[FanPost promoted to the front page due to quality and thoughtfulness]
Looking at the roster just gives me chills right now. 'Moon' Mullin said recently that on offense, this may be the first time the Bears have had a pro bowler at every group on offense, in Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Roberto Garza. The line is young, and getting some time to develop, hone their skills, and there's a few good years to draft in replacements.
Considering outside of Forte, we have most of the offense locked up for a good period of time, I've just become frustrated at the abject position that many commentators have pointed to with the Bears: They're only going to be as good as long as their plus defense holds out.
But is that really the case?
I think one of the things that Emery is doing, is what I think all GM's should do. Build a team that fixes weaknesses by going over the top, much like what Green Bay did this past year in the draft. What it looks like right now is in a few years, the team of Marshall, Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, and whatever running back the Bears slap back there will be able to win games on it's own hand without having to rely on a stupendous defense having to fight tooth and nail to keep the game close. What does that mean? In 3 years, if the Bears have a really solid offense, and a few of the Bears key pieces on defense decide its time to hang it up, you'd have a plus offense, and an average defense.... essentially a better version of Detroit.
At that point and time, you'd really find the mettle of Lovie Smith, how does Smith develop the draft picks that he's acquired since Emery became GM. How does the defense stack up when Urlacher hangs up his cleats?
But, does that matter? Absolutely not. I think the Bears will have a competitive team because of the direction the offense is heading, not because of where the defense is heading. If the Bears magically shift to being an Offense First team in the future, I think our britches won't know what to do with themselves. Have we had an Offense First team in most of our lives? I think that's why our fears about a team without defensive leaders like Julius Peppers and Urlacher are reasonable, but mostly irrational. The Bears, if their offense lives up to it's billing, will get on fine without these elite players. It's scary though. If you've been a Bears fan forever, I don't think there's a way to adequately describe a team that has a defense that's not the focus of the team. Moon was saying on how the team is slowly shifting from Urlacher's team to Cutler's team.
That's an important paradigm, even on the 2001 team, the leadership was always on the defensive side. A defensive coach in Jauron, a defense lead by Rosie Colvin and Mike Brown, a new Brian Urlacher and a powerful defensive line and Jerry Azumah. The offense was still looking for identity... Some players stepped up on offense, Jim Miller, Anthony Thomas, and a good offensive line, but it was never an 'Offense First' team, by any stretch of imagination. This team's face is slowly shifting from Urlacher and Peppers to Cutler and Marshall... All three phases are in sync, and the Bears will slowly lean on it's offense to win games in the future. It's only obvious, but, when commentators push back, and say 'Well, Urlacher and Peppers aren't getting any younger', they seem to neglect the fact that the offense is going to lead the team when they leave. You don't have to, nay, you can't find replacements for guys like those, but, you can't play the same game for ever, you can't use the same methods forever. You're going to have to find new strengths, new weaknesses, and cover them up. And if Emery has faith in Lovie to do that, like I do, you'll see a team that functions more like the Tony Dungy Colts than the Bears of the past 7 years. A team where you have an offensive juggernaut, and a solid, defense that gets after the quarterback takes away the deep play, and gives the offense plenty of opportunities to put the ball in the end zone. It's legitimately what the Colts did the entire tenure of Manning's time there. They took the ball away, they gave Manning a lot of drives, and Manning converted a lot of those drives, reducing the time and wear on the defense. They got after the quarterback a lot with Mathis and Freeney, they took the ball away a lot.
Jay Cutler isn't going to be asked to be a Game Manager for much longer. Even with the strength of the defense, you can't let that talent go to waste, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The offense will be the face of the franchise for the next 5 years, and regardless of how improved the defense becomes in a post-Peppers, Urlacher, Lance Briggs era, this is Cutler team from now until the end of his career.
Emery is moving the pieces in the right direction that give the Bears the best chance at holding the Lombardi (and making faces and obscene noises at your average Packer fan) for the next few years. If the Bears happen to draft the next Urlacher (or have the next Urlacher on the roster already), it's only a more powerful expression of the team on both sides of the Ball. But the continuity right now is leaning on the fact that the offense will sustain the team while the defense reloads.
It's a brilliant strategy. I don't know why Angelo never thought of it before.
And now for your viewing pleasure, one of the great 90's bands from Chicago (and Champaign):
Hum - I'd Like Your Hair Long