Since reaching the Super Bowl in 2006, the Bears have gone 16-16. And a boring 16-16 it has been.
The pop-gun arm of Kyle Orton meant the Bears passing “attack” wasn’t threatening anybody last season. And a defense that – two years earlier was as formidable as any in the league – suddenly became one of the league’s worst against the pass.
This year, the boring’s been booted with the addition of the supremely talented Jay Cutler at quarterback. Forget about his poutiness and the way he extracted himself from Denver for a moment and realize that he has one of the three strongest arms in the league.
More importantly, Cutler usually knows how to use it. (He takes a few too many chances). With Cutler directing an offense that has huge-play man Devin Hester at wideout, Greg Olsen at tight end and young, explosive Matt Forte in the backfield, the Bears are going to score some.
The concern is on the other side of the ball where the Bears have slipped from formidable to forgettable. They keep rolling the same guys out there — only Tank Johnson, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Mike Brown are gone from the 2006 starters — but with diminishing returns.
The Bears didn’t generate a ton of pressure in 2008 (28 sacks) and that led to teams throwing with impunity on them (622 attempts, 3,859 yards). That, despite the fact teams weren’t trying to rally from big deficits against Chicago. The Bears need to get a better push up front to stem that tide. They also need to cross their fingers and hope that the secondary remains healthy, an ongoing concern the past few years.
The NFC North is going to be one of the league’s most intriguing divisions in 2009. With Cutler in Chicago, Brett Favre in Minnesota, Favre’s replacement Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and young Matthew Stafford running the show in Detroit, the whole division might go from boring to interesting.
And if Cutler makes the impact many expect him to, the Bears might be going from mediocre back to the elite.
Key player: Brian Urlacher. If the Bears can’t get back to where they were on defense, it’s not going to really matter how wondrous Cutler’s throwing ability is. They need Urlacher to roll back the clock and be the best middle linebacker in the league again.
Rookie to watch: Juaquin Iglesias. The 99th overall pick, Iglesias caught 8 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. Iglesias, from Oklahoma, and Johnny Knox from Abilene Christian are a nice little rookie receiving duo.
Best veteran acquisition: Cutler. They gave up a significant amount to get him, but unless Orton or one of the picks sent to Denver was going to emerge as a player with top-five talent at quarterback, it was a good move.
Key game: Week Two vs. Pittsburgh. Going against the NFL’s best defense, we’ll all get a look at how far Cutler and the Bears offense has to go.