When a team wins the Super Bowl, they are almost always thrust into the spotlight until another champion is crowned. Every team is compared to the Super Bowl Champions to see if they are good enough to stack up with the best of the best. The 2012 Baltimore Ravens are no exception.
Very few people had the Ravens as pre-season Super Bowl contenders, and even fewer maintained that assertion when linebacker Ray Lewis was injured. Still, the Ravens made it to the playoffs, and in the NFL, that’s all it takes. Quarterback Joe Flacco broke out and had a phenomenal post-season, on his way to a championship and a big-time contract. Yet, this Ravens team was a solid but unimpressive group for most of 2012.
So, as is natural for teams aspiring for success, how do the 2013 Chicago Bears match-up with the 2012 Ravens? Unfortunately, the two teams did not play in 2012, so a direct, on-the-field comparison is impossible. Theoretically, if the team is just as good as or better than the previous year’s champion, then the team itself should be ready to contend. The best way to compare teams is to go position by position, so here is how the current Bears and the Super Bowl Champion Ravens match up.
Quarterback – Joe Flacco vs. Jay Cutler
A lot has been said about how Flacco stepped up and really took his game to the next level in 2013. Most of this stepping up, however, took place in the playoffs rather than the regular season, where statically, he looked average. He threw for 3817 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a 59.7-percent completion rate.
Those numbers are in no way out of the question for Jay Cutler in 2013. He has the offensive coaching staff and personnel around him to put up bigger numbers. He will be throwing the ball a lot more this season and his numbers will rise because of it. A lot people are projecting Cutler to have numbers at or above the numbers that Flacco had, so at the quarterback position, the Bears in 2013 could be better off than the Ravens in 2012.
The difference does come in the playoffs, where Flacco was dominant. Cutler has very little playoff experience, but he was decent in his limited time. That will be a huge factor in the Bears success. Getting to the playoffs is one thing, but succeeding in the playoffs is another.
Ray Rice is one of the top running backs in the league, and he had another 1,100 yard season with nine touchdowns. Bernard Pierce behind him was able to amass 500 yards too. Matt Forte does not see the endzone as much as Rice, but he has the capability to put up big yards and carry the load. Michael Bush too is a big contributor. He only had 411 yards that season, but it was a career low and he is bound to improve.
The Bears actually out-ranked the Ravens in 2012 in everything except touchdowns. The Bears are going to pass a lot more in 2013, but the running backs’ overall impact will be at the least the same, if not greater. Bears head coach Marc Trestman has a huge history of throwing to the running backs, and Forte could have a dominant season as both a rusher and a receiver.
Normally fullbacks are overlooked, but Vonta Leach really should be accounted for. He was one of the best fullbacks in the league, and he was a huge reason for Rice’s success. Leach is a great blocker and he opened tons of lanes for Rice.
Conversely, Tony Fiammetta is not highly regarded and is not guaranteed a roster spot. He has bounced around the league for the last four seasons. Fullback is definitely a weakness for the Bears but not a detrimental one.
Anquan Boldin had a very good 2012 season with 65 catches, 921 yards, and four touchdowns. Torrey Smith had a good season too with 855 yards and eight touchdowns. They really made life easier for Flacco, and the Ravens’ strong running game opened up the field for the receivers.
Neither Boldin nor Smith has the ability of Brandon Marshall, however. He had 1,500 yards last season with 11 touchdowns on 118 catches. The Bears weaker link is the young Alshon Jeffery, who started 6 games as rookie before injuries derailed his season. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop, the Bears’ receivers can easily surpass the combined 1,776 yards that Boldin and Smith put up in 2012.
Dennis Pitta was a huge reason for Joe Flacco’s success in 2012. He had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. What makes them more impressive is the fact that he did not start the season as a starter. He was also very successful in the postseason, becoming one of Flacco’s favorite targets.
The Bears have not had quality tight end play since Greg Olsen left, so they brought in Martellus Bennett this offseason to change that. He had a breakout season in 2012 with the New York Giants, catching 55 passes for 626 yards and two touchdowns. He should have an even better season in 2013 in the Bears’ new offense. He can certainly match or exceed Pitta’s numbers from 2012.
Offensive Line – Ravens vs. Bears
The Ravens offensive line gave up 35 sacks in 2012, which was in the middle of the pack in the NFL. Their tackles rotated during the season and were decent but not great. Guard Marshall Yanda had a great season, but their left guard rotation struggled. A 36-year old Matt Birk at center was about as good as one would expect from a 36-year old center, but he was not necessarily a liability. Overall, the Ravens offensive line was not terrible, but they were not that great.
The Bears’ offensive line went through a complete overhaul and it is really yet to be determined how good they will be in 2013. Jermon Bushrod was brought in to be the left tackle of the future, moving J’Marcus Webb back to the right side. The Bears drafted Kyle Long in the first round, but he may not be ready to start right away. Veteran Matt Slauson was brought in to be the other starting guard, while veteran Roberto Garza remains the Bears’ center.
With all these new pieces, no one knows quite how this group will work. The expectations are high, especially with new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who may be the biggest upgrade of them all, but until they are on the field, the group is a big unknown. As long as they can be serviceable, they should be able to produce at a similar level to the Ravens’ 2012 offensive line.
Defensive Line – Ravens vs. Bears
A difference in defensive systems makes comparing these two defensive lines very difficult. The Bears’ defense relies heavily on its defensive line to get to the quarterback and create pressure, while the Ravens’ defense relies more so on its linebackers for that task. Their defensive lineman still pass-rush, but their importance in that role is lesser than that of the Bears’.
The Ravens’ defensive line rotation was mostly a five man group consisting of Haloti Ngata, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee, Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody. Those five accounted for a combined 12 sacks and 105 tackles, which is only three sacks more than what Arizona Cardinals’ linebacker Daryl Washington put up by himself. Needless to say, this group’s impact in the pass rush was low.
The Bears’ defensive line, however, is quite the opposite. They are depended on to get to the quarterback, so their personnel are adjusted as such. This season’s defensive line looks to be a six or seven man rotation, consisting of Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea, Henry Melton, Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin, Nate Collins, and possibly a seventh player who is yet to be determined.
Last season, the Bears defensive line was dominant, racking up a combined 38 sacks and 149 tackles. That is more than the entire 2012 Ravens’ defense. The 2013 unit will have to make up for the absence of Israel Idonije, who accounted for seven of the 38 sacks. With the further development of Wootton, McClellin, and Collins, the line should be able to make up for the loss.
It is difficult to compare defensive lines in general, let alone these two very different groups, but the Bears’ defensive line appears to be the better of the two, even in 2013.
Linebackers – Ravens vs. Bears
Like the defensive lines, the Ravens’ and Bears’ linebackers have very different roles. The Ravens’ linebackers are used more to get to the quarterback whereas the Bears’ linebackers are used more in coverage.
The Ravens’ linebackers accounted for 20 sacks and 236 tackles. Paul Kruger was the most impressive of the group with nine sacks, while Ray Lewis was the team’s emotional leader. Even while injured, Lewis was a major driving force for this unit. Dannell Ellerbe led the unit in tackles with 66, on his way to cashing in on a big payday with the Miami Dolphins this offseason.
The group was solid but not dominant. The Ravens’ defense struggled against the run, which is usually indicative of the front seven. The linebackers had a combined 23 pass deflections, however, so they were able to have somewhat of an impact while defending the pass.
The Bears’ linebackers were much the opposite in 2012. They had a combined three sacks, but they were rarely asked to rush the quarterback, especially in comparison to the Ravens. They also had a very strict three-man group, whereas the Ravens rotated as many as eight. Bears’ linebackers only collected three interceptions, but all three were returned for touchdowns. In addition, the group accounted for 173 tackles and was a big reason for the team’s stout run defense.
The Bears’ linebacker corps has changed quite a bit this offseason, with James Anderson and D.J. Williams being brought in to replace Nick Roach and Brian Urlacher, respectively. The group remains a bit of an unknown, especially after a recent calf injury to Williams. Rookie Jon Bostic could find himself with more playing time, but all three new additions are known for their excellent coverage ability.
The Bears’ linebacking unit is most likely an improved unit, as Urlacher was somewhat of a liability in 2012 and the two additions have had success with their previous teams.
Again, these two units are very difficult to compare, and with all of the new faces in Chicago, it is hard to tell whether this group will be better than the Ravens’ group in 2012.
Cary Williams had a very good season in 2012 with four interceptions, one sack, and 67 tackles. He was not fantastic in pass coverage, but he was not a liability. He was solid; no more, no less. Webb started the season as the other cornerback, but he tore his ACL in week 6 and would miss the rest of the season. This created an opportunity for Corey Graham, a former Bear himself.
He took over and had a pretty good season. His main success, though, came in the playoffs where he burst onto the scene and made some big time plays that helped the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Statistically he was only mediocre, but he was a big part of the Ravens success with an impact that did not always show up on the stat sheet.
Still, the Ravens cornerbacks pale in comparison to Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, who had incredible 2012 seasons with Tillman leading the league in forced fumbles and Jennings leading the league in interceptions. Both would reach the Pro Bowl. The duo look to continue their dominance in 2013, but it is not fair to expect them to have quite the same production this season. They should still be rather potent. Even so, Tillman and Jennings are definitely better than the Ravens’ cornerbacks of 2013.
Ed Reed had yet another fine season in 2012 as the leader of the Ravens secondary, with four interceptions and 49 tackles. He struggled at times against the run but he remained solid in coverage. His leadership made a huge impact on the team, especially while Ray Lewis was injured.
Bernard Pollard’s play seemed to compliment Reed’s as Pollard was stout against the run, but he struggled at times in coverage. He suffered a chest injury week 14 that would keep him out until the playoffs. He also admitted that he had been playing with broken ribs since the second game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished the regular season with two sacks and an interception.
The Bears’ safeties have a slightly different feel to them, boasting two young but upcoming players rather than two veterans. Major Wright really made great strides in his game in 2012 with four interceptions, one forced fumble and 52 tackles in his first injury-free season. Enter 2013, a contract year, and Wright could be in for a major payday (get it?) if he continues to improve. He used to be more of a hard-hitting, power safety, but he has really improved his coverage ability.
Chris Conte on the other hand is more of a coverage safety. He only came away with two interceptions, but his impact was still felt with his 51 tackles. He needs to become a more well-rounded safety like Wright, but he has only played two seasons, so he is still developing his game. He too is looking to take his game to the next level.
If the two of them continue to improve, they could become one of the best young safety tandems in the league. If that is the case, Wright and Conte can outperform the Ravens’ safeties of 2012.
Special Teams – Ravens vs. Bears
Young Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker had a very good season, connecting on over 90-percent of his field goals and accounting for 132 points. His solid play was definitely an underrated part of the Ravens’ special teams success. Punter Sam Koch too had a pretty good season with an average of 47.12 yards per punt, good for 11th in the league. However the two were only able to amass a 19th ranked opposing starting field position.
The biggest facet of the Ravens’ special teams was kick returner Jacoby Jones, who returned two kickoffs for a touchdown and one punt for a touchdown, on his way to the Pro Bowl. He was a big reason for the team’s 13th best starting field position. Overall, the Ravens had a very strong special teams performance in 2012.
The Bears’ special teams unit struggled mightily in 2012. Kicker Robbie Gould hit only 84-percent of his field goals before being injured week 14. Punter Adam Podlesh averaged 42 yards per punt, on their way to a 21st ranked opposing starting field position.
The kick return game was much worse.
Kick returner Devin Hester looked lost on kick returns, often losing yards and making poor decisions. The other returner, Eric Weems could do no better, resulting in the Bears’ 30th ranked starting field position. This was a major reason for their offensive struggles as well.
Luckily, 2013 is a whole new season and things are looking up. Gould will likely return to his upper-eighties field goal percentage and Podlesh too will look to get his numbers up. The biggest change is expecting to come in the form of Hester.
Hester will (finally) no longer be taking snaps with the offense. He is going to be only doing special teams so he can regain his focus and find his good old, play-making self. The team also has a new special teams coordinator, so a new outlook should help Hester as well. If he can just take one all the way to the endzone, there will be no stopping him.
Hester has always been a big momentum guy. Once he gets going, it is really hard to stop him. Conversely, once he struggles for a while, it is hard to get him going again. If he can get it together and find the Devin Hester of yester-year, the Bears will be set on special teams. If not, they may put out more of the same. Hester is the key to the Bears’ special teams success in 2013.
On paper, the 2013 Bears look to be better overall than the 2012 Ravens. But that does not necessarily mean that the Bears are Super Bowl-bound. The biggest thing for the Ravens was their success in the playoffs. That too will be the key for the Bears. Can the Bears take off in the playoffs like the Ravens did in 2012? A lot of things went right for the Ravens, and some would go as far as to call their playoff run a fluke.
The Bears have the talent to do the same things that the Ravens did in 2012. It is all about players stepping up at the right times. Chicago’s roster is loaded with young players who have the potential to break out at any time. And if they do, and at the right time, the Bears could make a playoff run of their own. From there, who knows what could happen. The Bears could be the next team that is thrust into the spotlight for all to be compared to.