Football Outsiders and SB Nation recently partnered to provide our NFL blogs with insight that no one else could provide. We love to break down their analysis on Chicago Bears players, and to have them take the time to answer some questions for us directly was quite a treat. Make sure to get your own access to Football Outsiders Almanacs HERE.
Windy City Gridiron: Over the last many seasons, the Chicago Bears offensive line has been underwhelming, to say the least. This offseason, they made a huge splash by signing Pro Bowl OT Jermon Bushrod, TE Marcellus Bennett, and drafting OG Kyle Long. Not to mention, a one-year contract for OG Matt Slauson. How do you guys project this new OL (along with new OL coach Aaron Kromer) holding up in their first year together with new HC Marc Trestman?
Football Outsiders: While I don't think the Bears moves are impressive on an individual level - I don't think Bushrod was a deserving Pro Bowler or anything better than an average left tackle - I do think they'll work out well in the short-term. The number one problem a team can have is a problem that they refuse to acknowledge, and by moving players like J'Marcus Webb into more appropriate roles for their talent and bringing in an infusion of talent, Phil Emery did a great job of attacking a need area. I wouldn't hold my breath on the Bears suddenly having a dominant line, but they have a good chance to be credible.
WCG: Jay Cutler has been in Chicago four seasons now, and has constantly had to deal with sub-par offensive coordinators and sub-par offensive lines. With pieces now in place seemingly all around him, is this the year he finally breaks out and meets expectations, or is he really just an average QB with a strong arm that will always be inconsistent?
FO: That's the big question, isn't it? My personal feeling is that Cutler's ceiling is a fringe top-ten quarterback. You can build an offense that emphasizes his best traits better than the Bears have been doing. But I don't believe in the receivers that the Bears have put around him outside of Brandon Marshall and (Martellus) Bennett, and I think that limits him more than most because he's a poor anticipation passer in my opinion. 2014, with a second good receiver and more depth, would be my put up or shut up year for Cutler.
WCG: Brian Urlacher was the glue that held the Bears locker room together, but his play over the last few seasons had been inconsistent due to injuries. Exit Urlacher, enter DJ Williams, Jon Bostic, James Anderson, and Khaseem Greene. Lance Briggs will have to step up into a leadership role, but what can be expected from the LB corps with Urlacher gone and so many new faces?
FO: Briggs should continue to be stellar and sniff out every screen pass in the entire division. I'm not sure who comes out ahead in the camp battles, but I do like that Emery attacked both positions and provided a lot of possible solutions. As you said, Urlacher's play had started to slip. He was still a solid starter when he was healthy, but he wasn't irreplaceable. Neither was Nick Roach. I'd put my money on the Bears linebacker corps playing about as well as they did in 2012.
WCG: What do you see being the biggest challenge/ question mark for the Bears both offensively and defensively for 2013?
FO: On offense, as I alluded to earlier, it's the receiving depth. I'm not a big fan of (Martellus) Bennett as a high-volume target. Alshon Jeffrey COULD become a good No. 2 receiver, and Marquess Wilson COULD become a good No. 3 receiver. But we are dealing in hypotheticals rather than givens, and I'm uncomfortable projecting that many leaps.
Hard to find much of a nit-pick on one of the best defenses we've ever had in the DVOA database. I am not a big fan of Kelvin Hayden, and the Bears haven't emphasized finding a young cornerback recently, but I think the better answer is simply regression. Eventually one of the older core members of this defense will get hurt or begin to fall off - what happens then?
WCG: Jerry Angelo was fired two seasons ago for primarily failing to close the talent gap between the Bears and the rest of the NFC North. Phil Emery has done what appears to be a good job of weeding out the bad apples and upgrading a lot of positions. Are they to the point to where they can compete for their division title, and even better, for the NFC crown?
FO: That's a high bar to clear. You're talking about dethroning one of the best front offices and most talented teams in the NFL in Green Bay. I do think Emery has done an excellent job since taking over, but I don't think I'd give them much of a chance at the NFC North crown. In the playoffs? Anything can happen. And the Bears should continue to be a contender for those this season. The only problem is that the NFC is so much deeper than the AFC - it's not hard to imagine the Bears getting squeezed out again like they were last season.
Thanks again to Football Outsiders for taking the time to chat with us about the Chicago Bears... 2013 will be one of the most interesting seasons in a very long time.