The NFL is a league of extremes. Fans think either someone is really good, or they are really bad. There is very little in between anymore. If a player messes up, he immediately becomes the worst player in the league at his position and even the practice squad guy would be better. If a player makes a great play, he becomes the best player in the league and should be in the Pro Bowl. In reality, that is far from the case.
The majority of the time, players fall somewhere in between. It takes a career of highs and lows to really determine how good a player is. Take Tim Tebow for example. After his miraculous, come-from-behind playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was on top of the world. Fans across the nation were clamoring for him to be their team’s new quarterback. Now, he barely found a job with the New England Patriots, where he is reportedly struggling and is not expected to make the roster. He could be done in the NFL, at least for now.
The highs and the lows are not a sign of things to come. They are anomalies. Expectations should always be put somewhere in between the two. Sometimes they should be put more towards the positive side when things are looking up. Other times they should be less favorable when uncertainty is widespread.
The same thing goes for teams like the Chicago Bears. Teams shouldn’t be expected to have the best possible season because they are not likely to reach that high. Sure some things will go right, but to expect excellence in all facets is not reasonable. The same goes for the other end. It is rare that absolutely everything goes wrong, and it is not fair to expect as such. Still, it is very likely that teams will get a little bit of both; some things will go perfectly right and others will go horribly wrong.
That brings up another point. What would be the best and worst case scenarios for the Bears? Obviously injuries would be the absolute worst thing at any position for any team. Conversely, a player completely changing and becoming insanely better out of nowhere is an unrealistic scenario, but with those excluded, just how good or bad can this Bears team be? Here is a look, position by position, of the best and worst case scenarios for the 2013 Chicago Bears.
Best – Jay Cutler completely buys into Marc Trestman’s system. He really cleans up his mechanics and maintains them throughout the season. He thrives in the offensive scheme and silences all of his critics. He leads the Bears’ top-10 offense as they tear up opposing defenses with their plethora of weapons. Cutler gets the ball out quickly and keeps the offense moving. He throws for 4,500 yards with 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 390 completions on 605 attempts, good for a 64.4-percent completion rate. He falls short of the Pro Bowl, but he establishes himself as one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the league.
Worst – Trestman’s new system is not a good fit for Cutler. It requires him to throw to a spot where the receivers get the ball, rather than throwing right to the receiver, and it is something that he just is not able to do effectively. He falls back to his old habits of poor mechanics and errant decision-making, and the Trestman-Cutler marriage is well on its way to a divorce. He finds himself relying heavily on Brandon Marshall, and his constant forcing of the ball his direction leads to predictability and turnovers. Once the offseason comes, the Bears let him hit the market and look for another answer at quarterback.
Best – Matt Forte looks like Charles Garner from 2002. He is catching tons of balls from both the backfield and out-wide. He still sees tons of carries as the leader of the Bears’ potent running game. Forte becomes arguably the most important part of the offense due to his importance in both rushing and receiving, and he is possibly a Most Valuable Player candidate due to his 2,000 all-purpose yards. He finishes the season with 250 rushes for 1,200 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with 85 catches for 900 yards and three touchdowns.
Michael Bush too sees a fair share of carries. He and Forte see the field together in many two-back sets, creating difficult matchups for defenses. Together, they create the two-headed monster at runningback that the team had hoped for when they signed him. He has 150 carries for 550 yards and five touchdowns.
Worst – Marc Trestman gets pass happy and strays away from the running game. When Forte does see the ball, he has trouble making the same reads through the new zone-blocking offensive line. Meanwhile, Bush sees very few carries and continues to grow complacent. By week five, he requests a trade and the Chicago backfield is in shambles. The lack of running game weakens the whole offense and makes the passing game that much worse.
Best – Brandon Marshall continues to be Brandon Marshall. He maintains his top-5 wide receiver status and has another excellent season on his way to yet another Pro Bowl. He finishes with 120 catches, 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. Across from him, young Alshon Jeffery steps up and proves to be a legitimate number two receiver in the league. He develops excellent chemistry with Cutler, and he really learns how to use his size to his advantage. With Marshall getting most of the defensive coverage, Jeffery finds himself open quite a bit. He racks up 55 catches for 700 yards and four touchdowns.
Earl Bennett steps up and reminds the Bears why they gave him his big extension. He provides a valuable weapon out of the slot for Cutler and they rekindle their connection from Vanderbilt. He is Cutler’s fourth or fifth option, but he still sees the ball a fair amount, with 30 catches for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The fourth wide receiver Joe Anderson makes strides too, as he develops into a quality pass-catcher. He challenges Bennett for snaps and he sees the field enough to make an impact, with 20 catches for 300 yards and one touchdown.
Worst – Marshall once again sees a nearly league-leading amount of targets becomes the offense’s entire focus. He is the only one that Cutler likes to throw to and defenses know it, weakening the passing attack greatly. On the other side, Jeffery fails to develop much, having more problems with penalties and dropped balls. He struggles to get separation against press coverage and is never open for Cutler to throw it to him.
Bennett too continues to struggle, and his chemistry with Cutler is nonexistent. A free agent in 2014, he fails to make an impact and the Bears let him walk. Meanwhile, none of the Bears last few receivers step up to be a significant player as the fourth wide receiver. Anderson, Devin Aromashodu and Marquess Wilson all have a little impact in the offense.
Best – Martellus Bennett shows everyone why the Bears invested big money in him. He becomes Cutler’s new safety blanket and opens up the middle of the field. His strong blocking ability makes defenses have to account for him on every single play, and he is a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers. He is a major part of this passing attack and defenses are spread thin trying to cover him and the other receivers. He has 60 catches for 700 yards and five touchdowns.
Behind him, journeyman Fendi Onobun really plays well, showcasing his unique combination of size and speed. His blocking ability too makes him versatile and tough to account for. Steve Maneri too has a great season in the blocking game, creating holes for the running game and making nice open field blocks.
Worst – Bennett’s breakout season with the New York Giants was just a flash in the pan. In Chicago, he struggles to get open or find space over the middle. He also has some issues with drops and quickly loses Cutler’s trust. He becomes an overpaid Kellen Davis and is a major bust for the Bears. All of the mediocre tight ends behind him on the depth chart struggle to have much impact in the passing game, and none of them seem much better than any other.
Best – Offensive line coach Aaron Kromers works wonders for the offensive line. New left tackle Jermon Bushrod keeps Cutler’s blindside clean while rebounding from his 2012 season, and J’Marcus Webb is a quality right tackle on the other side, where he can use his size more to his advantage. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Long starts immediately at right guard and shows everyone why the Bears drafted him so early. At left guard, young James Brown beats out Matt Slauson and gives the Bears two of the best young guards in the league. Center Roberto Garza maintains his blocking ability despite his age. The group gives up only 25 sacks.
Worst – Bushrod shows more of what happened in 2012. He struggles against opposing defenses’ best pass-rushers and forces Cutler to be always watching his blindside. On the right side, Webb continues his struggles and finds himself benched, part way into the season. His replacement, Jonathan Scott, is not much better. Long is definitely not ready to start in the NFL and his lack of experience shows greatly as he rarely sees the field despite the rest of the line’s troubles. Brown shows why he was an undrafted free agent last season and remains about the same as he was last year. Slauson continues the struggles he has already shown at training camp, while Garza really shows his age and is tossed around by opposing defensive tackles.
Best – Julius Peppers continues to be a dominant defensive end, racking up double-digit sacks on his way to another Pro Bowl. Across from him, Corey Wootton builds off of a breakout 2012 season and he too eclipses 10 sacks. Young Shea McClellin makes great strides in his game and becomes a pass-rushing specialist, making opposing offensive lines always be aware of his presence. On the interior, Henry Melton continues his growth and has another Pro Bowl season, on his way to a big payday in the offseason. Even Stephen Paea finds his way to the quarterback, but more importantly, he becomes the great run-stuffing nose tackle that the Bears traded up for in the 2011 draft. They combine for 36 sacks.
Worst – With Israel Idonije out of town, Wootton receives more attention from the offensive lines and struggles to get to the quarterback. Peppers is constantly double-teamed but still has a pretty good season. With Wootton struggling, Melton too receives more attention from offensive lines and has a down year. Paea remains stagnant and gets pushed around by the interior offensive linemen. McClellin gained little strength and continues to rely on his only pass-rushing move, the spin. His predictability makes it difficult for him to get to the quarterback, and he is labeled a bust.
The defensive line’s lack of pass rush allows opposing quarterbacks to have more time to throw and more time for the receivers to get open, stretching the zones of the secondary. This in-turn makes the linebackers and defensive backs struggle.
Best – The Bears new additions at linebacker fit in very nicely. D.J. Williams does an excellent job in the middle, providing great coverage while also stepping up to stop the run. On the outside, James Anderson’s coverage ability makes it difficult for any opposing receivers who come over the middle. Lance Briggs thrives while calling the defensive plays and continues his excellence. The group quickly makes Bears fans forget about Brian Urlacher. They put up a combined four interceptions and 200 tackles.
Worst – Williams gets into more legal trouble and is suspended for a few games. Anderson continues to be a liability in stopping the run and his coverage skills have worsened with age. Rookie Jon Bostic, who takes over for Williams, struggles in his first NFL action and is not ready to be the middle linebacker of a Cover-two defense. He too lacks the strength to stop the run and the linebacking group looks silly against divisional runningbacks like Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush.
Best – Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings replicate their performance from 2012. It doesn’t get much better than that. Tillman is elite at forcing fumbles and Jennings continues to be a league-leader in interceptions. Third and fourth corners Kelvin Hayden and Zack Bowman both have pretty good seasons when they see the field and are far from liabilities in coverage. Combined, the group accounts for 15 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.
Worst – Tillman really shows his age. It is difficult to be an elite cornerback at age 32 and he just cannot do it at a high level. Because Tillman is struggling, Jennings sees more of the opponents’ top receivers, and he struggles too. Neither is able to get anywhere close to their 2012 numbers. In the nickel, Hayden continues to struggle mightily in coverage and is quickly replaced by Bowman, who does not fare much better. Opposing defenses are able to have their way in matchups against the Bears’ cornerbacks.
Best – Major Wright takes his game to the next level. He is no longer just a hard hitter; he is a great coverage safety. He is all over the field, making plays both at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Wright is in for a big payday in the offseason, and he established himself as one of the league’s great safeties. Chris Conte also steps up. He shows a great knack for getting to the ball in the air and has really become a ball-hawk. He also has gained a little strength and is more formidable stopping the run. The duo racks up eight interceptions, and 115 tackles.
Worst – Wright really struggles in coverage at times, and offenses capitalize on it. This makes it harder on Conte, who has to make up for Wright’s shortcomings. Conte has struggles of his own, failing to make an impact in stopping the run. Together, the two of them offer little assistance on the back end for the cornerbacks. Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford have no problems throwing it deep against them.
Best – Devin Hester is back. He finds the endzone on a kick return early and from there he is off to the races. He finds his mojo and is electrifying. Hester gives the Bears excellent field position, which helps facilitate offensive success. He has a total of three return touchdowns. Robbie Gould is back to being one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history with another solid season, and Adam Podlesh is able to get more power behind his punts to pin opponents back by their endzone.
Worst – Hester continues to look completely lost while returning kicks. He runs backwards and sideways but does not get anywhere. He is cut mid-season as he shows no value whatsoever. Podlesh continues to struggle to get a lot of distance on his punts and his future in Chicago looks shaky. Gould too struggles to keep his field goal percentage above 80-percent and many people are starting to question the hiring of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.