I'm at a major disadvantage here because I didn't watch the Chicago Bears at all this preseason. I'm sure there are many Bears fans reading the site this week (Welcome!) so feel free to correct all my errors and omissions in the comments. Usually the preseason isn't very telling, but on the eve of the QB Jay Cutler era, it would've been nice to have gotten a sneak peak. Mitchell already looked at the matchups. I'm really trying to get a good look at the Bears.
A Tale of Two Pass Rushes. One thing the Bears and Packers had in common last season, that neither team wants to repeat again in 2009, is their inability to sack the quarterback. In 2008, Chicago had 28 sacks as a team and the Packers had 27. To address the problem, the Packers made major changes by hiring Dom Capers as defensive coordinator and converting to a 3-4 defense. On the other hand, Chicago didn't rock the boat. Lovie Smith will now call the defensive plays and defensive coordinator Bob Babich will focus on coaching the linebackers. The big addition in personnel was drafting DE/DT Jarron Gilbert in the 3rd round to provide an inside pass rush. They also drafted DE Henry Melton in the 4th round, but his season ended when he was placed on I.R. The bigger problem might be the ongoing injury problems to Pro Bowl DT Tommie Harris, who was playing on one leg in early August, and everyone is just expecting he'll be out with injuries at some point this season. Will the addition of Gilbert, and the return of Smith to the defensive play calling, be enough to improve their pass rush?
If the pass rush doesn't get to QB Aaron Rodgers, then he could be looking at a cast of unknowns in Chicago's secondary. It's all about injuries, injuries, injuries, as the Bears have been without three starters (CB Charles Tillman, CB Zack Bowman, and FS Daniel Manning) for most of the preseason. When the Bears depth chart was announced, and it showed CB Trumaine McBride, CB Nathan Vasher, and FS Al Afalava in the starting lineup, it seemed the general consensus in the comments was horror. Bowman was finally healthy last week at Cleveland. According to Kevin Seifert, Bowman should get his first career start, while Manning should play in the nickel.
Chicago was very good at stopping the run last season, and LB Lance Briggs and LB Brian Urlacher should lead a very good unit again in 2009. Although losing DT Dusty Dvoracek for the season with a torn ACL won't help their depth. But even great units have their bad days. RB Ryan Grant had his best game last season (145 yards and 1 TD) against Chicago at Lambeau.
How about the offense? After four paragraphs, you'd think I'd have something to say about the offense. GM Jerry Angelo has done everything he can to turn the offense around in one season. Cutler was a great QB in Denver, and he should still be great. To make sure Cutler starts all 16 games, they added three offensive lineman in free agency. LT Orlando Pace has made it through all of training camp without an injury and he'll start alongside returning LG Roberto Garza and C Olin Kreutz. RG Frank Omiyale was signed as a free agent from the Panthers, and former 1st round OL Chris Williams is at RT. WR Devin Hester and TE Greg Olson have never been great receivers, but Cutler could make them great. Every fantasy draft is expecting a break out season for RB Matt Forte. This should be the best offense the Bears have seen in many seasons, but it still has to prove it on the field.
In Chicago, the offense should be much better. But injuries are threatening to tear the defense apart. Will this season be a case of one step forward (on offense) and one step back (on defense) for the Bears?