In the Wake of the News
5:35 PM CDT, September 8, 2012
If the Bears had a sense of humor they would pass out 61,500 pairs of blue-and-orange 3-D glasses Sunday at Soldier Field to symbolize the new way of watching football in Chicago.
Behold, Bears fans: Your team finally caught up to the modern NFL. But I understand if any Grabowskis still have to see to believe in something as unfamiliar as it could be unforgettable.
The image of the Bears consistently winning in 2012 because of their offense instead of the defense will stick in your mind long after 6-foot-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall's first leaping touchdown catch in double coverage. You will call friends, tell family and take pictures of the scoreboard. You will want to start making goofy homemade signs like, "6 + 15 = SB XLVII."
Remember how upgrading to a smart phone changed your life? Or how going from a 26-inch standard TV to a big-screen, plasma HD version altered the viewing experience? This will feel just as exciting and groundbreaking for anybody in a Bears town still scarred from the days of being told Craig Krenzel-to-David Terrell passed for an NFL passing game. At long last, this is the Bears doing what all the cool kids do.
Now the Bears could join the Packers in the elite category of NFL offenses. They should be among the league's top five scoring offenses and average about 30 points per game. Defense still wins championships but, for the first time under coach Lovie Smith, offense will carry the Bears into the postseason if their key players stay healthy.
Consider that before Jay Cutler went down with a broken thumb in November, the 7-3 Bears averaged 26.8 points. Only five NFL teams scored more than the Bears did with Cutler — and he was throwing to a pedestrian wide receiving corps in which no one had more than 37 catches. He was setting up behind an offensive line that didn't have right tackle Gabe Carimi. He was running an offense in which the quarterback couldn't audible and the offensive coordinator refused to bend.
Those limitations no longer exist. When Mike Tice replaced Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, it empowered Cutler to change plays as needed — his 41-yard completion to Marshall on his first exhibition play of preseason was an audible. It exposed Cutler and the offensive line to fewer seven-step drops, muting concerns created by wobbly left tackle J'Marcus Webb. It illustrated a commitment to contemporary offense general manager Phil Emery confirmed when he traded for Marshall and drafted big-play threat Alshon Jeffery in the second round.
Cutler has won 19 of his last 27 starts without Marshall. How good can he become with a legitimate No. 1 receiver?
When the Bears re-signed Matt Forte, it gave them an offensive trio — quarterback/running back/wide receiver — as dangerous as any in the league. Only the Texans, Eagles and Falcons rival the Bears in terms of explosiveness at every one of the key positions Super Bowl contenders value.
In 1995, the Bears' season considered the most dynamic offensively of the post-Ditka era, quarterback Erik Kramer threw for 3,838 yards, wide receiver Jeff Graham caught 82 passes for 1,301 yards and running back Rashaan Salaam rushed for 1,074 yards. It would be no stretch to think Cutler, Marshall and Forte can exceed those numbers. The '95 team went 9-7 and finished third in the division. The 2012 Bears team has a chance to have a better record and win it.
Cutler showed good accuracy at the podium that reflected changing times he realizes will take time for everybody at Halas Hall to embrace.
"Teams are passing more, no doubt,'' Cutler said, citing NFL rules changes. "With the bigger receivers, the bigger tight ends, the guys who can run and catch and are still 6-4, 6-3 and above, it's hard on defenses.''
Asked if the NFL had become a quarterback league, Cutler answered like a franchise quarterback who has spent three years in a franchise overly obsessed with defense.
"Depends who you ask,'' Cutler said. "I think if you brought Lovie in here he might have a different opinion.''
This opinion? Preseason focus on Brian Urlacher's left knee obscured the reality that his presence on the field matters less than in past years because of a legitimate, high-scoring Bears offense. The Bears remain a good football team even if Urlacher returns more serviceable than spectacular, even if they struggle stopping the run. The Colts, essentially a continuation of preseason, give the Bears an opportunity to find their footing defensively with or without Urlacher while the offense makes tracks as the biggest strength of a playoff-caliber team.
Just watch, wonder and don't miss a snap.
No 11-5 Bears team ever looked like this one.
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