Forget about the 4-6 record. From Opening Day to now, the Chicago Bears are one of the most improved teams in the NFL.
Chicago started 0-3, but began to turn the corner with a victory over Oakland on October fourth, and in fact have won four of their last seven games. Their last three losses at Detroit in overtime, Minnesota and against Denver have all come by three points or less.
The biggest improvement in the Bears is at the quarterback position.
Jay Cutler is having his best statistical season under head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase. He’s much more efficient, taking care of the football and the offense finally suites his talents.
Gase is rolling out Cutler, even running read-option; they are not restricting him to the pocket but taking advantage of his athletic ability. This movement has helped in pass protection (just 14 sacks) for an offensive line that has been in transition all season.
At times Cutler has looked a little like Aaron Rodgers, buying time in or out of the pocket and then throwing accurately down field with that powerful right arm.
Cutler is completing 63.4% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions.
Last year, he authored 18 interceptions and lost six fumbles to lead the league in turnovers. This season, he has six picks and just three fumbles lost- a major improvement.
But quarterback is much more than stats. It’s about intangibles, body language, command in the huddle and vision at the line of scrimmage.
Cutler is much improved in all of these intangible categories ,and that is why the Bears have continued to develop despite season long maladies befalling two of the team’s best players, running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears have gotten great production from rookie 4th round running back Jeremy Langford. The Michigan State speedster (who ran the fastest RB 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) has rushed for 250 yards and five touchdowns and caught 15 passes for 227 yards, including an 83-yard touchdown explosion on a swing pass at St Louis.
Forte has missed the last three games with a knee injury, is in the final year of his contract and probably in his final year in a Chicago Bears uniform. Langford looks like a younger, faster Forte.
At tight end, you know with Martellus Bennett ruled out for the game, keep an eye on #86 Zach Miller. Injury riddled through his career, Miller is healthy and productive this season and the Bears have finally found him!
In the first seven games, Miller was targeted just five times, making one reception. In the last four games, he has been targeted 13 times with 10 catches.
He caught the game winning pass at San Diego on a spectacular one handed grab. The next week in St Louis, he caught two touchdown passes including an 87-yard catch and run!
Miller is the “real deal” and could be a major factor in this game.
One last note: I see Cutler making people around him better (Marquess Wilson, Miller and Langford), and that is something you could not say about this quarterback prior to this year.
The Chicago defense was the biggest challenge for the new coaching staff when the season began, and they have done an outstanding job.
The Bears were trying to fit square pegs into round holes on this side of the ball (Jared Allen) on opening day as they transitioned from a 4-3 base to 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
While this is not an enormously talented group. they are playing Fangio’s defense well as a whole.
The Bears are 14th in yardage, 4th in passing defense and 22nd in points allowed. Where they have been vulnerable is in the run game. giving up 123.7 yards per game. ranking 25th in the NFL.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, a free agent acquisition from the Baltimore Ravens where he was a backup to Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, is the Bears’ best defensive player.
Veteran cornerback Tracy Porter has given this defense a lift in coverage. The former New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl hero has helped stabilize a back line that has been in transition with his competent veteran play.
This defense is a little undersized, especially up the middle where former outside linebacker/defensive end Shea McClellin is working at inside linebacker.
They will be without veteran strong safety Antrel Rolle who has been out due to ankle/knee problems. In his spot is undersized Chris Prosinski (6’-1” 208). He was picked up in late September off the waiver wire from Jacksonville.
Free safety Adrian Amos, the 5th round pick out of Penn State ,is a nice looking prospect who is better in coverage than in the box.
With the weather forecast calling for heavy rain, this is a game that has Eddie Lacy’s name written all over it.