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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 11: Chicago Bears

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Until Jay Cutler got hurt last year, the Bears appeared to be heading to the playoffs. They were 7-3, playing very well on both sides of the ball, and looking like a wild card team that could make some noise in January. Then Cutler went down, running back Matt Forte got hurt as well, and the offense simply couldn’t do anything as the Bears stumbled home to an 8-8 finish.

That .500 record made 2011 a disappointment in Chicago, but it also gives some hope for 2012: If the Bears get good luck on injuries where they got bad luck last year, and if Cutler finds a new rapport with his old Broncos teammate Brandon Marshall, there’s every reason to believe that the Bears will play like a playoff team for a full season this year.

STRENGTHS.

The Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall combination has the potential to make the passing offense one of the real strengths of the Bears. Before he got hurt last year Cutler was off to a solid start with 2,319 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and that was in an offense that lacked a real No. 1 receiver. Now he has been reunited with his favorite receiver from his Denver days. With Matt Forte signed, the Bears also have one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, not to mention a good ball carrier who has a good backup in Michael Bush behind him.

Chicago’s defensive front seven has three elite talents in Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the only concern there is that all three of them are older than 30. Sometimes a defense with a core group on the wrong side of 30 gets old in a hurry, but as long as Urlacher is fully recovered from the sprained MCL and PCL he suffered in Week 17, the Bears’ defensive front should be strong again. In fact, if rookie Shea McClellin, a defensive end/outside linebacker from Boise State, is ready to make an impact immediately, the Bears’ defensive front could be even better.

Special teams are a huge strength for the Bears. Devin Hester is probably the best return man in NFL history, and he was outstanding again last year, leading the league in punt returns with a 16.2-yard average and scoring three touchdowns, two returning punts and one returning a kickoff. But it goes beyond Hester. Free agent signing Eric Weems is an outstanding special teams player who can fill in on kickoff returns if the Bears decide they don’t want to spread Hester too thin. Kicker Robbie Gould had another very strong season, making 28 of his 32 field goal attempts and going 6-for-6 from beyond 50 yards. Adam Podlesh gets great hang time on his punts, and the Bears have strong coverage units. Special teams don’t get much better than they have in Chicago.

WEAKNESSES.

The offensive line is a concern in Chicago, especially because of the importance of keeping Cutler upright. The Bears desperately need either last year’s first-round pick Gabe Carimi or 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams (or preferably both) to emerge as the kind of consistent starter former G.M. Jerry Angelo thought they would be when he drafted them.

The Bears’ secondary — made up of starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and starting safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte — can be picked apart, although that’s often hidden by the front four bringing pressure, and by the fact that Chicago’s linebackers are good in coverage. The Bears drafted three defensive backs — safety Brandon Hardin in the third round, cornerback Isaiah Frey in the sixth round and cornerback Greg McCoy in the seventh round — and would love to see them develop well enough to improve the depth in the secondary.

CHANGES.

It’s not often that we start talking about offseason improvements by mentioning the signing of a second-stringer, but acquiring backup quarterback Jason Campbell was a significant move for the Bears. Last year, a competent backup quarterback behind Jay Cutler might have had the Bears in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Bears had Caleb Hanie at No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart, and he fell far short of competent. This year, the Bears have a solid backup in Campbell, who has started 70 games in his career, has an 82.8 passer rating and can step in and play well when called upon.

Brandon Marshall’s arrival could make a major difference in the passing game, and so could the departure of Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator for the last two seasons, and the promotion of Mike Tice to replace Martz. Tice has made some strategic changes aimed at getting the ball out faster — including the elimination of seven-step drops — but giving Cutler a go-to receiver was by far the biggest change the Bears made.

CAMP BATTLES.

J’Marcus Webb is penciled in as the starter at left tackle, although it would be good news in Chicago if Chris Williams could demonstrate in camp that he’s worthy of the most important job on the offensive line. Injuries have plagued Williams since the Bears drafted him with the 14th overall pick in 2008, but if he’s healthy this could finally be the year that he becomes the starting left tackle the Bears have wanted him to be for four years.

Israel Idonije started all 16 games last season at left defensive end, but this year he’ll have competition from first-round draft pick Shea McClellin, who if he doesn’t earn a starting spot is expected to get plenty of playing time as a situational pass rusher. Third-year player Corey Wootton is also expected to compete for more playing time, although probably not a starting job.

PROSPECTS.

Bears coach Lovie Smith needs to get back to the playoffs, where he’s taken the Bears only once in his last five seasons. After they missed the postseason last year it was General Manager Jerry Angelo who lost his job. If they make it five out of six seasons outside the playoffs this year, it could be Smith who loses his job.

But Smith will probably keep his job because the Bears will probably be in the playoffs. If the Bears are as good a team in 2012 as they were in 2011 — only this time they don’t have to go six games with a CFL-quality quarterback — then they should have a winning record. And with a big-time playmaker in Brandon Marshall now added to the offense, there’s a real chance that the Bears will be better in 2012 than they were in 2011.

Beating out the Packers in the NFC North would be a tall order, but the Bears appear poised to earn a wild card berth. This has the look of a playoff team.

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28 Responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 11: Chicago Bears”
  1. We'reFineThere says: Jul 19, 2012 1:49 PM

    Eagles, Top 10. We won!

  2. ike1973 says: Jul 19, 2012 1:55 PM

    I agree that signing Campbell was a key offseason move. Let’s face it, Cutler got hurt and didn’t finish the season the last two years. Chances are he won’t finish this one either.

  3. myschwartzisbiggerthenyours says: Jul 19, 2012 1:57 PM

    How in the hell can you have the Bears ranked higher then the Lions? Aging defense, worst OLine in the NFL, a star RB that can’t stay healthy, a dbag QB, and a WR that will probably be in jail by the end of 2012 season for beating another women. Bears will be lucky to win 6 games this year.

  4. metropolitan1961stadium says: Jul 19, 2012 2:00 PM

    There are already too many teams with the moniker: Bears

    Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas
    California Bears in Berkeley
    University of Northern Colorado Bears
    Missouri State University Bears
    University of Maine Bears
    Brown University Bears in Providence, R. I.
    Morgan State Bears in Baltimore
    University of Central Arkansas Bears

    It is too confusing to allow a team to play in the National Football League with the nickname Bears. This football team was born as the “Chicago Staleys” and will always be the STALEYS!

    Effective immediately, the NFL Chicago franchise will revert to its original name, the Chicago Staleys.

    Sincerely yours,

    The NFL Commissioner

  5. skywalker720 says: Jul 19, 2012 2:00 PM

    LOL@ an Eagles fan being excited about “winning” the off-season.

    How’d that work out for you last year?

  6. Lonely Libertarian says: Jul 19, 2012 2:03 PM

    not sure I see the Eagles as better than the Bears…

  7. spartyfi says: Jul 19, 2012 2:07 PM

    seriously, Eagles. I want to complain about the Bears being above the Lions but I see that as a toss up if I take off my homer blinders (which I rarely do)…however, I really do think the Eagles over either of those teams is absolutely RIDICULOUS!

  8. FinFan68 says: Jul 19, 2012 2:10 PM

    The Bears are a strong team. Marshall will add a lot as long as he feels respected and figures out how to catch the 3rd down and red-zone balls. The o-line is still suspect and the defense is aging a bit so the window is closing. The Bears, Lions and Packers will be fighting for the division title. The teams are very close and a break here or there could easily decide the division. 11-5 for all three teams is not unreasonable after looking at their schedules. They could wind up splitting all the head-to-head games. If any of them lose to the Vikings this year it will be a tough climb. This division will make for some entertaining football this year.

  9. bombacim says: Jul 19, 2012 2:16 PM

    Swartz – Let’s evaluate this a little better. The lions have a worse offenseive line. Their defensive line has completly been over rated the last few years. Other than Calvin Johnson your offense is without any other playmakers. Half of your team will be suspended for landing in jail this offseason. You still have the worse secondary in football and last but certainly not least your Lions got a beatdown by the Bears last year 37-13 in November.

  10. We'reFineThere says: Jul 19, 2012 2:17 PM

    I’m not excited about the Eagles winning the offseason, but you can bet the management is. Last thing Joe Banner could do before he leaves was bring us our 8th consecutive offseason championship. Manage the cap, purge the 30 year olds, and stay above average. At least it’s not complete Groundhog Day without McNabb.

  11. larryboodry says: Jul 19, 2012 2:29 PM

    Only a big schwartz Lions fan would predict a 6-10 finish for the Bears…10-6 (or even 11-5) is much more likely, with their only loss in the division coming at Green Bay.

  12. briggsisbrokeagain says: Jul 19, 2012 2:31 PM

    Old defense huh? Briggs, Peppers, Urlacher and Tillman all voted to the pro bowl last season. Best defense in the division!

  13. skittlesareyum says: Jul 19, 2012 2:46 PM

    FinFan68 says:
    Jul 19, 2012 2:10 PM
    The Bears are a strong team. Marshall will add a lot as long as he feels respected and figures out how to catch the 3rd down and red-zone balls. The o-line is still suspect and the defense is aging a bit so the window is closing. The Bears, Lions and Packers will be fighting for the division title. The teams are very close and a break here or there could easily decide the division. 11-5 for all three teams is not unreasonable after looking at their schedules. They could wind up splitting all the head-to-head games. If any of them lose to the Vikings this year it will be a tough climb. This division will make for some entertaining football this year.

    Agreed. I’d like to think my Packers are leaps and bounds ahead of the Bears/Lions, but that isn’t true. Plus, the Bears always play the Packers tough no matter how good or bad each team is.

    I can’t wait for football to start! The NFC North is fun again!

  14. 49erstim says: Jul 19, 2012 2:50 PM

    With a healthy Cutler and Forte with the addition of Marshall this could be a dangerous team. That defense may be a bit aged, but they’ll be able to protect leads.

  15. muskyhunter2542 says: Jul 19, 2012 2:57 PM

    Im not sure how some see The Bears, and Lions in the same league as The Packers… The Packers were 15-1 last year with the worst defense in NFL history. And now they are head and shoulders better then they were last year with the draft picks, and players now healthy (T. Williams). Aaron Rodgers had the best ever QB percentage (122.5). AND The Packers either led the league in dropped passes or were top 3. Imagine how good they will be with a better defense and less dropped passes.
    Packers 13-3
    Lions 11-5
    Bears 11-5 /10-6 somewhere in there
    Vikings 2-14

  16. erikkramer1gamewonder says: Jul 19, 2012 3:43 PM

    “last but certainly not least your Lions got a beatdown by the Bears last year 37-13 in November.”

    I love how Bears fans always have a selective memory and forget that the Lions won the first meeting 24-13 (dominating the second half) when Cutler and Forte were healthy.

    I agree the Bears overall have a better roster (barely), but sweeping the Lions is far from a guarantee. Bears fans expected the same thing in 2011, and how did that turn out?

  17. justintuckrule says: Jul 19, 2012 3:44 PM

    Every year there is one team that looks great on paper and then disappoints big time. Last year it was the Eagles. This year, it’s primed to be the Bears. No matter how shiny your playmakers are, it means nothing if your O-Line is garbage. Last year, the line was so bad that Cutler was sacked on steps 4 and 5. All of this talk about Martz getting Cutler sacked is hogwash. It wouldn’t have mattered if Brian Schottenheimer and his Mark Sanchez, quick slant offense was in Chicago. If this O-Line don’t block, the Bears will go 7-9.

  18. spartyfi says: Jul 19, 2012 4:01 PM

    By the way: the Lions and Bears were both at full strength in their first game last year, the game the Lions won!

    So, if both teams stay healthy I will have to go with the Lions…that’s the only reason I’m going with the Lions, that and I’m a bit of a homer. But these teams are pretty evenly matched. The problem for Bears fans and what they hate about the Lions is we’re just starting our run of being a good team while their team is just ending theirs. Cycles…the NFL usually goes in cycles (except the Lions of the past 50 years never got that memo).

  19. hyzers says: Jul 19, 2012 4:06 PM

    Didn’t the Bears get TEBOWED last year?

  20. cali49er707 says: Jul 19, 2012 4:15 PM

    Ohhh how far detroit cryin’s fans have come now, they come in running their lips & flexing their muscles!! Its a amazing what one MNF game in over a decade & coming in 2nd in their division can do for some and they say WERE BACK- WERE SO AWESOME- WERE SUPERBOWL BOUND, LMAO!!! they are only back to being respectable & THATS IT!! All i have to say to detroit cryin’s fans is 0 &16 is what you always be remembered for!!!

    dont come yapping back this way cryin’s fans until you actually make out of a wildcard game with a “W”!!

  21. smstonerock says: Jul 19, 2012 4:19 PM

    Does anybody actually remember what happened in that second Lions/Bears game? First drive: Stafford slicing through bears defense hitting multiple receivers, making it look easy, only to have Burleson fumble the ball after about a 20 yd pickup around the bears 40/35. Bears come down and score. Second Lions drive…same thing, Stafford doing his thing making it look easy. Then Julius Peppers (yes he’s a monster) blindside hits Calvin making him fumble. Bears again score with a short field to work with. Those fumbles cause a 28 point swing because I guarantee you would’ve gotten into the endzone, he was in the zone. Those series of events changed the ENTIRE dynamic of that game. If those fumbles don’t happen, Lions dominate.

  22. wludford says: Jul 19, 2012 4:20 PM

    I expect the Bears to finish 2nd in the NFC North and make the playoffs as a wild card. But they could win it.

    On the other hand, I have doubts about what kind of impact Marshall and Tice will have on the offense, the durability of Cutler- particularly with a weak O line, and the age of defense beginning to haunt them- especially against high-quality teams. If my doubts are realized, look for a repeat of last year.

    In the NFC North, it is going to be a tough season- it won’t be nearly as easy as last year for the Packers, and there will be a lot of close games. I think Detroit will be a disappointment this year, and the Vikings will be much better than anyone expects.

  23. rickrock6661982 says: Jul 19, 2012 4:29 PM

    I have to agree…how in the world is this team ranked ahead of Detroit?

  24. blackheld says: Jul 19, 2012 4:35 PM

    Everyone agrees the Packers are very, very good. And, they ARE very, very good.

    But they are not gods.

    In the rush to rave about Matt Flynn’s great game against the Lions, in which he threw for 480 and 6 TDs, no one noticed that Matt Stafford grilled the Packers for…wait for it…520 and 5 TDs.

    Yup, the Packer secondary was nicked up. But the Lions were starting a practice squad safety, a special teams guy (Wendling) at the other safety, and receiver Rashied Davis, at cornerback.

    Folks, the Packers defense is horrid. Really horrid. And worse, the so-called “improvements” they’ve made in it mostly consist of Tramon Williams coming back healthy, and an under-performing DL (Mike Neal) who’s expected to replace a guy he hasn’t been able to beat out for the last two years.

    Even worse than that, Aaron Rogers’ security blanket, Matt Flynn, has departed for the swamps of Seattle, and his new backup is…Graham Harrell. Graham Harrell has never taken a snap in the NFL, and was not, err…prolific, during his stay in Canadian football. Caleb Hanie flashbacks abound, at this point.

    Green Bay still has no reliable running game, and they don’t sack the opposing QB much, either…with apologies to to Clay Matthews, who led the team with 5.5 sacks.

    Packer fans are talking a return to the Super Bowl, and I suppose it’s possible. But I’m reminded that sometimes the lights at the end of the tunnel signal a train wreck, too.

  25. millerhour says: Jul 19, 2012 11:21 PM

    metropolitan1961stadium says:Jul 19, 2012 2:00 PM

    There are already too many teams with the moniker: Bears

    Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas
    California Bears in Berkeley
    University of Northern Colorado Bears
    Missouri State University Bears
    University of Maine Bears
    Brown University Bears in Providence, R. I.
    Morgan State Bears in Baltimore
    University of Central Arkansas Bears

    It is too confusing to allow a team to play in the National Football League with the nickname Bears. This football team was born as the “Chicago Staleys” and will always be the STALEYS!

    Effective immediately, the NFL Chicago franchise will revert to its original name, the Chicago Staleys.

    Sincerely yours,

    The NFL Commissioner

    ———————————————————-

    Are you referring to the DECATUR Staleys?

    And all of the Lions fans seem to neglect the fact that the Bears for the most part shut down the Lions on offense that first game except for two extremely long touchdown plays, a run by Best and a pass to Johnson. 88 and 73 yards respectively. Both amazing plays by Lions players, both horrific meltdowns on two plays from Chicago. Yes the Lions won, and yes those plays were part of the game, but it’s not like they were having their way with them all night and just owned them.

  26. plymouth11 says: Jul 19, 2012 11:34 PM

    I am a Vikings fan so I see all the NFC North teams. I think Bears re every bit as good as Packers and could have been just as dangerous as Giants were at end of last season if Cutler were healthy. They might even have beaten Packers the year before if Cutler were healthy in that game. Now with Forte in camp, Mike Tice at O-Coordinator, Brandon Marshall and the potential of Alshon Jeffery – this offense could rival Green Bay’s, and their D is better up front than GB. I think they are legit. I hear you Detroit fans cluckin’ but you gotta step up, starting with your coach. Detroit was 4-0 with some pretty amazing comeback wins, then went 6-6 the rest of the way. A lot to prove if you ask me. Vikes are going to be bringing it too, trying to stick it to all three of you. Lets put on the pads and go!

  27. tahoenflfan says: Jul 20, 2012 8:24 PM

    Bears O-line is ranked the 29th best in the NFL.
    Cutler got sacked on 3-4-5 step drops way more than you know. Yet Chicago chose to stand pat at that position. Now they have a new O-line coach with some new plays and formations, yet everyone seems to think this is going to make the O-line 29 times better than last year?? Crazy.

  28. ihaterogergoodell says: Jul 22, 2012 12:55 PM

    smstonerock says: Jul 19, 2012 4:19 PM

    “….Those series of events changed the ENTIRE dynamic of that game. If those fumbles don’t happen, Lions dominate.”

    Are you new to football, dude? The whole POINT is a couple of plays change a whole game. The Lions didn’t dominate. That’s like me saying if Daniel Manning didn’t blow that deep cover, Reggie Wayne never would have scored that TD. And if Rex Grossman didn’t throw that pick six, the Bears would have won the Superbowl.

    Get it? Two plays can change everything. The Lions were just as close to dominating that game as they were to winning the Superbowl last year.

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