1. Decision Making at QB: #8 Rex Grossman had a roller coaster season last year. He threw for 23 scores but also threw 20 to the opposition. Too many times when pressured or hurried, Rex would make a poor decision that resulted in a pick. He needs to limit the bad decision-making this year, or he will have a repeat performance from ’06 with 20 or more interceptions. Opposing teams will be licking their chops when it comes to Grossman this year. Whether it be his awfully low completion percentage (54.6%), his holding on the ball too long, turning into sacks, or his accuracy problem, hitting wide receivers in stride is something he needs to work on, #8 will have no excuse to turn in a good productive year because of new weapons added to the offense. Defenses will feast on his inability to be confident in the pocket. He has to improve his awareness and step into his passes as rushers come to blitz him. If you do not see his pocket presence no different from the second half of last season, expect more of the same results that irritated Bears fans and coaches. Rex needs to step up this year if the Bears want to make it back to the Super Bowl, period.
2. Lack of QB Pressure: The Bears do not blitz too often, as they run a Cover 2 Defense, dropping LB’s back most of the time into coverage. With Tommie Harris and Mike Brown hurt last year, that limited what they could do in attacking the quarterback and stopping the run. With the Bears getting low sacks numbers from Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye last year, it suprised me how many takeaways they still managed to get. The Bears need their those two defensive ends to create more havoc for QB’s. The safeties will need to play steady in coverage if the Bears give opposing QB’s lots of time to sit and find open receviers. Another year with inconsistent pressure will add more reliance on the secondary of Chicago.
3. Unexperienced Running Attack: In dealing Thomas Jones to the New York Jets, the Bears left a big void in the backfield, leaving Cedric Benson the duties of the main workhorse RB. The only thing Benson has proved in the pros has been his consistency to get hurt. His season in ’05 ended against the 49ers in Week 10 due to his knee. In SB XLI against Indy he hurt his knee once again, and did not return. The Bears offense will need to continue to run the ball effectively and often if they want to win 13 games again this season. Benson’s back-ups this year are Adrian Peterson (3rd string special teamer) and Rookie Garrett Wolfe (5 foot 7 back), they are similiar to Benson, in they both are not used to the roles they are expected to handle this year. The running game will need contributions from all three of these young backs. This team will be in a lot of trouble if they leave it up to the passing game to take on a big assignment they cannot handle, as shown in ’06.
4. Health concerns and absences: With Terry Johnson now gone and out of the way and Lance Briggs crying about holding out, the Bears will need some young replacements at the DT and weak outside linebacker positions to be ready to possibly start. And with that already an issue to look into, you have to know the Bears have had key player injuries that prevented them on the defensive side of the ball. The impact of the injuries were costly when Indy ran all over the Bear run defense. Mike Brown and Tommie Harris will need to stay healthy if the Bears want to be a top defense in the NFL. They bring too much to the table and their presence in the run defense is valuable. They cannot be replaced with players like Dusty Dvorachek, Anthony Adams, Chris Harris, and other role players. No one can take on their job defensively and they need to be at full strength. Injuries to an aging offensive line could also be a major concern. This Bears roster has little depth behind the O-Line and they have to be counted on to start together in each game, for the run game and pass protection to succeed. This Bears team has to be healthy at its core positions.
5. Can you expect more of the same from last year’s performance: The Bears got their 7 TD returns from Devin Hester, 44 takeaways, 23 scores from their QB, solid 1-2 punch at RB, WR production from 1 through 3, big year from their TE, near perfect health on the O-Line, 12 sacks from a Rookie DE, and career years from their Kicker and Punter. Can they count on all of that again this year? Probably not, and if so, they are in trouble to advance this year in the playoffs. The NFC is not nearly as stacked as the AFC is, but you can expect Seattle, Carolina, Atlanta, Dallas, Philly, Washington, San Fran, St. Louis, and New Orleans to either be improved, or tougher as teams to compete against. Even the weak NFC North teams in Detroit and Minnesota got better. Can you expect Home Field Advantage again? Will you catch breaks like in the Monday Night vs. Arizona and in the Minnesota game at home? Will Robbie Gould come up clutch all the time (missing only a few FG’s)? Will this tough schedule including five nite games (3 Sunday, 1 Monday, and 1 Thursday) and teams that include @ San Diego (Week One), Dallas Sunday Night (Week 3), @ Philly (Week 7), @ Seattle Sunday Night (Week 11), Denver (Week 12), back-to-back road night games vs. Washington (Thursday) and Minnesota (Monday), and Week 17 against New Orleans ~ impose problems for the Chicago Bears in 2007? Did they get significantly better? Not really if you think about it. This year will be tougher to get back to the big game because they will be known with a big-sized bullseye on their chest. Will the Bears “roar” back, be loud enough to land them in Arizona – February 3rd?