In our summer breakdown series we look at the Chicago Bears, who play the Cowboys in Week Four at Cowboys Stadium for a *Monday Night Football *showdown on Oct.
There were two teams in the NFL that suffered the most when their starting quarterback was knocked out due to injury, the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning and the Bears when a 7- 3 start and a run for a potential playoff spot was crushed when the thumb on Jay Cutler's throwing hand was broken against the San Diego Chargers.
With Cutler out of the lineup, the Bears lost five of their last six games and missed the playoffs. The injury cost two members of the staff their jobs. General manager Jerry Angelo lost his job because he didn't have a quality backup in place to hold the season together and offensive coordinator Mike Martz couldn't do enough with the offense when Cutler was sidelined.
When Cutler was in the lineup, this was clearly a different team. If you think that Tony Romo has to make plays on the move in the pocket, you have never seen Cutler play. It's rare when he can set his feet and make a throw. Everything is off his back foot or sliding to his left or right. Cutler can throw the ball with all kinds of different arm angles but the one trait you do see is the velocity of his passes. There are times where he makes his receivers work for the ball but you will also see him connect with them on the move for some big plays.
When you study the Bears, their best offensive players are running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Devin Hester. Forte is the type of back that I love. He has the ability to get the ball to the edge and around the corner. He is also tough enough to run it between the tackles. One of Forte's best traits is his ability to catch the ball on swings and screens. If you look at the receiving numbers for the Bears you would see that he led the team in catches. Forte is a productive open-field runner that can be tough to bring down once in the open field.
Devin Hester is an explosive playmaker that has done a much better job of becoming more of a receiver. When he first worked at the position it was more about trying to create plays for him much like the Saints use to for Reggie Bush. Hester can really cover some ground in his routes. Against the Vikings, they tried to bracket him in coverage with a defender inside and one out, he just ran right through the middle of the two and Cutler got him the ball down the field. Where the Bears made a mistake is trying to use him as a one when he really is more like a three. In the offseason, the front office went out and trade for Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins and drafted Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina. When Marshall has his head screwed on right, he can be mighty productive and paired with Cutler has a chance to once again put up those huge numbers they had together in Denver.
Where the Bears offensively have their biggest problems is on the offensive line. They drafted tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 draft but he was the worst of the Tyron Smith, Nate Solder and Anthony Constanzo group. The club went out in the offseason and signed Chris Spencer from the Seahawks who last week I watched getting replaced by Breno Giacomini at right tackle. This line gives up a ton of pressures and hits. Guard Lance Louis is the best player on the line and he even took some games at right tackle and was not bad. It amazed me that Foote and Cutler were as productive behind this line as they were.
On defense, the Bears in my view have one of the best front-sevens in football. I am a huge fan of tackle Henry Melton and what Julius Peppers can do off the edge. Brian Urlacher is still and physical player at the point of attack and Lance Briggs is a sideline-to-sideline player. This is a really good tackling team overall. You don't see a lot big plays against this group because of their ability to get to the ball carrier and get them on the ground. The Bears like to just rush four and drop the others in coverage. They play a Cover 2 look with the corners up squatting and the safeties off the hash.
Cornerback Charles Tillman is a physical player that does a nice job of playing the correct technique and staying in position on the route. The Packers tried to attack him in the red zone with Greg Jennings and he was able to play the route and get an interception. Chris Conte is better than Major Wright at safety. I Like the way that Conte tackles in the open field. A player to watch on this defense is rookie Shea McClellin from Boise State. The Bears are going to play him at defensive end and let him attack the passer. McClellin was one of my favorite players to study in this past draft. There was an old player for the Denver Broncos named Karl Mecklenburg that made a ton of plays in his day. This guy has the same kind of ability.
The strength of this Bears squad is on defense but I do like what they did by adding Brandon Marshall to the mix at wide receiver. There is a comfort level with Marshall and Cutler. Former Vikings head coach Mike Tice takes over as the offense coordinator so look for him to try and strive for more balance than Martz. This will be a fistfight of a game for the Cowboys to have to deal with early in the 2012 season.