Before the Bears Hibernate

As with most years the Chicago Bears 2010 season ended on a sour note. The 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game still doesn’t sit well with Chicago coaches, players and fans. Another NFL off season is upon us and, unlike a typical year where the draft and free agency dominate the NFL headlines, the heavy discussion this year will revolve around the pending lockout. Before the talk of a shortened NFL season takes over the air waves, it’s important to reflect on what we learned from the 2010 Chicago Bears season.

If Jay Cutler was judged solely by the criticism he received after (and during) the NFC Championship game we would believe the Bears have a fragile quarterback who quits while on the big stage. If a more holistic look at his season is taken though we should appreciate Cutler missing only one game after taking 52 sacks, the most in the NFL this year and the highest one season total in his 4+ year career. The Bears quarterback has a way to go to become the All Pro face of the franchise that we expected in 2009 but, with an amazing arm and undeniable toughness, is one position Jerry Angelo shouldn’t be losing sleep about at night.

I have never been a Lovie Smith supporter. His smugness with the media doesn’t endear him to fans and his Cover 2 defense isn’t as exciting to watch as the Steelers or Jets blitzing schemes. But Smith, along with Martz, Marinelli, Tice and Toub led the Bears to an NFC North Championship and an 11-5 record after most analysts predicted a 3rd place finish in their division. Smith has the respect and support of ownership, the General Manager and his own players who appreciate his support in front of the media and direct, business-like manner in the locker room. If the Bears had a GM that could draft better, Lovie would thrive as the Bears head coach for many years to come. If Angelo remains at the helm, Smith may not make it past his next contract extension. After this year I can finally see Lovie Smith for what he is, a quality head coach.

The home of the Chicago Bears is Soldier Field. It is owned and managed by the Chicago Park District though. The talk around the league this year (as with previous years) was about how poor the natural grass playing surface is. CPD and the Bears have not shown interest in paying to switch to the more player-friendly field turf which would hold up better in Chicago’s harsh winters. The Chicago Park District continues to allow concerts, high school football games, soccer tournaments and other events to tear up the grass preventing it from being in proper shape for NFL home games. Until a comprise is reached between the city and the team, the Bears remain at the mercy of the Chicago Park District when it comes to the playing surface and game day conditions.

In 2010 the Chicago Bears ranked 21st in average player age at 25.83. The Redskins are the oldest at 27.33 and the Panthers are the youngest at 25.00. That information along with a review of the current Bears Depth Chart tell me the team will only climb the age rankings in the coming years. The key defensive players are all on the wrong side of 30: Urlacher (32), Peppers (31) and Briggs (30). On the offensive side the starters are younger but, aside from Cutler and maybe Forte, none are guaranteed a long-term position with the team. The Super Bowl window for the Bears will close much sooner than a team like the Eagles (ranked 29th) so they’ll need to make the most of the few good years their veteran stars have left.

An 11-5 record made this year’s Bears season a fun one to watch. With the pending lockout no one is sure what next season will bring but with some improvements on the field and in the front office, the Bears should have a good chance at competing for another NFC North title next year.

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