The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise. We begin the series with the Chicago Bears.
2012 Record: 10-6. Missed Playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
The Chicago Bears traded two first-round and one third-round draft pick in 2009 to acquire Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos. With 82 touchdown passes compared to a whopping 63 interceptions, his tenure with the Bears has been hot and cold, to say the least. He’s running out of excuses.
Last year, the Bears reunited Cutler with his favorite target in Brandon Marshall and the two connected for 118 receptions and 1,508 yards … no other Bear had more than 400 receiving yards, but with a healthy Alshon Jeffery and newly acquired Martellus Bennett, Cutler will have the best receiving corps of his career at his disposal.
Although Cutler will be playing under his fourth coordinator in five seasons, he now has the comfort of a head coach that has the ultimate faith in him. Marc Trestman has made the seismic shift to turn the Bears into an offensive-minded football team and Cutler is obviously the key to their success.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
In what seems to be an ongoing issue for the Chicago Bears, the offensive line once again struggled to protect the quarterback in 2012. The 44 sacks given up were once again among the league’s worst. The Bears drafted Kyle Long to replace 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi and signed free-agent Jermon Bushrod to solidify Cutler’s blindside. However, neither are a clear solution. Long has outstanding athletic ability, but has hardly matured enough at the position to justify his first-round status and Bushrod may be past his prime. But either way, they make the unit better, but probably not as much as fans hope.
Which player stands the best chance to be a breakout performer?
Of the team’s 287 total receptions, Brandon Marshall caught 118 of them, or 41 percent. That is the highest percentage of a team’s total receptions in 50 years. When healthy, Jeffery showed flashes of why many believed him to be the most talented receiver in the 2012 draft. As teams look to eliminate Marshall, Jeffery should have plenty of chances to win one-on-one matchups. As a draft prospect, Jeffery reminded me of Andre Johnson and if he can develop into even a fraction of Johnson, he is in a position opposite Marshall to put up big numbers in a secondary role.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Brian Urlacher, easily. But it’s not his Defensive Player of the Year, eight Pro Bowl appearances, nor his 1,358 career tackles that they will miss most. After all, he finished just fourth on the team in tackles last season. It will be his presence in the defensive meeting rooms, his leadership in the huddle and his ability to make everyone around him better that they will struggle to replace.
The Bears took to a quantitative approach to replace Urlacher by signing D.J. Williams and James Anderson in free agency as well as drafting Jon Bostic and Kasheem Greene in the second and fourth rounds. And don’t be surprised when it’s Greene that becomes the most productive of the bunch.
What’s the outlook for 2013?
In almost any season, a 10-6 record will get you in the postseason, but for the Bears, it meant finishing the 2012 season third in the division and a game out of the playoffs. From top to bottom, the NFC North could be the most competitive division in all of football and once again the best three teams could be separated by just one game. There’s no reason to think that the Bears can’t be on the playoff side of that equation this year though.