So the season will end this week against the Minnesota Vikings. What could have been a victory lap for the Bears as they head into the playoffs will instead be a team scratching to reach the .500 mark with barely half of the original offensive starting eleven still standing. Really amazing how the season took a turn for the worst so quickly. But despite the lack of post-season football, there's still plenty to look forward to about this game.
All year, in these rematch games, I've dispensed with the normal format - Let's do it one last time. After the jump, we'll take a final look at what the Vikings will bring to the game on Sunday and what the Bears can learn about their team heading into golfing and baseball season.
Since We Last Played... The Vikings left their first matchup with the Bears at 1-5, having been pounded 39-10. They've been in a fair amount of upheaval since then, having benched and later released starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in order to play first-round pick Christian Ponder. Ponder himself has been benched on occasion for gimmick QB/WR Joe Webb, who's sparked the team when he's been in. And now that Ponder left the Redskins game with a concussion, there's some question whether it will be Ponder or Webb hitting the field at noon. We already know Adrian Peterson is out, tearing up his knee just plays before Ponder's concussion and putting the start of his 2012 season in jeopardy, and Toby Gerhart takes over.
So What Can The Bears Learn? Several things, actually.
The Backup Quarterback: Lovie has said this game isn't a tryout period, but in a way it is. If Josh McCown has a decent game, coupled with his Green Bay effort, the Bears may be looking for a backup quarterback, and McCown may have done enough to earn a contract offer next year. I wouldn't necessarily be in favor of it - neither Green Bay nor Minnesota's defenses are particularly frightening, so good showings against those don't mean a whole lot - but a veteran quarterback that knows the system that can play a little (meaning no, Todd Collins, we don't need your services...) makes a lot of sense. And if McCown stinks out loud, Nathan Enderle could see some significant snaps. If so, it makes Caleb Hanie's departure a bygone conclusion (if the prior four games hadn't already indicated that).
Backup Running Back: Sure, Kahlil Bell looks like he could be a decent backup option to Forte, but he's so similar to what Forte already does and he's already expressed his desire to be a starter in the league that I'm not sure if he'd return to Chicago next year as a backup. But Armando Allen might be trying to play his way into at least a number three role for next year if Bell or Barber don't come back.
The Value of Forte?: Let's think about this. Forte's been excellent this year, really and truly, until his injury. Yet Marion Barber gets a start and puts up 100 rushing yards. Kahlil Bell gets a start, 100 rushing yards. Okay, so Barber's and Bell's starts came when Cutler went down and the running backs had to be leaned on more. But Forte's got a 4.9 yards-per-attempt on the year, Bell has 4.6. Both of those are still really really good. So is it that the offensive line is actually good at something?
Forte's stats this year show a 9.4 yards-per-reception, where Bell is only a 7.5, but both have one receiving touchdown on the year. Forte might excel as a receiving back, but Bell isn't exactly lacking there either.
I'm not advocating this at all, but is it possible with another good game by Bell, if that the Bears look away from paying Forte the 8+ million of the franchise tag for the smaller price tag and slightly less production of Bell?
The Offensive Line: The same old debate about the protection. Can J'Marcus Webb and Lance Louis (or Frank Omiyale) stand up to Jared Allen and Brian Robison again? The first matchup, they both needed a lot of help from max protection to stop two powerful pass rushers. At this point, it's time to figure out who the weak link is and upgrade at tackle.
Safety Dance: Chris Conte is down for the year. Chris Harris was waived. Can Brandon Meriweather show that he deserves a place on the roster next year and finally screw his head on straight? And can Major Wright do the same?
Cornerback: Zack Bowman looked miserable on Sunday night. Do the Bears put Tim Jennings back out there again? Does Corey Graham get a shot at #2 and DJ Moore back at the nickel? And how much of a need is cornerback next year?
Does the Pass Rush Need More Help?: At times, the pass rush has been dominant. At times, it's not even there. Is Corey Wootton a bust? Do the Bears need to spend another draft pick on a defensive end?
No, not all these questions can be answered on Sunday, but the team can learn some things about themselves heading into the off season.