For the first season in what seems like forever, the Bears will be coordinated by an offensive-minded head coach. These seems to bode well for a team that is desperately in need of some tinkering on that side of the ball. During Lovie Smith’s regime, the Bears seldom overcame poor starts. There is an appalling statistic under Lovie that has the Bears losing the vast majority of the time they trail at the half. The reason the Bears cannot beat a team like the Green Bay Packers is because they simply cannot muster enough points on offense. And for that to happen, the following players must step up their game:
JAY CUTLER – This one is as obvious as it gets. The West Coast scheme that Marc Trestman imports from his Canadian days is nothing new to the NFL. In fact, 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh recently admitted that much of the language he uses is predicated on Trestman’s philosophy. While many punduits are quick to point out Cutler’s inadequacies, he was sorely victimized by a plethora of dropped TD passes. All-Pro Brandon Marshall had at least 6, while the rest of the team contributed to this problem. Throw in a horrendous offensive line as well as inept play-calls, and it’s not hard to account for Cutler’s less-than-stellar campaign. However, #6 must improve his mechanics as well as accuracy. These are two issues that have not been rectified despite a slue of coordinators. While I fully expect Smokin’ Jay to have a career year, the offensive line must protect him and he must also improve his play in big games.
SHEA MCCLELLIN - Shea actually graded out a bit better after closer film scrutiny. However, 2.5 sacks is simply not enough for a top 20 pick. One of Shea’s main issues is his lack of power while engaging defenders. He uses the spin move well, but it rarely results in sacks. Shea must step up owing to the loss of Idonije as well as the increasing age of Julius Peppers. Shea will be afforded more opportunities and must capitalize on them lest he become yet another first round afterthought. The defense badly craves an injection of youth, and if Henry Melton can make a trip to Hawaii, so too can McClellin.
ALSHON JEFFERY – Alshon played pretty well when he was in the lineup. He has that “flash” ability that defines great playmakers, and his rookie numbers were eerily similar to Brandon Marshall’s. However, he dropped far too many passes last year. A bomb at the Metrodome and a slant versus the Rams stand out the most. Yet, when Jeffery was out of the lineup with injuries the Bears’ offense was clearly compromised, as teams doubled and tripled Marshall in an effort to take away targets for Cutler. If the Bears are to evolve into even an average offense, Jeffery must stay healthy as well as make the most of his opportunities. He’s too talented not to.
BEARS’ O-LINE - Anyone who meticulously examines the Bears’ tape from last year (particularly the Green Bay, Carolina, and San Francisco games) saw that Cutler really never had a chance. Sometimes, it seemed that he was getting hit before he took 2 steps, let alone 7. If the Bears are anywhere near serious about competing for the playoffs, they must put an end to the madness up front. Ex OC Mike Tice received far too much credit for the line’s annual lackluster play.
COREY WOOTEN - I was pretty pleased with Wooten’s progress last year. While adding 7 sacks, he had a blocked punt return TD to boot. Although he benefited from the extra attention given to Julius Peppers, Wooten really took a nice step forward and must continue to progress along with line-mates McClellin, Melton, and Peppers. If he can take another step, the Bears will be much closer to retaining a quality defensive line.
DEVIN HESTER - Quite simply, no Bear disappointed more so than Hester last year. Despite unfailing double teams on Marshall, Devin couldn’t get open versus single coverage. What’s worse, he dropped catchable passes and finally lost the trust of Jay Cutler. If Hester can’t contribute early in the return game, perhaps the Bears would be better served to cut him rather than wait for an unlikely career resurgence. I’m convinced that Hester simply doesn’t have the wheels he once did. Either way, he should not be used on offense anymore. That ship has sailed . . .
BEARS’ COACHING - All one must do is examine the NFC playoff teams from a year ago to conclude that effective coaching is simply irreplaceable. How would have Russell Wilson have fared had he wound up in Chicago? How much better would Cutler’s numbers have been if he played behind the San Francisco O-line? Coaching is what separates good players from average, as well as great ones from good. For the past 19 or so years, the Bears have been simply pathetic on offense. The coaching on this team must become more imaginative and efficient. Period!