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Scouting the Schedule: Bears

Posted by Albert Breer  July 24, 2010 12:59 PM

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Cutler’s protection up front is questionable, too. No major additions were made to the offensive line although left guard Frank Omiyale has been moved to right tackle while the left guard spot remains up in the air. New line coach Mike Tice is sure to get the best out of the group. Center Olin Kreutz is coming off Achilles surgery so his health is worth monitoring. Former first-round pick Chris Williams continues to settle in at left tackle and should be the best of the group. Cutler was sacked 35 times in 555 pass attempts last season, and he'll need plenty of time to throw once the Bears go live with the new offense.

Defensively, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli shifts his focus from strictly the defensive line to fixing gaping holes in the secondary. There seems to be a revolving door at safety, but the return of Chris Harris via a trade with Carolina assures the Bears will at least have an experienced vocal leader in the defensive backfield. Right now, it’s Harris at free safety and Manning at strong safety – the same combination from Super XLI. Manning could end up at nickel if rookie Major Wright absorbs the defense immediately.

Cornerback is a concern as well despite the emergence of Zack Bowman as arguably the team’s best corner following a six-interception season. Veteran Charles Tillman is solid but has had injury issues. There is not much depth behind the pair. Corey Graham has a great offseason yet needs to do the same on Sundays. Former Colt Tim Jennings is in the fold but is not an impact player. To put it simply, the Bears need to have more playmakers in the secondary with just 10 interceptions by defensive backs last season, none from a safety.

This needs to happen to win big: For one, the Bears have to remain healthy. They watched two starters (Urlacher and Tinoisamoa) go down in last year’s season-opener at Green Bay. Forte lost his rookie-year burst due to various injuries. Harris never fully recovered from a previous knee injury despite claims of being 100 percent. And Tillman can’t afford another shoulder injury.

Second, Cutler has to be smart with the ball, as mentioned. The offense will have success as long as Cutler's not pushing and as long as the receivers are sharp with their timing routes. Hester and Knox were not on the same page with Cutler at times last year.

The defensive line, led by Peppers, has to put pressure on the opposing quarterback after just 35 sacks by the team last season. And the defense, as a whole, has to create turnovers. During the Super Bowl season in ’06, the Bears topped the league with 44 takeaways. Last season? They had just 28.

Lastly, the Bears have to get off to better starts. In ’09 they were outscored 96-36 in the first quarter. Martz’s ``Greatest Show on Turf’’ should help alter those numbers.

Where they stack up: Although Sports Illustrated writer Peter King thinks otherwise, the Bears have to be better than the Lions. The question is can they can compete with the Vikings and Packers? The likely return of Brett Favre to Minnesota won’t make the NFC North any easier, although the Bears snatch away one of Favre’s weapons in Taylor. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best young quarterback in the league. If the Bears fare well in an early-season, three-game stretch against the Cowboys, Packers, and Giants, they’ll compete for a wildcard berth. If not, they could miss the playoff for the fourth consecutive season, leaving Lovie Smith’s job in jeopardy.

If Peppers has the impact he is supposed to have on the defense and if the offense vastly improves its effiency in the red zone, the Bears could enjoy a 10-6 and slip into the playoffs. Then again, the Eagles had to go 11-5 last season to slip into the sixth and final spot.

SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE SERIES
July 14: Bengals
July 15: Jets
July 16: Bills
July 17: Ravens
Sunday: Chargers

Monday: Vikings
Tuesday: Browns
Wednesday: Steelers
Thursday: Colts
Yesterday
: Lions
Today: Bears
Tomorrow: Packers
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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