I finished last week’s piece by saying I still didn’t know who this Bears team was. And after Week 3, another nationally televised road victory, I still don’t know. And what I mean by that, is that I don’t know what I can count on seeing each week from the Bears. I have seen individual performances that have stuck out and specific concerns I see going forward, but as a unit I don’t know yet what type of team this is. And so early in the season that might not be a big deal as long as they are able to pull out wins the way they have been doing while they discover and establish their identity.
Jay Cutler has done a nice job bouncing back from a Week 1 that saw him making all of the Cutler-esque mistakes we’ve grown weary of seeing from him, and have questioned if they would ever be fixable. The last two weeks Cutler has been accurate, avoided turnovers and managed both games effectively. He has thrown 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. Now I am aware that there have been several “almosts” in terms of turnovers, and Cutler is and always will be a guy who makes impossible looking throws with very little margin for error, but he has been completing them – including an incredible throw to Martellus Bennett on the first touchdown of the game Monday night. But the big difference is now seeing him throw the ball away and take sacks in those situations where his tendency is to force the throw. But what he has not done is turn the ball over, which I believe has been a major factor in these wins. And he has done it with his two top receivers at less than 100% and an ineffective run game.
But the thing that has struck me in these first few weeks has been the improvement of the defense. Still nowhere near the dominating defenses of the Lovie Smith era, but forcing turnovers, making red zone stops and putting the offense in a position to win games. They are taking the ball away at such a higher rate than they did last year, and many of the new players they brought in have been making significant impacts. Most notably for me, Willie Young and Kyle Fuller. The former currently leads the league in sacks, the latter in interceptions. That I did not see coming. And while this defense still isn’t dominating, some of these individual performances are doing enough to win these games until they can come together as a unit.
The biggest issue has been and continues to be injuries. Like I said, Marshall and Jeffrey are still not playing at 100%, and probably won’t be all year. The offensive line is still missing significant pieces, as is the defensive line. And in this game, the secondary was depleted to the point where we almost didn’t have anyone to put out there in the fourth quarter. And while these aren’t exactly Pro-Bowlers getting injured, they are significant role players on a team where depth is not exactly a strength. Its hard to develop an identity when you have a revolving door at this many positions.
So after three games the Bears are 2-1, and things don’t get any easier anytime soon. The next three weeks the Bears have the Packers at home, and then go on the road to face Carolina and Atlanta, all teams with playoff potential and explosive offenses. These last two games may have been won with a lot of luck, and they may need more in the coming weeks to stay over .500 heading into the bye week. Nobody is running away with the division right now. As we have learned, early season success doesn’t always mean playoff appearances. I can see this team putting together an 11 win season, and I can also still see them finishing the year 8-8 or 9-7 and missing the playoffs. They need to continue to improve on offense (particularly in the run game), find consistency on defense, win the turnover battle and most importantly, they need to get and stay healthy.
This week I’d like to see a step forward from the defense. They need to put pressure on Aaron Rogers and continue to stop the run, which starts with the defensive line. I want to see the rookies continue to progress as they will need to be a big part of that success. Cutler needs to continue to play smart – but most importantly, flawed as they may be, they just need to keep finding ways to win. It doesn’t have to be pretty.