The Chicago Bears have gotten off to a great start in the 2012-13 season, jumping out to a 7-1 record, allowing their fans to believe the preseason Super Bowl hype.
They've won big, they've won ugly and they've lost real ugly. But at the end of the day, the Bears have won seven of their eight games at the midpoint of the season. We here at Bears 101 will breakdown where Chicago has been successful and where they'll need to improve if they hope to play in February.
Sure, the Bears are 7-1, but how much of that is because of Jay Cutler.? Cutler really hasn't been that great this year, and take away his two garbage times touchdowns last week against Tennessee, he's accounted for more turnovers than touchdowns. Anyway, those two are currently deadlocked at 12, and god only knows where the passing game would be without Brandon Marshall.
He's been sacked 28 times and is sixth-worst in the league with a 52.4 completion percentage when facing at least five pass rushers. We don't mean to bash Cutler one bit as he's a leader for this team — something that's very important — but if this team plan to make it to the Super Bowl, he needs to improve his game. Consistent quarterback play is the difference between an early playoff exit, and hoisting a trophy.
Running Backs: B+/A-
If you think this grade is a little too high, look at the numbers again. For as "bad" as the team's offensive line is, the Bears have more than 1,000 yards on the ground this year and are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. There is one telling stat that sets them apart from the majority of the league, however.
The Bears and the New Orleans Saints are the only two teams in the NFL that haven't had a running back fumble the ball on a carry. That's not a stat about fumbles lost, either. This is strictly fumbles. There are a few teams that have fumbled the ball and were able to recover, but the Bears haven't even had to do that to this point of the season. Running backs can't turn the ball over if they don't let it go, and that's exactly what Chicago's running backs have done.
We would like to see the ball in Matt Forte's hands more as the season progresses, and we bet he would agree.
Wide Receivers: B-
Outside of Brandon Marshall, there hasn't really been a bright spot in the receiving corps. In fact, Alshon Jeffery is second on the team in receiving yards (184), and he's missed the past few games. It goes to show that Cutler is looking one way and that's about it. The receivers have caught just less than 60 percent of the targets that have come their way, and rank 27th in the league in yards.
The bright spot for this group is one in the same as the running backs. This group has yet to fumble a ball this season, and that could easily be because they aren't going against their own defense. For the rest of the season, somebody has to emerge opposite Brandon Marshall. We're surprised teams aren't triple covering him now as it is.
This grade shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. This defense has been phenomenal throughout the year. They have forced the most turnovers of any defense, and have returned seven interceptions for touchdowns this season (seven). They lead the league in fumbles forced (17) and are tied for the league lead in interceptions (17).
But where this opportunistic defense has made a name for themselves is in the end zone. The return touchdowns are something the league hasn't seen in a long time, and this defense has challenged the offense this year by scoring as much as they have. They've proven they can take over a game and potentially win on their own. They go after the ball, and when they get it, they look for points. It's a way that only the Chicago Bears play.
Despite all that success, it's weird to think that the Bears rank toward the bottom in number of tackles (475). The league leading team in tackles has 701 to put that into comparison. Just goes to show that the turnovers are keeping them off the field, meaning they're keeping themselves fresh for the rest of the season. The team's improved pass rush has accounted for 24 of the team's 25 sacks on the year, and that added pressure helps in the forcing of turnovers. As long as this defense can keep doing what they're doing, the Bears will have a real shot at a ring.
Special Teams: B
This grade is because of the kicker Robbie Gould, and punter Adam Podlesh. The return game for the Bears hasn't been the return game for the Bears as averages are way down (18.3 on kickoffs and 8.7 on punts). They haven't found the end zone in that department this year, and the one touchdown from special teams came on a blocked punt. Hester almost found day light on a punt return against the Titans, but didn't quite find the end zone. Things may be turning for the return units, but as of now, they've been rather weak.
Gould has made 16-of-18 kicks this year, and knocked home a game-winner against Carolina. He's proven his clutch kicking ability, and has shown he can kick from 50-plus yards. He also hasn't missed an extra point, but that should never happen anyway. Podlesh's punts never get returned. That's a credit to the coverage. Opposing teams have returned punts for a total of 55 yards on his 36 punts. Only the Dallas Cowboys punt coverage has allowed less (41). Exactly one-third of his punts have backed the opposition inside their own 20-yard line as well. That helps win the battle of field position, which should make life easy on the offense.
Overall, the team gets an A because they are 7-1. A few areas start to click, and Chicago will be a very scary team moving into the playoffs.
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