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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Bears regular-season wrap-up

By Kevin Seifert

NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 6
Preseason Power Ranking: 21

Mike Martz
Mike Martz adapted the Bears' offense in the second half of the season to suit the team's strengths.
Biggest surprise: You might not find a more stubborn assistant coach than Mike Martz. So it was downright stunning to watch him balance his previously pass-happy scheme after the Bears' Week 8 bye. In consecutive losses entering the bye, Martz called a total of 30 running plays. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw a combined four interceptions and was sacked 10 times. In their nine subsequent games, the Bears averaged 29 rushing plays per game. Cutler threw 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions over that span. Most important, the Bears won seven of their final nine games to clinch the NFC North. Against all odds, Martz subordinated his pride and crafted a scheme that worked best for this team.

Biggest disappointment: The Bears got almost all of their run-game production from tailback Matt Forte, who eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second time in his career. But the other half of their intended backfield duo had one of the least productive seasons for a running back in NFL history. That's right. Chester Taylor finished the season with 267 yards on 112 carries, an average of 2.38 yards per attempt. According to Pro Football Reference's database, Taylor is the first post-merger running back to average less than 2.4 yards per carry with a minimum of 100 carries. I'm not sure I can offer an explanation, but 100 carries is a pretty decent sample size. The Bears didn't get much bang for the $7 million they paid Taylor this season.

Biggest need: The Bears shuffled their offensive line multiple times during the early stages of the season before finding a patch job that worked. But they'll need to take a hard look at where everyone finished. Is former first-round pick Chris Williams the long-term answer at left guard? Is Frank Omiyale more than an emergency answer at left tackle? Did J'Marcus Webb earn another chance at right tackle? And how many seasons does center Olin Kreutz have left? The Bears could pick any and/or all of the five line positions to address this offseason.

Team MVP: Defensive end Julius Peppers finished with eight sacks, the third-lowest total of his nine-year career. But no single player had a bigger impact on the Bears' defensive resurgence this season. His presence made the Bears' standard four-man rush one of the NFL's most effective, allowing defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to keep more players in coverage more often. That might have been the single-biggest factor behind the Bears' 35 takeaways this season, which tied for the second most in the NFL.

Resurrection: The Bears' nucleus looked old and tired last season, and many expected 2010 to be its final run. But coach Lovie Smith recaptured his tested formula, using an elite defense and big plays on special teams to win the division. It didn't end there. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to his Pro Bowl form. Safety Chris Harris, reacquired from the Carolina Panthers, intercepted five passes after the bye. Devin Hester returned three punts for touchdowns and set a record for the highest punt return average (17.1) in NFL history. It's as if the Bears jumped into a time machine and returned to 2006.