Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A season of highs and lows, but mostly woes

The Bears were 9-7 in 2008, one win away from a playoff spot. In the offseason they added Jay Cutler, meaning an 10- or 11-win season was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

A 3-1 start that included a win over Pittsburgh and a win at Seattle reaffirmed the high hopes of Bears fans. But then, the proverbial wheels fell off. Any sincere belief that the Bears might make the postseason went out the window with a 41-21 home thrashing at the hands of the Cardinals, and, amazingly, the Bears found a way to go downhill from there.

Wins over the Vikings and Lions turned what could have been a laughable record into a 7-9 finish and another season without a playoff appearance, their third straight since the Super Bowl season.

Here's a look back at what went right and wrong:


Best thing: Development of the wide receivers

When the season began, the Bears' receiving corps was a gang of nobodies. Devin Hester was still transitioning from punt/kick returner to receiver, Earl Bennett had caught (hold on, let me count: 1, 2, 3 ...) ZERO passes in the NFL, Johnny Knox was a rookie, and Devin Aromashodu was an afterthought.

And while this part of the offense still needs a lot of work (and one or two upgrades), the receivers were more consistent than I would have expected. Hester and Bennett both eclipsed the 700-yard mark, Knox is about as quick as they come, and Aromashodu came on late out of nowhere.

But while the Bears have many needs to address this offseason, adding a big-time receiver is definitely one of them. After all, none of the Bears' receivers cracked the top 45 in receiving yards, and no Bears receiver could muster even half the receiving yards of the NFL's leading receiver, Andre Johnson.

Worst thing: Offensive line

Cutler was sacked 35 times on the season, third-most in the league. Orlando Pace sucked, Olin Kreutz is getting old, and the rest of the line routinely invited defenders into the pocket for a nice little snack--er, sack. For all the attention given to the skill players in football, it's amazing how many wins and losses come down to the front lines. And the Bears simply didn't have an offensive line that could open holes for the running game, protect Cutler, and enable the Bears to win consistently.

Dishonorable mentions: Jay Cutler's interceptions, Matt Forte's dropoff, Greg Olsen's disappointing year


Best thing: Lance Briggs

His 118 tackles were good for 15th in the league. He didn't get a ton of credit because the "D" was so bad overall, but he had a solid season.

Honorable mentions: Experience for guys like Nick Roach and Jamar Williams, Zack Bowman's six picks

Worst thing: Rush defense

Are you kidding me? 23rd in rush yards allowed? 126 yards per game? Remember when the Bears would shut down the run? When they were tough, and mean, and would hit you in the mouth if you tried to run up the middle? If you do remember that, your memory goes back at least a year. Because this season, teams ran at will against this front seven.

Dishonorable mentions: Turnover differential (-8), Pass rush


Best thing: Brad Maynard

He averaged 41.4 yards per punt, fourth in the NFL. Strangely, some of the best punters were on the worst teams, including Buffalo's Brian Moorman, Cleveland's Dave Zastudil, and Oakland's Shane Lechler, who broke his own single-season net punting average record.

Honorable mentions: Robbie Gould, Knox's kick return average (2nd in NFL)

Worst thing: Devin Hester's punt returns

Though Hester had a decent year as a receiver, the coaching staff is not yet off the hook for asking him to no longer focus on a task that he could do better than anyone else in the league at one point. He averaged only 7.8 yards per punt return in '09, just above Bobby Wade of the Chiefs and just below Chris Carr of the Ravens. Yeah, exactly.

Dishonorable mention: Kick coverage


Best thing: Cutler's strong finish

The Bears have a lot of holes to fill and a lot of problems. And while Cutler's interceptions (he led the league) and inconsistency are on the list of problems, there's no doubt that he is the centerpiece of the Bears' future, both because of his potential and because of the contract extension he signed during the season.

You can blame the line, you can blame the receivers, and rightly so. But Cutler deserves part of the blame as well. For much of the season, he played--simply put--badly. I would have to imagine that even he would admit as much.

That he was able to finish the season with two nearly identical--and solid--performances should bode well for his confidence heading into 2010. He needs to Matrix the memory of 2009 from his brain and hopefully be left only with the taste of those final two games. For the Bears to be successful next season, they'll need a better Jay Cutler.

Worst thing: The win over the Vikings

Hey, don't get me wrong. While in the broad sense the win meant nothing, it may have been the victory I enjoyed most all season. But 6-10 sounds a lot worse than 7-9, and that slight difference in record may have changed Angelo's answer to the question, "Should he stay or should he go?" Lovie will be back next year, though several of their coaches were axed and Lovie will no longer serve as defensive coordinator. Ron Turner got the boot as well.

With Bill Cowher seemingly out there for the taking, it disappoints me that an overtime win against the Vikings might have saved Lovie's job. Cowher was reportedly interested in coaching the Bears, but was then linked to a few other teams. But Black Monday turned into Light Gray Monday, with only the Redskins' Jim Zorn getting fired. With no job opening in Carolina, Tampa, or almost anywhere else at the moment, Cowher may not coach in 2010 after all (though some reports say he could be lured to Buffalo).

Perhaps Cowher will do TV for another year and the Bears will have another crack at him. But as far as I'm concerned, it's unfortunate that Angelo and Lovie will be calling the shots again next year, perhaps in large part because of a meaningless (though exciting) win.

No comments:

Post a Comment