In 2006, the Chicago Bears earned a trip to Super Bowl XLI. Bears fans a generation short of the famed 1985 truly believed that ’06 team was going to be their chance to see what a championship felt like. But, in the end, it wasn’t. The Bears ultimately squandered opportunities against the Colts that afternoon in February of ’07, and it’s been an uphill battle ever since.
Now, nearly five seasons removed from that Super Bowl trip, it’s hard to actually believe fans had been starting to compare that 2006 team to the 1985 team, but they were.
This season, for the first time since 2006, and before a single down has even been played, fans already feel like this season could be the team’s second chance to get it right. And such discussion has prompted some to ask which team is better, or better still, which team would come out on top in a hypothetical match-up between the 2006 and 2012 Chicago Bears?
Quite a few other writers have touched on this very subject, and all of them have great takes on how it might ultimately turn out. So, I figured I would go ahead and take a stab at it a little differently. Here’s the way I see it:
First off, the match-up is significantly closer than most might be programmed to think. Your average fan will sit around and say, "BUT THAT GROSSMAN GUY SUCKS! OF COURSE THIS YEAR’S BEARS ARE BETTER!" But, like it or not, Rex did help that team get to the Super Bowl.
Once I really started to compare, I found it was closer than even I had initially thought.
How did I do it “differently?” The comparison I will make is between the 2006 Chicago Bears team that actually took the field against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI and the projected starters on the 2012 team. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Love him or hate him, he was a complete monster the first half of the season (besides the "THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE" game). Rex Grossman threw for 1,639 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in what was his first stretch of games ever staying healthy. As far as what ultimately happened . . . well, you know the story. But, despite what the “Meatball Lobe” of your brain wants you to think, he did help the Bears in the playoffs.
The last we saw of Jay Cutler, he was on metaphorical fire, tossing up 1,110 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions during a five-game win streak. One of those interceptions—due to a patented Knox slip and fall—resulted in the broken thumb which would extinguish Cutler’s hot run, just as Jay was becoming the player (and leader, for that matter) that Bears fans had hoped he would be.
Final verdict: Jay Cutler, if not obviously, gets the nod. Even without Marshall or Jeffery to throw to, Jay’s clearly in a league above Rex.
Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson were a great one-two punch, and an absolute blast to watch. And let’s face it: Thomas Jones was just Da Man during his Bears days (and even for a while after that). He will forever be one of my favorite Bears. Together, Jones and Benson rushed for 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns. The duo was very good.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush just might actually prove to be the best running back tandem in the league. Both can catch out of the backfield, and Forte never drops a pass. In fact, they are two of the top-10 receiving backs in the game.
Final Verdict: Forte and Bush are just plain better. Bush is a starting caliber running back on most teams, and Forte is elite. As good as Jones and Benson were, it’s really not that close in my mind.
Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian, Mark Bradley and Rashied Davis were a serviceable set of wide receivers. Berrian ran fast and straight, as Rex zipped the ball into his hands. He was the only real big-play threat out of that group. Mark Bradley, when healthy, was a solid player, but certainly nothing special. His knee injury in 2005 destroyed anything he may have once had. Moose wasn't awful, but he was not, by any means, great. This group was just that: not great.
The 2012 group could be one of the better receiving cores in football (on paper). Marshall is a top-5 wideout who will always demand a double-team. If Jeffery is in shape, he could have a huge rookie year, especially if he learns to take advantage of how much attention Marshall garners. Bennett is as sure-handed a receiver as there is in the NFL when healthy, and he, too, could be set for a breakout season with Marshall in the mix. Until he proves otherwise, Devin Hester is a non-factor on offense.
Final Verdict: The 2012 group is so far ahead of the ‘06 group it’s scary. Easy.
This one is interesting to me. Dez Clark played very good in 2006. He had just over 600 yards and six touchdowns. While those aren't world beater numbers, he contributed a lot of big plays throughout the season and into the playoffs. He was also a reliable blocker.
There is some hype surrounding Kellen Davis now that the offense is Martz-less. With his ridiculous size and surprising speed, he could be primed for a break out year. But he’s proved nothing, and I can’t give him credit for what he might do.
Final Verdict: This is tough, but I would have to call it even. Dez Clark did it all in 2006, whereas the 2012 Bears have Davis and Spaeth to hopefully do more.
The 2006 offensive line was no great force up front, but they played very well for most of the season. They surrendered just 26 sacks (including during the post season). Those numbers are significantly better than the train-wreck of a line that is the Bears’ current group, which gave up 49 total sacks last season.
Many people believe that this season’s offensive line will be greatly improved now that Martz is no longer calling the shots. While that sounds great, it might not be the reality. Time will tell, but this group definitely has too many questions for comfort.
Final Verdict: Hands down, the 2006 group. By a landslide.
Brown, Ogunleye, Tank Johnson, and Ian Scott were a pretty solid group. Even without Tommie Harris (he missed the Super Bowl with a hamstring injury), they were productive. Mark Anderson coming off the edge was seemingly unstoppable on passing downs at times. Their sack total was 40, which ranked eighth in the league.
Peppers gets the edge over Ogunleye by a country mile, and I would have to say that Idonije is just a notch below Alex Brown. Brown was the better overall player, though. Melton could be a better player than Tank Johnson this year if he continues to improve. I would say that Paea’s potential is worth far more than what Ian Scott brought to the group. If Shae McClellin can manage to contribute a handful of sacks, this 2012 group might be more productive than the 2006 Super Bowl group.
Final Verdict: Too close to call. If we’re including Tommie Harris (which I’m not, because I said I would use the team that played in SBXLI), the ’12 group loses until they prove otherwise. Do with that what you will.
Well, there isn't much of an explanation needed for this one. Urlacher and Briggs are obviously still playing, but I’ll take the younger, faster, better versions of them any day. As for the Hunter Hillenmeyer vs. Nick Roach/Geno Hayes argument, you can have it if you want. I won’t.
Final Verdict: 2006.
Chris Harris and Danieal Manning playing safety in 2006 is something I have tried to forget over and over. Anyone who's a regular reader of this site will remember exactly how I feel about Chris Harris. I didn't like him in 2006, and I still don't. He repeatedly took horrible pursuit angles and can’t cover. Danieal Manning as a rookie in 2006 was just okay. This was definitely a safety combo that wasn't going to win you anything. Peyton Manning proved that when Harris blew coverage on Reggie Wayne, which resulted in a Colts’ touchdown. While he did have a pick in XLI, it doesn't mean much if you lose. A younger Charles Tillman is a good thing, and Nathan Vasher was still a guy you didn't want to test with a poorly thrown ball his way. Overall, without Mike Brown, the secondary was very easily exposed by a good quarterback.
The 2006 secondary is just as suspect. Chris Conte played okay last season, but he’s not there yet. Major Wright has all the athletic ability you could ever want, but no football instincts whatsoever. Tim Jennings is more of a consistent corner than Vasher was, but he can't catch anything thrown his way. Charles Tillman is almost the same guy, just six years older. Brandon Hardin honestly has to make an impact for this group to be better—and that’s actually kinda depressing.
Two very different groups, but both just as bad as the other.
Final Verdict: The 2006 group wins by a nose thanks to a younger, faster Charles Tillman.
Young Hester vs. old Hester is basically the argument here. The Devin Hester who ran back two kick offs against the Rams, is hands down the fastest player I have ever seen. Watch those kick returns and try to argue with me. You can’t. The Windy City Flyer caught the league by surprise that year, and well, they still can't stop him. The only people who can affect Devin, are Rodger Goodell and his rules committee.
Gould is consistently hitting 50+ yard kicks now, and its touchback central for him since the rules are different. 2012 Gould is a better kicker. Punting is pretty close, too. I might be the biggest Brad Maynard fan in history, and I’ll even say that Adam Podlesh made the transition utterly seamless.
Final Verdict: It’s even in my eyes. Hester was a step faster back then, and the league had no clue how to stop him. But now the Bears also have Pro Bowler return-man Eric Weems in the mix. But really, picking between Bears’ special teams units of recent is like trying to figure out whether to wear a Mike Ditka or Walter Payton jersey: either way, you can’t go wrong.
Lovie, Lovie, Lovie . . . so we meet again. As a head coach, Lovie Smith manages the clock better these days than he used to. He also wins more challenges than he did six years ago. His percentages are up, but it’s still a struggle for him. Ron Rivera's defensive scheme was really never topped once he left Chicago. Rod Marinelli does a solid job running this defense, but it is a different style, even though it’s all under the Tampa-2 umbrella.
Mike Tice already is an upgrade over (pardon this awful name being brought up) Ron Turner. But I’ll tell you what: Ron Turner doesn't look so bad after the Mike Martz experience. But Tice is formulating the offense around Jay and his skills. Also, Turner did not allow the QB to call audibles in his system. He believed that if you ran his offense the way it was supposed to be run, it would work every time. (Mike Martz anyone?)
Final Verdict: The 2012 coaching staff gets the nod. The only position not upgraded is the defensive coordinator. Ron Rivera will always win that argument in my eyes.
So, having said all of that, the last thing to do is see how the two teams would actually match-up . . .
The Bears’ 2012 offense vs. the Bears’ 2006 secondary would cause plenty of fits for the ’06 group. Both of those safeties would get badly beaten over the top. They would have had a hard time covering this offense as a whole. Just like the Colts’ running backs abused the ‘06 defense, I would expect the same or more from Forte and Bush. Overall, the 2012 offense would out-match the 2006 defense.
The 2006 offense vs. the 2012 defense would actually be interesting. You have old Urlacher over the middle vs. a productive Dez Clark. We've seen Urlacher start to slow down big time, and don't deny that. I think that, provided the line blocks for Rex, he would be able to throw over the middle on this current group. And with the young safeties in Conte and the rest of the gang, if the ‘06 run game got going at all, Rex could connect on a big play-action pass deep to Berrian. But in the end, there’s always the Peppers factor.
Overall, I think there would be more scoring than anyone will be willing to admit. If Mike Brown and Tommie Harris were healthy, this argument would certainly be a different one. A 2006 Tommie Harris would eat up the 2012 offensive line.
Now, is this kind of an unfair comparison? Yes and no. I wanted to give a different assessment than you may have already seen, so I compared the team that suited up in Miami. Since Mike Brown barely played and Tommie got hurt in week-12, why not compare the team that finished the season?
In reality, I wouldn’t pencil the 2012 group in for a win over the 2006 group very easily—especially with Tommie Harris in the mix. The 2012 group has the potential to be better and, if they prove that, could earn another trip to the Super Bowl and, this time, take home the victory. That would certainly silence this argument for good.
Filed under: Interest