The Bears played an incredibly competitive game Monday night against the Vikings and the result was the most entertaining game to watch of the season. Calling performances microcosms of something bigger has become cliché, but I’m going to do so anyway. The manner by which the Bears beat the Vikings speaks volumes about what kind of football team they actually are.
They’re a proud group that can get themselves up for a big game, even when they have little for which to play. They have enough pieces to keep most games competitive, but are lacking the essentials to be a good team that can put opponents away. Their defensive scheme is outdated and needs modification, because it leaves them vulnerable against a good quarterback. When the offensive line doesn’t block well, not even a quarterback with Top 3 NFL talent can succeed. Yet when the line provides adequate protection, said player can be named NFC Offensive Player of the Week against one of the league’s best defenses.
With that said, a victory this week against the 2-13 Detroit Lions will do little to nothing to change the minds of ownership and upper management about where this Bears team currently stands and what needs to be changed heading into next year. Before the Vikings game, I said to my friends, “Nothing the Bears do in the final two weeks of the season will be significant enough to offset what happened in the previous 14 games. Whatever ownership decides to do immediately following the Lions game has already been made up in their minds at this point.”
I stand by my statement. I don’t believe in momentum carrying over from one season to the next. A two-game win streak to close out a season will do nothing to make the Bears better in 2010. On a micro level, how certain players perform to close out the season could save their jobs for the following season. On a macro level, though, this team will be very different from the top to the bottom.
One of the positions I’m most interested in watching is wide receiver. Most of the Bears’ receivers are ideal No. 3s, maybe a No. 2 here or there because Jay Cutler is throwing the ball to them. As a unit, they’ll suffice to be competitive next year and receiver is not the top priority in the off-season. With Johnny Knox and Devin Hester both injured, we’re going to get a lot more of Devin Aromashodu against the Lions. It seems logical that the Bears will have plans for Aromashodu in 2010, but with another strong performance, he could compete for the No. 2 role in training camp next year.
The next place my eye will take me is to running back, where Matt Forte has put together two straight games filled with effort and determination where I’ve seen him run as hard as he has all season. Ironically, those games have come against two of the toughest run defenses in the league in Baltimore and Minnesota. If he can apply that same effort this week against a poor Lions run defense, he should have a solid game, much like he did the first time these teams met this season. His performance Sunday will go a step further toward letting us know if this season is just a sophomore slump for him due to poor offensive surroundings, or if he’s not the player we thought the Bears had following a good rookie season.
On the defensive side of the ball, my focus clearly is set on the defensive line. We know what the Bears have at linebacker. They have the team’s best player, Lance Briggs, who was just elected to his fifth Pro Bowl, and a player I feel needs to be re-signed in the off-season, Jamar Williams. In my eyes, the Bears need to bring back Pisa Tinoisamoa for another chance and Brian Urlacher will certainly make the unit better. At defensive back, there are so many injuries that we’re going to get a glimpse of a lot of young players. The line is where it all starts on defense and we need to see what the Bears have in young players like Jarron Gilbert and Gaines Adams. So far, it hasn’t been much. But due to the second-round draft pick they traded for Adams and the third-round pick they spent on Gilbert, these guys figure to be with the team for at least a couple more years. Against a two-win Lions team, they need to at least show up on the stat sheet.
At this point in the season, we’ve seen enough from the Bears to know who and what they are. It’s safe to say that changes could be coming as soon as Monday, most likely to the offensive coaching staff. A win over the Lions to bring the team’s record to 7-9 hardly stokes the most ardent Bears fan. All that remains of a once promising season is one final chance for individual player evaluation to see which players survive the organizational surgery that is bound to come.