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|Even if Julius Peppers doesn't produce sacks right away, he should make an impact by drawing multiple blockers and freeing the Bears' other defensive linemen.|
Thanks for dropping by to check out the final installment of our NFC North breakdown, which kicked off earlier this week with a breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings.
To close the series, we take a look at the Bears.
We’d also like to thank Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and John Niyo of the Detroit News for their input earlier this week in breaking down the division.
Five things the Bears need to worry about
1. The offensive line: History indicates quarterbacks take more punishment executing out of offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system likely due, in part, to the sheer number of pass plays called that involve seven-step drops. It’s no secret the offensive line, which returns virtually the same personnel from 2009, underperformed last season and isn’t 100 percent set heading into training camp. Those are causes for concern. Quarterback Jay Cutler took a career-high 35 sacks last season.
2. Safety: The Bears seem to have several options at safety, but the real concern is whether the club will be able to field the right combination at the position, which is crucial for the club’s Cover-2 heavy scheme. Chris Harris and Danieal Manning are the current starters. There’s uncertainty as to whether Harris still possesses the range to adequately handle the starting free safety spot (he appears to have lost a step), while some question Manning’s instincts in coverage. From the looks of things, the staff will let Harris and Manning battle it out at camp with rookie Major Wright, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. It’s imperative that the club quickly finds the best combination at the position.
3. Mark Anderson: Primarily a designated pass rusher as a rookie, Anderson registered 12 sacks in 2006, but hasn’t done much since (9.5 sacks over the last three years). The club plans to start Anderson opposite new acquisition Julius Peppers. But will Anderson be effective? He’d better be, considering general manager Jerry Angelo let go one of the team’s most popular players in Alex Brown, who likely would’ve been a more than adequate complement to Peppers.
4. Receivers gelling quickly with Cutler: Devin Hester took an important step in devoting a chunk of his offseason to working with former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who is well versed in Martz’s intricate timing-based attack. But collectively, the receivers need to gel quickly with Cutler for the offense to reach its full potential by the end of training camp, which is important for the team getting off to a good start.
5. No. 3 cornerback: The backup quarterback situation could go here, but the cornerback is a more pressing concern. After the starters -- Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman -- there appears to be a dropoff in talent among the other corners. That’s definitely cause for concern considering how often the club will line up in nickel and dime (one or two extra defensive backs) packages against high-powered passing attacks such as Green Bay and Minnesota. Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Woodny Turenne and rookie Joshua Moore are the candidates for the job. One of them needs to emerge at camp.
Five things not to worry about
1. Jay Cutler: Interceptions are a concern, but people need to come to grips with the fact that Cutler is going to throw them because of overconfidence in his strong arm, and the high potential for turnovers in Martz’s scheme. However, Cutler needs to negate the interceptions with touchdowns, which is likely what the quarterback will do this season. If Cutler can cut down on the interceptions, fans should consider that icing on the cake because in Martz’s scheme, Cutler is almost a lock to better the 27 touchdowns he threw last year, which ranked third in franchise history.
2. Matt Forte: Fans seem to be down on Forte after the running back followed a strong rookie campaign with 929 yards and a 3.6-yard average in 2009. But Forte appears poised to return to rookie form after a strong offseason in which he appears to finally be 100 percent healthy. Forte showcased improved quickness and agility at minicamps and OTAs. You can’t downplay the motivation factor, either. While he said all the right things when the club signed free agent Chester Taylor, several within the organization said the acquisition stoked Forte’s competitive fire.
3. Free-agent addition Peppers: A free-agent signing of this magnitude comes with increased bust potential. But that shouldn’t be the case with Peppers, who has produced double-digit sack totals in six of his eight years. Even if Peppers isn’t a sack machine right off the bat, all the attention devoted to him by opponents should open things up for other rushers coming off the edge (especially if the Bears bring linebackers off Peppers’ side). I could see the Bears at times employing a look this season similar to what the Giants used in their Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots (they overloaded the edge, using Justin Tuck -- who constantly lined up on different sides -- as an extra rusher).
4. Mike Martz: Don’t worry about Martz’s high-octane passing attack taking away Chicago’s well-earned reputation for playing smashmouth offense. Head coach Lovie Smith -- like Mike Singletary did with the offensive coordinbator in San Francisco -- isn't going to let it happen, and Martz is fine with that. Martz’s scheme merely diversifies the Bears’ offensive attack (extensively), making the club much more difficult to game plan against.
5. Robbie Gould: Truthfully, Gould is coming off his worst season since 2005. But when that worst performance in five years involves an 85.7 field goal percentage -- including a career-long 52-yard field goal -- it's safe to say your kicker is virtually automatic. Gould is the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (85.9 percent) and has nailed 20 or more field goals in five consecutive years.