In his second year in Mike Martz’s version of the “Air Coryell offense,” Jay Cutler was taking steps towards the elite class of NFL quarterbacks. He got off to a rocky start in the first half of the season, but when the offense—for the second season in a row—was dialed back, we saw Jay flourish as a passer and as a leader. That’s what made his season-ending thumb injury so unfortunate, considering we were witnessing Jay Cutler’s evolution as a QB.
Caleb Hanie, on the other hand, just might have played his way out of the league. When your passer rating is just one point above the punter’s passer rating—who only had one attempt on a fake punt—well, it’s bad.
Josh McCown was brought in as the Bears’ veteran back-up to Hanie, and he played serviceable when given the opportunity during the last two games of the season. And we didn’t get a chance to see Nathan Enderle in action, simply because he wasn’t ready.
Off-season outlook: Whoever becomes the Bears’ new G.M. will need to effectively build around Jay Cutler and give him as much talent as possible in an effort to get the most out of his potential. The Bears should also be in the hunt for a back-up QB as Hanie is clearly not the answer and McCown should get no more than an invite to compete for the role.
Other than meatball fans and … Jerry Angleo, most people realize that Matt Forte is the truth. For the fourth season in a row, Forte has compiled 1,400 or more total yards from scrimmage. He compiled 997 rushing yards and 490 receiving yards in 2011 through just 12 games (season ended due to an MCL sprain).
When Matt went down, Marion Barber took over and underwhelmed at the position with poor field awareness. He made costly mistakes, which cost the Bears at least one win against the Broncos in mid-December, and you could argue that he cost the Bears a second win earlier in the season against the Chiefs due to an illegal formation penalty.
Kahlil Bell played well in two of the three games he started towards the end of the season but his three fumbles during that time span are concerning. Armando Allen showed good burst running between blockers but was nothing special.
Off-season outlook: The first priority for the Bears’ new G.M. should be to franchise tag Forte if they can’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal. Forte is one of those “Core Players” Phillips was referring to in his press conference a couple of days ago. I can’t see how Barber is brought back since he played a significant hand in the Bears’ Playoff elimination. I think you can live with Bell as the second back behind Forte, but they might need to find another player for depth behind him and Forte.
This group was pretty much smoke and mirrors to a certain extent, as Cutler hid the unit’s flaws in pass protection. They had some great moments from a pass protection standpoint (see Eagles game) but had a hard time with consistency when Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown took snaps behind Center.
For its struggles in pass protection, Mike Tice’s group was very impressive in the run blocking department. The group was one of the main reasons why the team rushed for 2,015 yards and ranked ninth in yards per average with 125.9.
Off-Season outlook: The team has two young players who they can build around in RT Gabe Carimi and LG Chris Williams. Chris Spencer played well at RG this season and Roberto Garza transitioned well from guard to center. The weakest Links on the line are LT J’Marcus Webb and RT Lance Louis. Webb was inconsistent throughout the season and certainly didn’t help himself in the final game against Jared Allen. Louis is more suited as an interior lineman, where his strength and athleticism stand out the most. The Bears need to go into this off-season looking for a LT and maybe a C that they can groom behind Garza.
A position that has consistently failed for years—to no surprise—failed again this season. RB Matt Forte was the Bears’ leading receiver in receptions with 52, while Knox led the team in yards with 727.
Roy Williams was added in the off-season in hopes that he could revive his career under the coordinator who seemed to have gotten the most out of his talent many years ago in Mike Martz. The experiment failed miserably as Roy couldn’t live up to the hype the coaches heaped upon him in training camp.
Earl Bennett was the most reliable WR out the bunch, but once Jay went down, he became invisible.
Off-Season outlook: Even if Johnny Knox didn’t suffer a career-threatening injury, WR would still be a desperate need for the Bears. The Devin Hester #1 WR experiment needs to stop, and Roy Williams shouldn’t even be allowed back in the parking lot at Halas Hall. This is one position that the Bears need to address in both free agency and the draft. You can maximize Bennett and Knox’s abilities if they are complimented with two legit starters at the flanker and split-end positions.
Tight Ends/Full Backs
Funny that Martz doesn’t have room for a pass-receiving TE in his scheme, and yet Kellen Davis led the team in touchdowns with five. The good news for Davis is that with a former NFL tight end in Mike Tice leading the way as the Bears’ offensive coordinator, Davis might get a legit chance to flourish as a receiver. And the head coach went out of his way in his annual end of the year press conference to express the potential Davis has as a pass receiving TE.
Matt Spaeth did a nice job in both the run and pass blocking department this season, and he provided the Bears with a big target on goal line plays. Tyler Clutts was a surprise this season for Bears fans as he played a major role in the team’s success in the ground game.
Off-Season outlook: The Bears have nice depth at TE in Matt Spaeth and young players like Kyle Adams and Andre Smith; all of whom are decent run and pass blockers. The eventual G.M. will need to decide if Kellen Davis can be the receiving TE the Bears are missing, or if he needs to go out and find one.