The Bears are 7-1 after eight games - my best case scenario at the start of the season. They are playing their best defense since the vaunted 1985 group, their special teams are coming alive and their offense is beginning, ever so slowly, to find their identity. Before we begin to look at Houston, San Fran and the back eight of the schedule we shall do our best to wrap up the first half.
OFFENSIVE MVP - Brandon Marshall, WR
I spent time last week selling Marshall as a possible MVP of the entire league. He rewarded me by turning in a receiving performance for the Bears ages. On a day in Nashville where the Bears needed minimal offensive output, Marshall caught 9 passes, for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has turned in the eight finest games in Bears receiving history.
Runners Up: none. Jay Cutler has yet to hit his stride and Matt Forte simply hasn't been given enough reps.
DEFENSIVE MVP - Charles "Peanut" Tillman, CB
I am sparing some of you. You know who you are. The folks who commented below or emailed me things like "Are the Bears going to cut Tillman?" after he struggled mightily in a meaningless preseason game at the Meadowlands. I am sparing you because I have a heart. Tillman hasn't only been the best defensive player on the Bears. He's been the best defensive player in the sport and he's turned his patented ball punch/fumble force into a near-mythological feat.
Even President Obama endorsed Tillman as Defensive POY:
Runners Up: Lance Briggs is playing as well as I've ever seen him play and Tim Jennings is complimenting Peanut's shutdown side with the perfect amount of speed and ballhawk.
COACH OF THE YEAR - Lovie Smith, Head Coach
I've given this prize at year's end to Dave Toub several years in a row but Lovie has been a masterful leader in 2012. He's developed terrific young talent along the defensive line and not struggled with the challenge/clock issues that have dogged his past on the sideline. He may finally be settling in as a terrific head coach.
Runner Up: Rod Marinelli's mixing of looks pre and post snap has been a thing of beauty and kept opposing quarterbacks uneasy all year.
FIVE THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST HALF AND BEYOND
- Matt Forte is averaging five yards a carry and nine yards a reception. He is also averaging just north of 15 touches a game. That number doesn't need to go up. He needs to go up DOUBLE DIGITS. Forte is a weapon in the passing game and its on Tice and Cutler to make sure he is utilized. (If he touches the ball less than 25 times against the Texans and Niners, I think the Bears may lose both games.)
- If the team has an Achilles heel it is what we saw on that awful Thursday night in Green Bay. The Bears offensive line can run block and they can even pass protect in spots. But if the Bears find themselves down two touchdowns late and HAVE to throw they simply won't hold up against the game's better pass rushing lines. Fortunately for the Bears their defense has not allowed many folks to get up multiple scores.
- Was the first half of the schedule easier than the second? Of course. But it's not as if the Bears struggled to win games. (Outside of one poor effort against the Carolina Panthers.) The Bears will be favored for a majority of their second half games but there won't be any 51-20s to be found. One of the reasons the Bears offense hasn't played a complete four quarters is they haven't HAD TO play a complete four quarters. That changes Sunday night against the Houston Texans.
- The pass rush should still be considered a concern as they've not been great over the last month. It is wonderful to force turnovers but my belief is turnovers can not be required/depended on to play dominant defense. The Bears need their front four to take over games again if they intend to make a deep run in the postseason and beat Rodgers, Eli, Ryan...etc.
- I tend to spend more time watching the punter than most folks and Adam Podlesh just isn't impressive. He's not a good directional kicker, he has a terrible track record of pinning teams deep and he seems to be at his weakest when the Bears need him to bomb a ball out of their zone. As the defenses improve field position and Podlesh will be in the spotlight more and more.
HOW DO I SEE THE REGULAR SEASON FINISHING?
I think the Bears split these next two games against the Texans and 49ers. I think they'll also split their four remaining games against the NFC North. That leaves a home tilt with the Seahawks and a road trip to Arizona and I think they'll win both of those games.
That puts the Bears 5-3 down the stretch. 12-4 on the season. Champions of the NFC North. #2 seed in the NFC with a first round bye.
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