|Five things the Bears must do to become playoff bound|
|Written by Michael Boyd, Daily Vidette Sports Columnist|
|Thursday, 02 December 2010 00:04|
Not many people predicted the NFL playoff picture to look anything like it currently does after week 12.
Instead of a 4-12 season like everyone thought, the Chicago Bears currently sit at 8-3 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
If Chicago completes these five tasks and with a little luck it is likely the road to the Super Bowl would come through the Windy City.
The Bears’ offensive line started the year as arguably the worst pass blocking squad in the league.
It was the Achilles heel of Chicago for the first half of the year, especially in week four in New York when the line allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be sacked 10 times, nine of which came in the first half.
It got so bad that Cutler had to leave the game with a concussion and everybody knows backup quarterback Todd Collins is not capable of putting points on the board.
However, offensive line coach Mike Tice has turned things around during the Bears’ current four-game win streak.
The switches at right tackle from Kevin Shaffer to J’Marcus Webb and at left tackle from Roberto Garza to Chris Williams have created a major improvement up front allowing time for Cutler to throw and opening holes for Matt Forte to sneak through.
This is something Chicago has had success with since head coach Lovie Smith joined the club seven years ago.
Smith is a big supporter of the “bend but don’t break” Tampa Cover Two defensive scheme that keeps two safeties deep on nearly every play. It allows for many short slants and in patterns up the middle, but prevents wide receivers from burning the secondary deep.
Since the Bears allow opposing offenses these short plays, they have to be able to force turnovers to prevent long and tiring drives. Luckily the defense has made a habit of attacking the football on every tackle they make.
You will see it every time: more than one or two defenders hit the ball carrier, the first will wrap him up and stop his progress while the others punch and try to pry the ball loose.
The younger and faster secondary is also stepping up into passing lanes for interceptions a lot more often than Bears teams in the past.
Smith made a couple very questionable goal line calls earlier in the year, opting to go for a touchdown on fourth down instead of taking an almost guaranteed three points from kicker Robbie Gould.
In week one against Detroit, Matt Forte was stuffed at the line three-straight times, and in week three against the Packers, tight end Desmond Clark dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
When you have NFL’s third most accurate kicker of all-time on the sideline, I think I would trust him to get three points rather than risk a turnover on downs.
Since those first two fiascos, however, the Bears have been smart on their fourth down play calls and it has led to Gould connecting on 18-22 field goals.
With the way the defense is playing and limiting opponents to under 20 points, it just makes sense to take the practically guaranteed points when they are there.
Devin Hester is starting to look like the return man he was in ’06 when Chicago went to Super Bowl XLI and he returned the opening kick for a touchdown. The past few seasons he has been learning to play wide receiver and it drastically slashed the performance of his returns.
However, now that Hester is finally feeling comfortable in the Mike Martz pass-heavy offense, he has been able to go back to his first love of returning kickoffs and punts at a nearly superhuman level.
Hester has already returned two of his 25 punt returns to the house and has averaged just under 15 yards per return.
Although he has been sharing most of the kickoff return duties with Daniel Manning and Johnny Knox, Hester has the best average return of the three at 35.6 yards. That is 10 yards more than Manning and 11 more than Knox. He also has the longest kick return for the club this year at 68 yards.
With a one game lead in the NFC North the Bears are in control of their own destiny. If they win out over these last five games they will clinch a playoff berth regardless of what the Green Bay Packers do.
However, since the Bears still play the Jets, Patriots and Packers again, it is very possible that they drop at least one of the contests.
Green Bay still has to deal with the Patriots and New York Giants in the last quarter of their schedule before hosting Chicago on the final day of the season.
They do play Detroit and the San Francisco 49ers, so the two easier wins could set up a tie in the NFC North heading into week 17.
If that happens Chicago will need to take care of business on the frozen tundra because the NFC wildcard could be out of reach with teams like the Saints, Giants and Buccaneers all fighting for that last spot.