Posted on: September 6, 2011 11:35 am

My Key's to the 2011 Season

I guess before I begin, it makes sense to define what successful is to me. Last year, I would have said a winning record would be successful and a playoff spot would have been icing on the cake. If you would have told me that the Bears would finish second overall in the NFC, and win the division, and be playing for the NFC Championship, I probably would have told you to take a reality pill or 2 and call me in the morning.

It goes to show you anything can happen in the NFL. A few years back, the Bengals, like the Bears were picked to finish last in the division. They surprised everyone. Last year, the Cowboys were supposed to easily cruise to the NFCE division title. They finished last. Last year the Packers were supposed to easily win the division. Yet, they barely lucked into the playoffs with help from other teams losing and an untimely Mike Martz heave-a-thon.

So this year, I would say 10 wins for this team would be successful. Anything less is just hitting around expectations. Most analysts have them finishing at or below .500. Most have them finishing behind the Lions. Clark Judge (who picked them to finish last in the division in 2010) has them finishing behind the Lions as well. So I’m saying 10 and 6 would be a good season. Of course, a SB win would be incredible...

In no particular order:

#1 – Stay healthy.

The Bears did have some injuries last year. But most were short term and low impact. Cutler, Briggs, Pisa, Wright, and Chris Williams all missed games. The key was that the injuries were relatively spread out, and only the Briggs injury seemed to impact the team as a whole.

#2 – Red Zone offense success

In a word, we were pathetic. Especially in goal line situations. In fact, we went 0-12 in goal line situations to start the season. We've looked less than stellar so far in pre-season. But, we’ve kept a full back on the roster and added Speath. We've also grown on the line (averaging about 20 lbs per player more). But the biggest add is Barber. I think Martz needs to mix it up from the 20, but when we get to the goal we need to punch the defense in the face.

#3 - Rookies, rejects and Free Agent’s step up…

If you haven’t been keeping up to date on the Bears roster moves, get ready for a new-look team. Gone are some of the perennial players like Olin Kreutz, Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison, Pisa Tinoisomoa, Rashied Davis, Garrett Wolfe, Brad Maynard, and Danieal Manning. In their place, we have 19 new faces… Nineteen! That’s turnover of 36% of our 53 man roster in one year.

Some guys are expected to be special teamers. Some are expected to compete for starting positions. Some are expected to see a ton of playing time, in critical situations. All are expected to contribute immediately.

Here are your new Chicago Bears:

  1. Gabe Carimi – OT – 1st draft pick. Our new starting RT. He’s looked very impressive in pre-season.
  2. Kyle Adams – TE – Probably won’t see much time other than special teams
  3. Mario Addison – DE - I really like this kid. So does Lovie…
  4. Marion Barber – RB – Expected to immediately solve short yardage. I think he can do way more.
  5. Chris Conte – S- Rookie safety. He’ll see lots of time on special teams.
  6. Roy Williams – WR – Our new #1… ugh…
  7. Winston Venable – S – No one can deny that this kid can hit… Will see a lot of time on ST’s.
  8. Chris Spencer – C – playing the role of back-up for now. Most think he will be starting in a few weeks.
  9. Matt Spaeth – TE - I believe he has potential to be out biggest pick-up. He is (so far) everything we hoped Manu would be.
  10. Adam Podlesh – P -I wasn’t super impressed with his leg in pre-season. But, he can’t be weaker than Maynard, can he?
  11. Nick Reed – DE - A guy with a non-stop motor. I really liked this kid. Probably gets moved to the practice squad when Corey Wootton comes back though.
  12. Stephen Paea – DT – Our #2 draft pick. Adds depth at this point, but still haven’t seen much from him.
  13. Amobi Okoye DT – One of my favorite pickups. I may be wrong, but I think he has ALL of the Bears pre-season sacks…
  14. Brandon Meriweather – S – A back-to-back pro-bowler. I hope he lives up to where he was drafted. If he does, what an awesome steal.
  15. Sam Hurd – WR – Big tall targte. Looked good out there. Will play a lot of special teams.
  16. Nathan Enderle – QB – 5th round draft. If he is on the field, we are in serious trouble…
  17. Dom DeCicco – LB – Played Safety in college. Can he really bulk up and make an impact at MLB?
  18. Dane Sanzenbacher - WR - Outshined pretty much all receivers in pre-season.
  19. Will Ta’ufo’ou – FB – Was on the practice squad last year so not new to team. But not only is he new to 53 man roster, he also brings back a position we did not have last year.

#4 - Time for this offense to click.

Pre-season records are meaningless. But the pre-season eye test and stats are not. Coaches are looking at everything and just about every stat other than W/L in preseason. Cutler has played about 4 quarters this pre-season. All came against our opponents first team defenses. I'd give Cutler an A. He has put up 350 yards averaging 8 yards per pass. He’s looked poised, quick, and confident in this offense.

As important, the offense as a whole has done very well overall. We have owned the TOP in all 4 games (averaging almost 34 minutes). This success is directly linked to our ability to covert 3rd downs (40%) and in general, keep the ball moving – with 93 first downs total. And before you start in on the “it’s just pre-season” noise, know we held opponents to just 55 total first downs on about 33%.

The point is, this offense is showing signs of maturing. It could really click. And if it does, it’s going to be a fun ride.

#5 – Offensive line MUST play better than 2010.

Quite possibly the most important key... But, let’s not beat this dead horse to death. I'll be quick. We sucked in 2010. 53 sacks. The line is probably the main reason we did not go to the SB. We’re much bigger up front, but younger. I keep saying, if we can average 2 or less sacks per game, we will be in playoffs. One thing is for sure, we look like we have a pretty solid short yardage group here.

#6 – Vets have to play like Vets.

We have a lot of new talent. But the Vets are going to be expected to shine. Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Israel Idonije, Earl Bennett. We need these guys to play like they can and not the way the “experts” think they will. Lovie needs to keep this team motivated and hungry. Last year, we beat the Packers, Cowboys and Lions to start the season. If we can start the season out the way we did last year, (We have the Falcons, Saints and Packers) look for the Bears bandwagon to fill up quickly again.

Thoughts, questions, corrections, bitching, etc.. are all welcome.

Go Bears!
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.

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