, true, but Denver has nothing going for it at all. Philadelphia whipped a bad Dallas Cowboys squad last night, but they are still susceptible to giving up big runs on defense despite their prowess in the pass rush. I do not want to sound like a total homer, but when you look at the bottom line, the Bears are clearly in position to challenge for a spot in the playoffs.
What do you guys think?
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Does it come with CliffsNotes? lol
Originally Posted by Dagan81
"Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that." - Ron Swanson
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Good article Dagan!
There will most certainly be some positive movement from the teams remaining on our schedule, still, we are improving (especially on the O line) so as long as we improve on pace with our opponents, we've got a decent shot. It wouldn't hurt if Detroit stumbled a bit either.
Last edited by BearStuff; 10-31-2011 at 12:52 PM.
Winston Churchill: "Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak."
"If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain."
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I do like how the run game is going, but I think Forte needs more of a break in order to keep him as fresh as possible. Barber needs some more reps. Honestly, he's servicible enough to fill in for Forte more than he is. I have a huge concern about forte making it through the season.
Originally Posted by soulman
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If we put Forte as a wideout more, it would leave the defense guessing as to what we're doing a little (as long as this isn't a 5 receiver type thing)
The offensive line is looking really good right now - probably the best its looked in about three years (2008). I personally would like to see Carimi reinstalled into the lineup as a LT, thereby cutting out the cancer that is J'Marcus Webb to that offensive line.
When Cutler has time to throw, he can do great things. He had a decent outing against Tampa Bay, though not great, but that's why we have Matt Forte to come in and loosen things up a bit for the opposing defense. This offense is predicated by dent of the fact of its personnel on running to set up the pass. Unfortunately, we have a pass happy offensive coordinator who has to be humiliated by his superiors and other assistant coaches because he fails to recognize that the tools to run "The Greatest Show on Turf" simply aren't there.
Soul, I think 10-6 or 11-5 is a very realistic goal for us right now. However, I think we are probably going to wind up being as good as the fourth best team in the NFC. I honestly think now that, knowing what we know, if we used the same game strategy against the Saints that has been working for us in recent weeks, we probably make that game a hell of a lot more interesting. The Packers game is probably the only certain loss that we have, and that's fine, though I think we have a reasonable chance at playing well against them and making things look interesting if we are able to employ some of Minnesota's strategies against them. We know based on what Adrian Peterson did against the Packers that if you can block their defensive line, the Bears will almost certainly be able to run against them. As for the Packers' running game, it's not great by any stretch of the imagination, and I think that our run defense has tightened up in recent weeks to the point where we will be able to stop either James Starks or Ryan Grant to minimal gains, more-or-less. The Lions are nowhere near as good as everyone thinks they are, and I think that we will exact a measure of revenge on the Kitties at Soldier Field in two weeks.
The one team that I do worry about coming up in a few weeks on our schedule is the Kansas City Chiefs. They lose their Pro Bowl RB (Jamaal Charles) and S (Eric Berry) and struggle for the first three weeks, then turn it around and are now in first place in the AFC West. I looked at their stat line, and they look to be suspect on defense. I think we will be able to exploit them with the run while mixing in some playaction passes.
All-in-all, I don't think there's a team left on our schedule that we're not capable of beating, but the question will be whether the Bears can maintain their focus on doing the things offensively that are their strengths throughout the rest of the season so that the team can flourish. If they do this, they should do no worse than 6-3 the rest of the way. I would not be at all shocked to see 10-6 or 11-5. Right now, I'm just worried about getting to the playoffs. Let's focus on what needs to be done right now before we go overboard and worry about beating the top four teams in the NFC in the playoffs.