Posted on: April 28, 2010 1:00 pm

My top 6 Keys to the 2010 Season (Part 2)

My top 6 Keys to the 2010 Season (Part 2)

In a continuation of my earlier blog, which discussed 3 “No Brainers” for the 2010 season,  I have identified 3 “not so obvious” keys to the Bears success.  I decided to wait to post this until after the draft as several pieces relating to my Keys had to align with the players selected:

#4) The Defense MUST cause A LOT of Turnovers.

In 2006 the Bears defense caused a league leading 44 turnovers. 44!  They were second only to the Baltimore Ravens in Interceptions with 24, and lead the league by far in fumble recoveries with 20. In addition, they forced 32 fumbles. There were several key guys in on this: Nathan Vasher was an intercepting machine, Charles Tillman was a fumble causing superstar, and even Brian Urlacher was involved with 3 INT’s.

Contrast this to the 2009 Bears who only forced 28 total turnovers.  They were a negative 6 overall. To really highlight what this means: the 2006 Bears put the ball back in the hands of their offense a whopping 16 times more than the 2009 Bears did. That is 1 extra crack at a TD per game. Consider these stats:

-> The Packers ended last year with a +24 TO ratio, most coming after their slow start. They won 7 of their last 8 games.
-> The packers lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs 51 t0 45. They also lost the turnover battle 3 to 1.
-> Historically, the team who wins the turnover battle wins the game 72% of the time
-> In 2009, the top five teams in TO ratio had a combined record of 57-23
-> In the Cardinals amazing run to the SB in 2008, they had 13 takeaways. The only game the Cards didn’t win the turnover battle? The Super Bowl, when they gave it away twice and got it just once.

We know under Mike Martz system, Jay Cutler will be throwing a lot of timed patterns. Unlike Turners system, Jay will be doing a lot less reacting post snap and a lot more “trusting” in the system and letting it fly. This “could” lead to more INT’s. But as I noted in Part 1, that is not always the norm (as is erroneously reported). However, the key still remains the same, get the ball back, and put it in the hands of the team that should be high-flying and able to score – and that is the offense.

#5) Our defense MUST be Better on 3rd and Long:

Little known fact about 2009: The Bears defense was in the top 8 in yards allowed on first and second down. What this meant, is that statistically, over the course of the season, the Bears were able to put their opponents offense into 3rd and Long situations pretty often.

As I mentioned earlier, in the Cover 2, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT. You want to force the other teams offense into known passing situations, and switch to a nickel package and crush them. In 2006, this is when a majority of our interceptions occurred. In 2009, the exact opposite: This is when we gave up the majority of our yardage. The Bears were in the bottom qtr of the league in 3rd and Long.

A lot of this had to do with 3 factors: 1) No pass rush with only the front four, 2) Hunter Hillenmeyer had an inability to get back into coverage and take away the deep middle “hole”, and 3) Our Free safeties were never in the imx to break up the pass. Kevin Payne was repeatedly beat, and Al Afalava was too inexperienced to handle the Free Safety position.

What this all added up to was the Bears Defense was on the field a lot longer than they should have been, and the offense was sitting on the sidelines helpless. We lost the TOP battle by an average of 3+ minutes per game. This means our defense was on the field almost an ENTIRE GAME longer than our offense over the 2009 season. Compare that to the Vikings whose offense was on the field 5:21 more per game or a total of an HOUR AND A HALF longer than their defense.

Many things have gotten better for 2010: With Urlacher back, Julius Peppers in to push the passer, and Tommie Harris looking late in the season like a man possessed, the first of the 2 major issues could be solved.  The Bears have acquired a talented and hard hitting free safety in Major Wright, as well as bringing back a well versed and excellent Safety in Chris Harris.

The main point all Bears fans should be noting is that the problems we faced on 3rd downs seems to be being addressed by the Bears.

#6)  We need to shock the NFL.

This one may seem obscure, but let me explain. In 2009, pre-season, the Bears were actually picked to be a contender.  The main reason was a very “blanket” statement that went like this:

“The Bears were 9-7 in 2008 with Kyle Orton as the QB, imagine how much better they’re going to be with a real QB in Jay Cutler….”

The Bears were picked to win the Superbowl by Sports Illustrated. They were picked to compete for the Division by almost every major publication.  Even the NFL thought the Bears would be dominant as they received no less than 5 Night games ( (3) Sunday night games versus the Packers, Falcons, and Eagles, (1) Monday night game versus the Vikings, and (1) Thursday night game versus the 49ers). Not only that, but the Bears also played (5) 3:15 late start games.

In 2010, the bears did make a splash with the Peppers signing. But the NFL has mostly forgotten about the Bears. We have the obligatory Monday night games against the Packers and Vikings, and a Sunday and Thursday night game. But ALL the other games are nooners.  The Bears are also already pre-season picks to finish 3rd in the division.  Basically, the Bears have been written off.

The Bears need to come out and catch people looking the other way. We open against the Lions and we need to prove that even though the they got better in the offseason too, we still dominate. Then we play a Cowboys team in Dallas that has already looked past us an on to their in-state matchup with the Texans. Then we have the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, who we played EXTREMLY well against last season, but owe some payback to at home. Finally, we round out the 1st qtr of the season on the Road against a Giants team that has a lot of unaddressed issues.

We need to be 3-1 or 4-0 after the first 4 weeks and we need key wins Versus the Packers and Dallas. That will send a message and that will shock the NFL.

Posted on: April 22, 2010 1:45 pm
Edited on: April 24, 2010 12:16 pm

My top 6 Keys to the 2010 Season (Part1):

While it’s easy to play the “I told you so” game after the season is over, it’s a little more difficult to pin-point prior to the season. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty excited about Jay Cutler coming to Chicago. For years, all we had been hearing (I’m taking a shot at the media) was how the team was “lacking just one thing: a QB.” And now we had one…

I was able to easily gloss over all the safety issues we had with one quick comment:  “With Jay Cutler running the offense, we will not lead the league in 3 and outs, thereby making our defense better…”

How completely wrong I was. I think it’s important to note that in 3 of the 4 blow-outs last year,  (Vikings G1, Bengals, and Cardinals) Jay Cutler had about as much to do with losing as my 84 year old neighbor who for some reason likes to walk around outside in his boxers, black socks and sandals.

With that, I want to lay out my top 3 “No Brainers” to winning in 2010 (Part 1), and my 3 “Not so Obvious Keys to winning.” (Part 2)

Top 3  “No Brainers”

#1)  Brian Urlacher must play at pro-bowl caliber.
So, yea, this seems like a no brainer. But, the truth is I have seen a ton of people on these boards saying that Lance Briggs is the Bears best defensive player. And, while I would maybe agree that he has been “playing the best statistically at his position” for the last few seasons,  there is no way in the world he is the team’s best defensive player.  And he’s certainly not the most important player on D.

The Middle Line Backer position is far and away the most important player on the defense in the Cover 2.  Other than calling out offensive sets and positioning the D to handle,  Urlacher must be able to shed the lead block and stop the rush between the tackles, and also fill a gap when the ball is run outside the Tackles.  But more importantly, he needs to be fast enough and smart enough to know when it’s play action, and get back into coverage and plug the Middle deep hole. Urlacher does this better than ANY MLB I have ever seen.

However, he was hurt in 2007, and recovering from neck surgery in 2008. We all know what happened in 2009. The last time you can say he played great was 2006. We need a healthy and charged Urlacher. We need him at 2006 levels.

#2)  Tommie Harris must be a force. 
What I would love is by game 3 or 4 in 2010, we have not heard one comment like these (actual):

“This guy gets a fat contract and ever since then has just acted like a big baby !! what a punk!! Just shut up and play ball!! Gees..”
“Tommie Harris is a joke and a waste of space. ANYBODY we put in there instead of him is an upgrade.  My mother could play better.”
“Harris is the biggest disapointement ever.”
“I’d trade Tommie for a 7th rounder and a box of doughnuts right now”

I chose the word “force” specifically because I honestly don’t think he HAS to play at 2006 pre-leg-ripped-in-half levels. But he does need to be at least as good as he looked in the win over the Vikings. In that game he had a measly 3 tackles and 0 sacks. But, what is not being told in the stats is the pressure he was getting up the middle and how the Vikings had to double team him most of the second half. With wild cards at the other DT position and RDE, Harris needs to be the other guy people worry about besides Julius Peppers. If both of these guys can pull constant double teams, create havoc, and disrupt the QB, we should see our secondary play much better and be able to take advantage of a lot of bad passes.

#3 Mike Martz and Cutler MUST meld.
It has been taken now as “fact” that Mike Martz teams throw a lot of interceptions. It is also taken as fact that Cutler throws more INT’s than TD’s. Well, I want to dispel both of these” facts”. They are exaggerations started by fans of teams who lost both guys. AKA Jilted Lovers.

For starters: in 1999, Kurt Warner threw 41 TD’s to 13 INTs under Martz. In 2000, Warner and Trent Green combined for 5500 yards (5500 yards!!!), and a 36 to 22 TD to INT ratio.  In 2001, Warner threw for 4800 yards and a 36 to 22 TD to INT ratio. My point:  That’s 113 TD’s to 57 INTS over 3 years with Martz. A smart QB in Martz’ system can have a 2 to 1 TD to INT Ratio.  Even Marc Bulger  posted a 95 to 59 TD to INT ratio under Martz’ system.

Cutler has throw 81 TD’s versus 63 INT’s over his career. That’s a plus 19. Not great, but considering 26 of those INT’s came last year, I think we can surely look through the B.S. and see potential.

Martz QB’s over the last 10 years have averaged almost 4500 yards per year and about 280 per game.  Cutler has average 3900 per year (excluding his 1st year when he only played in 5 games)  and 245 yards per game. 

I could honestly deal with a 4500 36/18 year from Cutler, I'd kill for a 5500 41/13 year…

(Little known fact about Mike Martz: In 1998 he was the QB coach for the Redskins and helped a little known QB who was selected 222 overall in the 8th round, named Trent Green to a 3500 yard 23 TD, 11 INT season in 14 Games.)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com