The time feels right for a Chicago Bears run at the playoffs. So what needs to happen for them to accomplish that goal?
This should be said every year but it’s a special case for the Bears following what happened in 2013. Several key starters were either lost for the entire season or a sizeable portion of it, especially on defense. Names like Henry Melton, Lance Briggs, Nate Collins, D.J. Williams and Charles Tillman all went down and the unit predictably fell apart. What was a 3-0 start slowly sagged to an 8-8 finish. A little more good fortunate is needed in order to yield better results this season.
Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston
Everybody talks about the run defense first but it is a virtual guarantee that the Chicago Bears will be better against the run in 2014. It’s not just because of the additions they made in the off-season, but also as stated above, simple good health usually means a team is at least passable at stopping ball carriers. With that improvement will come the more important requirement: getting to the quarterback. The Bears were worst in the league at that as well last season with just 31 sacks. To win game, big purchase defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston need to earn their money. Only by getting in the face of an Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford can Chicago hope to win the games that matter.
Jeremiah Ratliff and Charles Tillman
Playing well is of course important for veterans like Jeremiah Ratliff and Charles Tillman. However, their responsibilities must also extend to helping the younger generation excel as quickly as possible. Ratliff has inherited two promising rookie defensive tackles in Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, both of whom could learn much from the four-time Pro Bowler. Tillman on the other hand has the task of grooming his eventual replacement in cornerback Kyle Fuller. The coaches will certainly do what they can for the youngsters, but it falls to trusted vets like Ratliff and Tillman to give them the little tips they can only learn by being on the field.
The Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler connection
No relationship matters more to the success of an NFL team than the one between the head coach and the quarterback. That is what Marc Trestman stated when he took over the Chicago Bears and he has since backed up his talk by remaining dedicated and loyal to Jay Cutler as the unquestioned starter from day one. Together the two showed flashes of what the offense could do last season but injuries impeded the progress. For the first time in three years Cutler will have a chance to continue learning the same system, which in turn will help him grow more comfortable with Trestman as a play caller. History shows that experience and trust between coach and player breeds production. That must hold true for Chicago.
The Contested Positions
Not every team has the luxury of limited roster questions in regards to who starts and who doesn’t. Chicago is no different. They have numerous spots in the opening day lineup up for grabs and it rests on the coaches to drive the best competition possible in training camp and the preseason in order to get the top players on the field. Areas like safety and linebacker are wide open with a number of quality but unproven talents vying for them. Not only must players win those jobs, but even more importantly they must prove worthy of them.